Academic journal article Africa

The Re(public) of Salsa: Afro-Cuban Music in Fin-De-Siecle Dakar

Academic journal article Africa

The Re(public) of Salsa: Afro-Cuban Music in Fin-De-Siecle Dakar

Article excerpt


This article explores why, despite its diminished popularity, Afro-Cuban music remains among the most performed musics in Senegalese music clubs. Since the Second World War, many Senegalese have associated Afro-Cuban music with cosmopolitanism and modernity. In particular, Senegalese who came of age during the Independence era associate Latin music with a new model of sociability that emphasized 'correct' behaviour-elegant attire and self-discipline. Participating in an emerging 'cafe society' was especially important. The rise of m'balax music in the late 1970s, deemed more culturally 'authentic' by a younger generation coming into its own, challenged many of the values associated with Senegalese salsa. As an enlarged Senegalese public embraced m'balax, the older generation stopped going out to Dakar's nightclubs where they felt increasingly uncomfortable. However, the model of sociability this generation has championed calls for public displays of distinction and refinement. In fin-de-siecle Dakar, a number of venues emerged where Afro-Cuban music is played and powerful older Dakarois congregate, even if less frequently than formally. This article describes these venues and documents their patrons and the performances that take place there.


Cet article explore pourquoi la musique afrocubaine, malgre sa baisse de popularite, reste l'une des musiques les plus jouees dans les clubs de musique senegalais. Depuis la seconde guerre mondiale, de nombreux Senegalais associent la musique afrocubaine au cosmopolitanisme et a la modernite. En particulier, les Senegalais qui ont atteint leur majorite pendant la periode de l'Independance associent la musique latine a un nouveau modele de sociabilite qui mettait l'accent sur le "bon" comportement (tenue elegante et autodiscipline). Il etait particulierement important de participer a une "cafe society" emergente. L'essor de la musique m'balax a la fin des annees 1970, consideree plus "authentique" culturellement par une jeune generation en devenir, a remis en cause beaucoup des valeurs associees a la salsa senegalaise. Sous l'effet de la popularite croissante du m'balax au Senegal, la generation plus ancienne a cesse d'aller dans les clubs de Dakar, s'y sentant de moins en moins a l'aise. Cependant, le modele de sociabilite prone par cette generation exige de faire montre de distinction et de raffinement en public. Le Dakar de cette fin de siecle a vu emerger des lieux ou l'on joue de la musique afrocubaine et ou les Dakarois de pouvoir plus ages se rassemblent, meme si plus rarement que d'avant. Cet article decrit ces lieux, leur clientele et la musique qui s'y joue.


Dakar has some of the best live music in the world today. (1) Few cities in Africa have as wide an array of musical offerings. On any given night, it is possible to hear Senegalese rap, sabar drumming, (2) jazz, lounge music, acoustic 'modern' folk music, m'balax, Mande music from Casamance, (3) Cabo Verdean music, and, in a surprisingly large number of venues, Afro-Cuban music (4) and salsa m'balax. (5) While the widespread popularity of Afro-Cuban music in Senegal subsided in the 1980s, at the turn of the millennium it has been performed more frequently than its diminished public standing seems to warrant. Cassette/CD sales for Afro-Cuban music have dwindled and only rarely do the Senegalese media divert their gaze from m'balax stars like Youssou N'Dour or chanteuses like Coumba Gawlo to Afro-Cuban stalwarts like James Gadiaga of Super Cayor. Despite its lower profile, though, Afro-Cuban music continues to flourish in Dakar's many boites.

This article explores the cultural dynamics that have sustained the Afro-Cuban style as a significant variety of performed, if not recorded, music in Dakar, even as it has been overshadowed by newer musical genres appealing to younger segments of the listening public. (6) I argue that Afro-Cuban music has been the 'anthem' of the generation that came to power during the Independence period of the 1960s. …

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