Griots & Gorée Island

While in Senegal, we met the incredibly friendly Abdoul Mbaye (on the left) completely by chance in a hotel lobby and ended up seeing him a number of times over the weeks we were there!

Abdoul comes from a family of griots – storytellers in Western Africa who perpetuate the traditions and history of a family or village in songs.  Seen as the keepers of “living memory“, without them the names of rulers and warriors would have long ago vanished without a trace.  Abdoul is originally from the region of Fouta Toro, situated on the border of Senegal and Mauritania and has been playing music since his childhood. He sings about history, everyday life, peace, love, hope and describes himself as ‘pan-African’, often playing with bands from Senegal, Mauritania and Mali.  In 1997 he formed the music group Bawdi Alamary. As well as western guitar, Abdoul plays the ngoni, the small traditional African guitar also known as the hoddu.    

One night, after seeing him perform at the huge Festival des Arts Nègres, he kindly invited us to his home to record with him and to share, with his very large family, a traditional Senegalese fish meal that you eat with your hands. A few days later he visited us in Dakar with his friend, singer Demba Fakourou (above on the right), from Mauritania – the country north of Senegal.  Demba is a singer with Mauritanian band Diddal Jaalal, so we recorded a short session with him too. He’s a nomadic artist and sings about afro-nomadic life in different languages, including in Arabic, Wolof (Senegal’s native tongue) and Poulaar (a local dialect).

A few days later and we spent an afternoon recording at the French Institute in Dakar with Pape Masse (aka Massamba Sylla) an amazing djembe drummer who’s taught classes as far away as Japan, he invited us to the very beautiful Gorée Island where he lives. It’s a stunning place off the West coast of Senegal, and now a UNESCO world heritage site, it has a incredibly sad and awful history though as the most infamous slave depot through which African slaves were ‘warehoused’ on their way to the Americas.  While on the island we recorded a whole bunch of Pape’s friends playing tamalin drums and kora, even our friendly local fixer Matar Diagne proved to be a bit of a rapper himself, so recorded him doing some fantastic impromptu freestyle rapping too…

Massive thanks to Mamadou Diagne and the French Institute in Dakar and do read this BBC news story about Gorée Island and for more info on the island, read here.