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Music of the Seychelles
By David Raezer
The music of the Seychelles reveals a cross-section of the nation’s history. It is a blend of African slave music with the dance styles of the European enslavers freely mixed with pop, blues and even country influences. Here’s what you need to know:
Positioned firmly along the trade routes, the Seychelles long had cultural and musical influences from the Mediterranean, Middle East, Northern Africa and South Asia.
However, with the arrival of the Europeans in the 18th century, the music and dances of Northern Europe and the British Islespolkas, mazurkas and English contredans line dancing . This rich ethnic mix created a distinctive set of musical styles in the Seychelles and neighboring islands:
One of the most influential of the musical styles to emerge was sega. Sega originated among the slave population of Mauritius and Reunion before spreading to the Seychelles and the other islands of the Indian Ocean. In its most authentic form, sega is performed exclusively with simple instruments such as rattles, hand drums, gourds and musical bows. It is used as accompaniment for a form of traditional dance in which the feet stay firmly rooted to the floor while the rest of the body moves. Sega usually had lyrics about the oppression and longing for freedom felt by the slaves who composed it.
Well into the 20th century, sega was considered inferior music because of its origin among slaves. 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.
Another style of music still enjoying considerable popularity is moutya or montea. It is musically similar to sega, but the dance it accompanies has more suggestive movements and the dancers freely move about the floor. Traditionally, the dance takes place around a campfire and starts slowly to the beat of a single drum, then gets faster and more suggestive as the tempo increases. The drum is made of goatskin and is tuned by heating it by the campfire, a process that must be repeated periodically. Female moutya dancers often wear brightly colored 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. His hit “Zwe Sa Lanmisik” was one of the groundbreaking tunes of the genre and is still fondly remembered by islanders. Another musician who has helped to introduce sega to a modern generation is Jean-Marc Volcy. His hits have kept the music alive and transported it into the new century.
A related style is called maloya. This is a slower, more reflective style of music than sega, though their instrumentation is similar. The lyrics are often sung in a shout-and-response style and have historically had a rebellious, political tone. This connotation has continued to the present, and Maloya was banned until the 1960s because of its connection to Creole separatism. Performances by certain maloya artists with strong political leanings continued to be banned until the 1980s.
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.
Some musicians have resisted the addition of modern instruments and styles, but others have eagerly embraced new sounds and formed hybrid sounds that create new island musical genres. For example, local musicians have blended reggae 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.
One of the creators of saggae is the Seychellois band Mersener, a group of young musicians who have freely blended reggae, pop and sega to create a new vibrant sound.
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