Masters of the Sabar

Wolof Griot Percussionists of Senegal

Patricia Tang
Book Cover

PB: $35.95
EAN: 978-1-59213-420-5
Publication: Dec 06

HC: $91.50
EAN: 978-1-59213-419-9
Publication: Dec 06

Ebook: $35.95
EAN: 978-1-59213-421-2
Publication: Dec 06

224 pages
6 x 9
22 figures, 15 halftones, 2 maps

A fascinating study of Senegalese masters of the sabar drum


Masters of the Sabar is the first book to examine the music and culture of Wolof griot percussionists, masters of the vibrant sabar drumming tradition. Based on extensive field research in Senegal, this book is a biographical study of several generations of percussionists in a Wolof griot ( géwël) family, exploring and documenting their learning processes, repertories, and performance contexts—from life-cycle ceremonies to sporting events and political meetings. Patricia Tang examines the rich history and changing repertories of sabar drumming, including dance rhythms and bàkks, musical phrases derived from spoken words. She notes the recent shift towards creating new bàkks which are rhythmically more complex and highlight the virtuosity and musical skill of the percussionist. She also considers the burgeoning popular music genre called mbalax. The compact disc that accompanies the book includes examples of the standard sabar repertory, as well as bàkks composed and performed by Lamine Touré and his family drum troupe.


“Tang adds a unique perspective by highlighting the role of the sabar drum among Wolof griots….She provides a thorough analysis of the standard rhythms…The accompanying CD is a wonderful resource.”

“This excellent publication…(is) a well-written account (of) the music and culture of Wolof Griot percussionists…an important addition to the literature.”
Multicultural Review

“Tang’s ethnography is lucid and engaging… (Her) study is particularly significant for examining the performance of sabar beyond its indigenous social and aesthetic frames…. Masters of the Sabar represents a significant contribution in this direction.”
African Studies Review

"(A)n important contribution to scholarship of West African music cultures and the hereditary caste system into which griots are born. Tang’s integration of oral history sources with other contemporary and historic sources, as well as her care in transcription and translation, sets a high standard for the presentation of research findings. Her autoethnographic introduction will surely assume an important place in research methodology courses."
The Oral History Review

Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Musical Transcriptions
Contents of accompanying audio Compact Disc
Guide to Pronunciation and Orthography
1. You will be griot in another way
The Ethnomusicologist's Story
2. There once was a king called Maysa Waaly Jon
Sabar History, Instruments, Ensemble, and Sound
3. The griot lineage, we are one
Wolof Caste and Identity
4. My foreparents used to beat the drums
Wolof Family, Kinship, and Musical Genealogy
5. If a snake bites you, you will think of death
Sabar Repertories
6. Dancing fish and rice
Performance Contexts
7. The 'pax' you play is so sweet
The Role of Sabar in mbalax
Glossary of Terms

About the Author(s)

Patricia Tang is Associate Professor of Music at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is a scholar and performer of Senegalese music.


In the Series

  • African Soundscapes edited by Gregory Barz

    African music has been a topic of considerable scholarly and general interest. The books in this interdisciplinary series will highlight contemporary African music in its cultural contexts and the contributions of African expressive culture to global music traditions. The African Soundscapes series, edited by Gregory Barz, will include works by scholars based in Africa.