Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Music and Dance of the Seychelles

The Roots of Seychellois Music

The cultural diversity of the Seychelles truly becomes evident in its music and dance. Fun, festive, hopeful, and optimistic are words that are used to describe the unique musical sounds of this island nation. A blend of African and European music mixed freely with pop, blues, and even country, the Seychellois music has often been frowned upon by the more “respectable” elements of society. However it has always triumphed and continues to grow its fan base of enthusiastic fans. Since the 1970’s the music has found its way to the dance clubs of Europe, and artists from the Seychelles have even become figures of international fame. Some of these artists are named below.

This musical melting pot arose out of an earlier one. Because of their strategic position between the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the nations of Northern Africa were the focal point of a thriving trade that allowed ideas and culture as well as goods to flow from nation to nation and from continent to continent. By the time the Europeans arrived, this part of the world was already the home of a richly varied blend of arts and culture with influences from as far away as South Asia. These influences came into the trading centres of North Africa, flowed down into the nations of lower Africa and blended with tribal music that had existed for centuries. The result was a hybrid music played with simple instruments made from everyday items such as sticks, gourds and animal skins.

In addition to the African and European influences, Polynesian and Indian influences were eventually added, and this rich ethnic mix resulted in several styles of music and dance emerging. 


One of the most popular and influential styles to emerge was sega. It originated in Mauritius and Reunion before spreading to the Seychelles and other islands of the Indian Ocean. Traditionally performed with simple instruments such as rattles, hand drums, gourds and musical bows, it is used as the accompanying music for a form of traditional dance that sees the feet remain rooted to the floor whilst the rest of the body moves. 

Well into the 20th century, sega had trouble being accepted by sections of the public. A key event in its acceptance and subsequent popularity was the concert given on October 30, 1964 by Mauritian artist Ti Frere (Jean Alphonse Ravaton) for an event called Night of the Sega at Mount Le Morne. Sega music and its offshoots are still popular today.


Moutya, or montea, is another style of music that still enjoys popularity today. Whilst similar to sega, the accompanying dances are quite different in that dancers move freely about the floor. Traditionally taking place around a camp fire, the dance starts slowly to the beat of a drum and progressively gets faster as the tempo increases. Female moutya dancers often wear brightly coloured dresses with festive, flowered patterns to enhance the visual aspect of the performance.

The pioneer of this genre in its modern form is Patrick Victor who has mixed elements of Kenyan benga music with traditional island folk influences to form a popular hybrid sound. Another musician who has helped to introduce moutya to a modern generation is Jean-Marc Volcy. His hits have kept the music alive and transported it into the new century. Another popular moutya artist is Brian Matombe whose music incorporates some new instruments as well as traditional percussion. His songs often use violin, drum kit, guitar and other instruments not native to the islands.


A related style is called maloya. Whilst the instrumentation is similar to sega, the style of music is slower and more reflective. The lyrics are often sung in a shout-and-response style and have historically had a rebellious, political tone.

One of the most popular maloya groups is Lindigo. Their music has become strongly identified with the movement to keep Creole culture alive and give it the acceptance it deserves. Their instrumentation is entirely traditional and includes African instruments such as the djembe, the doumdoum, the balafon and the bobre. Olivier Arasta, the group’s lead vocalist, is an outspoken advocate of maloya and a champion for his culture.

The Discovery of Seychellois Music

American and European audiences became fascinated with musical styles from Africa, Asia and other cultures in the 1970’s, and “world music” was born. Both the audience and music were changed by the experience. The audience was changed by being open to sounds they’d never heard before, and the popularity of music styles such as reggae and others began to increase. The music found it changed by being mixed with rock, jazz and other influences to produce new styles. Whilst some musicians remained true to their traditional styles, others embraced these outside influences and new styles were formed. Reggae has blended with sega and moutya to form seggae and mouggae, and traditional sounds have blended with modern instruments and arrangements to form a genre called zouk.

Zouk was started by a band called Kassav, a name taken from a traditional dish made from cassava root. This group was formed in 1979 by islanders living in Paris. Their early success happened there with much-acclaimed appearances at Paris’ Club Zenith, and their style freely took influences from other musical genres. However, one point on which they have never compromised is their choice of language. All their lyrics are in French Antillean Creole, a local dialect not widely known outside the islands.

Seggae Music

Even before blending the two sounds, there are obvious similarities between Seychellois music and reggae. This has been used by some artists to create the hybrid sound of seggae, which has found huge appeal outside the islands. One of the leading exponents of this sound is Mersener, a group of young musicians who freely blend reggae, pop and sega into a vibrant stew with legions of fans the world over. Lead singer Lyrical Sniper brings a modern feel to sega by using electric instruments and giving his lyrics a punchy, rap-like cadence. Appearances in London in 2012 reaffirmed the band’s position as one of the leading exponents of a new hybrid island-based sound.

Whilst the music of the Seychelles has achieved success in Europe and other places, it remains more obscure in the United States. This is probably down to a combination of lack of exposure combined with the almost complete absence of English lyrics. But perhaps one day, Seychellois music will achieve the same popularity in the United States as reggae did in the 70’s and 80’s. 

Whether you are wanting to escape the approaching winter in the Northern Hemisphere or you are starting to feel the summer vibes in the Southern Hemisphere, contact us to book your dream Seychelles holiday!

1 comment:

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