Introducing séga, the “blues of the Indian Ocean”.
Purveyor’s of the world’s finest micro-scenes, lost rhythms and tropical melodies, Strut Records’ latest compilation heads to Mauritius via La Réunion island to capture some of the most compelling dance music you’ve never heard of.
A potent mix of western funk, soul and psych with the traditional séga rhythm and its trademark ravanne drum, the music set fire to the island’s ’70s dancefloors, uniting its disparate communities and religions in the beat, some of which is finally filtering through to voracious diggers and open-minded listeners beyond its shores.
It’s a description most applicable to La Basse Tropicale’s Natty Hô aka Dinh Nguyen and Konsöle aka Antoine Tichon, who have been handed the reigns to curate the Soul Sok Séga: Sega Sounds From Mauritius 1973 – 1979 compilation.
Still a relative unknown, even among the most educated collectors, we spoke to the duo to get a bit of context to the sound, and collect twenty of the scene’s most evocative, nostalgic and downright beautiful 7″ record sleeves.
Can you give some background to séga music and where it was and is produced?
Séga exists in the Mauritius, La Réunion, the Rodrigues islands and in the Seychelles. It comes from a mix of rhythms and harmonies originating from slaves who had been brought across from Madagascar and other parts of mainland Africa and European quadrille influences. In Mauritius, there are three main instruments that underpin the music – the large circular ravanne drum, the maravanne (essentially a small box filled with dried seeds) and the triangle.
From the ‘50s onwards, the traditional “séga ravanne” progressed and other instruments like accordion, horns or violin were added, along with electric instruments like guitar, bass and keyboards. Séga also split into many different strands and niches, including seggae (a séga / reggae fusion), and the politically charged séga engazé. The different islands also developed their own unique sounds – maloya in La Réunion, moutia in the Seychelles or séga kordéon in Rodrigues.
The origin of the word ‘séga’ is uncertain. People think it is derived from a Mozambican dance, the “tchéga”, but several explanations exist based on similar words used in Mozambique and in the Swahili language.
What makes it unique as a music form?
Séga is based around a ternary 6/8 rhythm rooted in the music of Malagasi and African slaves and there’s also a heavy Indian music influence. The same rhythms and syncopation are the same in all of the music of the region and it has a very unique swing. The Mauritian slant to the music probably has a raw edge to it, both in the vocal style and harder rhythms compared to the other islands.
Who are the main artists that people should know about (from any era) in Mauritius?
The most popular artists are the guys who first popularised the music during the ‘50s and ‘60s – Ti Frère, Fanfan, Serge Lebrasse. Then, the ‘70s generation including Coulouce, Claudio Veeraragoo, Jean-Claude Gaspard and Marie Josée & Roger Clency, who sadly passed away earlier this month in La Réunion. More recently, the main stars have been seggae pioneers Kaya and Ras Natty Baby (‘80s – ‘90s), Cassiya (‘90s – 2000) and Menwar.
Where there many record labels producing it in Mauritius?
There are fairly few overall, around 10 main imprints. The bigger ones like Disques Capricorne released around 80 titles and the smaller ones 10-20 titles, all mainly on 45s. Several labels were operated by a family company called Discomad, based in Madagascar.
Click below to scroll through a gallery of 20 original séga record sleeves:
Has the value of séga 45s increased in recent years? Is there a demand amongst collectors?
Yes, prices have definitely increased slightly but at a reasonable level so far. Since he began living in La Réunion, Dinh has posted all of the records he has been able to collect on Discogs and this has triggered some demand. Slowly but surely, more and more people are buying these 45s and interest is definitely growing in our music.
How did La Basse Tropicale come about and how would you describe the sound you play?
We met each other a little while after Dinh arrived in La Réunion and we quickly began working with each other as DJs. The music we play ranges from French and English Caribbean music to African and Latin American sounds through to current electronic music or jazz-based tropical music. But it’s definitely séga and sounds from across the Indian Ocean region which makes our sets unique.
Soul Sok Séga: Sega Sounds From Mauritius 1973 – 1979 is out now. Click here to order your copy.