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Drum Languages Project

Senegal (Wolof/ Sabar)

Sabar: The Drum Language of Senegal

Senegalese drummers have the practice of playing drums in correlation to speech. Senegalese drum is called sabar. Playing sabar involves at least 9 different drum strokes (hand strokes, stick strokes or their combination), which can be seen as the basic units of the drum language. These strokes compose different longer Sabar rhythms which can be correlated with spoken utterances in Wolof — the lingua-franca of Senegal. Unlike other drum languages, which are based on tonal languages and therefore imitate the pitch levels of the spoken language, Wolof and the sabar drums are not tonal, and working with them requires different methods. 

Although sabar drums are rarely used as a speech surrogate and their main function is to affect the listener rather than to convey a message, it is clear that the practices of playing the sabar involve a close connection to linguistic expressions. In personal interviews griots say that ‘the sabar can speak’ and utter spoken expressions in correlation to sabar rhythms they play. A goal of our investigation is to establish the linguistic properties of the Sabar drum language.

More information here!

From left to right: Ousmane Mbengue, Yoad Winter, Doudou Ndiaye Rose, Morcoumba Ndiaye Rose. Dakar, November 2013.