Tarika Sammy – Famadihana (from Fanafody 1992)
Mauritius isn’t just the former stomping grounds of the now extinct dodo bird, but an island nation home to a fascinating form of music called Sega, something that seldom rears it’s head within colonial bass circles. While generally known to be native to the Mascarene Islands, some say it’s rooted in a Merina death ritual called Famahihana (see here, and here), in which the bones of the dead are dug up and wrapped in white fabric, while the grave is danced around before reburial. Whether or not this is true, aside from being a form of dance music, it was known to have been used in dirges and exorcisms in earlier times. While Afro-Malagasy at heart, European forms such as polka and quadrilles had a large influence on Sega during slavery in the 18th century, and in later years, so would Jamaican reggae, Indian Filmi, and American house music…
charani (from Sega Ravanne Mauricien & Sega Tambour de l’ile Rodrigues)
Polka (from Seychelles 1 – Kamtole des Iles, danses et romances de l’ancienne)
Fimrin Viry – Tu M’appelles Anin (from Island of La Reunion: The Maloya)
Wherever she came into contact with the outside world, Africa’s influence was profound. When the slaves left, they went empty-handed with nothing but their memories, voices and bodies, so initially this influence was an oral one: it was song, rhythm and dance. And these traces of Africa grew, despire their new masters’ attempts to curb and boycott them, into the unique musical expression of many a people thoughout the world. This was how the Séga évolved into the trational song and dance of the people of Mauritius and Rodrigues, and of other Indian Ocean islands too, like the Seychelles and Reunion Island.
-Lucien Putz (from the liner notes of Ile Maurice – Hommage a Ti Frere Ocora Radio France 1991)
For those that aren’t so sharp geographically (or don’t spend hours looking at maps like I do), this music comes from the handful of islands east of Madagascar, the main ones being Mauritius, Rodrigues, Reunion (which together with a few now sunken islands make up the Mascarene Islands) and Seychelles. This area of the world has a past not completely unlike that of the Caribbean, with the British, Portuguese, Dutch, and French fighting over rule, bringing slaves from Africa to harvest sugar crops. Also not unlike Trinidad and Guyana, there is a large Indian influence on the culture of these islands as well. To get acquainted with the sounds being produced from this part of the Indian Ocean, Ocora Radio France did a number of great recordings in the 1980s with local musicians that are probably the best way to experience the music at its roots (if your only means of travel are to your local library, that is). Above are some examples of European influence rearing it’s ugly head in the music of Seychelles, and examples of how Sega’s sound varies from island to island.
Alain Ramanisum & Ravanna – Timbali (from Suprem Sega 2002)
What sega sounds like depends on where you are, and it takes many forms. It traditionally tends to be slower, and in recent times referred to as Maloya on Reunion, and Seychelles has it’s own brand called Moutya. It draws influences from polkas, quadrilles, and waltzes, as well as accordions, keyboards, and drum machines. In the above case, whiny African guitars.
In the 80s, reggae became popular on the islands, and the locals created their own versions: Seggae. The artists sang of government oppression and ganja just like Bob Marley did, with rhythmic nods to both Jamaica and Sega music. The most famous musician in the movement was Kaya, who’s suspicious death in a prison cell in 1999 caused a major uprising on Mauritius. Ras Natty Baby, another famous Seggae artist caused similar riots when accused of trafficking heroin in 2003, still rotting in jail to this day. Seychelles sadly has one of the worst meth problems in the world, so drugs are a big issue in this part of the world, and the governments have been known to wrongfully imprison those who speak out against corruption.
The modern electronic sound of Sega reflects the mix of cultures present on the islands. Being sandwiched between Africa and India, you’ll find everything from Magic System to Bollywood tunes in DJ mixes. Sometimes the combinations start to sound like weird Chutney, or really oddly accentuated electro house. Traditional Sega is generally in 6/8 time, making its transition to the club pretty awkward. While crashed colonial ships full of accordions make for an interesting tale in the evolution of present dance music, the many mutations of Sega top them all for me.