Musical instruments
Left to right: the ravanne, a shallow round goatskin drum, traditionally heated over a fire before playing, is played against the abdomen and chest and sets the pace and the rhythm for the séga; the maravanne made from bamboo and sugar cane stems tied around a wooden frame, encasing dried seeds, is shaken from side to side creating a jangle. Far right: the tambour or tam tam, a goat skin drum made with hollow wood, creates mesmerising sounds. Customarily, used for spirit raising during voodoo and witchcraft practices.
Image: Henri D'Argent
Source: Henri D'Argent

Perhaps the best-known expression of Mauritian and Rodriguan culture is the séga (pronounced ‘say gah’), both a song form and a style of dance developed by the people brought to the islands as slaves. Séga music can be heard today in the work of popular singers and recording artists as well as seen in séga dance groups. In séga’s most traditional song form, the singer chants a story and the audience joins in, calling out responses. In these chants, the slaves expressed their sadness and longing for home. Early on, the séga also had a sacred, ritual function, and a ‘death séga’ was sometimes performed when a person died to ensure the spirit’s departure.

In the last three decades, séga has become not only popular but also fashionable. It has been modernised and commercialised. Traditional instruments such as the ravane and maravanne are being replaced or supplemented by guitars, drums, keyboards, tabla and dholok. The music itself is increasingly being taken to new directions by younger musicians under the influence of globally popular styles such as reggae, ragga, zouk, hip-hop and rap.

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Playing musical instruments Séga The Séga