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Music Day: Discovering the sega, a folkloric reference of Mauritius

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Music Day is celebrated across all five continents on June 21. Music reflects the soul of a nation. In Mauritius, this soul is known as the sega.

Sega originates from the very depth of slavery chants. Of African roots, it originally expresses the pain of Africans who were uprooted from their native land and subjected to forced labour. At night, it brings solace. Sensual and voluptuous – these are the two main features tied today to this rhythmic chant – a chant that eventually led to a dance that mirrors a courtship ritual.

Triangle: A metal instrument in the form of a triangle. A piece of metal is used to produce the beat.

A cylindrical drum called ‘ravane’, the ‘maravane’, a flat sounding percussion instrument from the south of India, and a metal triangle, accompanies the sega. The drum, the rattlebox and the triangle give the beat and together give way to a rhythm commonly known as the ‘sega typique’. The ‘ravane’, the ‘maravane’ and the triangle set the pulse and dancers through rhythmic movements of the hips and the arms, spin around themselves and their partner of the opposite sex.

 

Intercultural bridge

Similar to the Creole language, that it democratises, the sega is a cultural link between the cultures from the different ethnic groups and backgrounds that make up the Mauritian fabric. It influences this patchwork of sounds and melodies and builds a bridge between Africa and Asia through a common denominator: percussion and rhythm.

Maravanne: A sounding board or an idiophone that produces sound when it is swung sideways.

If the sega is still deeply associated with descendants of slaves, it has transcended African frontiers. Mauritius is indeed home to the Indian experience of the sega – the Bhojpuri – a language from southern India that metamorphosed when it encountered the sega with its island vibes. Bhojpuri and Mauritian Creole are driven by the ternary rhythm and swayed by oriental melodies.

Ravane: A cylindrical drum covered with goat or ray fish skin. Prior to using it, the percussionist heats the skin to extend it and for a better sound.

The sega, a major musical genre of the Mascarenes, modernised with occidental instruments – drums, guitar, and keyboard. This led to two new musical genres in Mauritius – the seggae coined by Joseph Réginald Topize or Kaya and the sagaï, which owes its existence to Stephano Honoré, known as Menwar – sagaï being an acoustic sega that blends traditional instruments with different musical genres like jazz, blues and reggae.