Music of Seychelles - The Pillar of the Island Culture

Apart from its exquisite natural beauty, pristine beaches and luxury resorts, the tropical paradise of Seychelles is blessed with a rich cultural background. Seychelles has a history of immigrants over the years, and each batch of new immigrants has made significant contributions towards the rich heritage. Dance and music in Seychelles is an exciting amalgamation of European, African, Arabic and Chinese traditions and instruments. The use of various devices in the Seychellois music accompanied by traditional dance forms around the fire is undoubtedly a unique sight to witness.

Read on to know all about music in Seychelles!

The Origin of Seychellois Music

Music of Seychelles is a cultural mosaic of different parts of the world which have had a significant influence on this African archipelago in the past. Due to its strategic position, Seychelles has sheltered masses from around the world, including the Chinese, Arabs, Europeans and African slaves. Each of these inhabitants has made their contributions to the growth and development of the island.

The Europeans enjoyed their dance forms along with their traditional music. One popular folk dance form of the Europeans was the ‘Contradane’ festive folk dance where men and women faced each other and danced, along with the music. This lively form of music and dance left an impression on the slaves. The African community then began blending their styles with these, which resulted in popular music with traditional instruments like drums and soulful melodies. Somewhere around the same time, Indian influences also combined with this, giving rise to an ethnic mix and hence the music of Seychelles was born.  

Traditional Musical Instruments of Seychelles

The music industry of Seychelles has evolved over the years. Nowadays, the music of Seychelles is composed mainly by using modern instruments like guitars, violins, banjos and drums. Traditional musical tools are challenging to find in Seychelles these days. Hence, we have compiled a bunch of five instruments used decades ago.

1. Bom

This unusual instrument was unnoticed until it was popularised by Jacob Marie, a popular local veteran in Seychelles. It is a one-string solo instrument and was traditionally introduced in this island country by slaves. This ‘bowed instrument’ has been used in a lot of songs by local artists in the country. It was traditionally played on the outer parts of the island, where there was no other form of musical entertainment.

2. Zez

This one-string musical instrument has a lot of similarities with Bom. It usually comes with a gourd resonator which helps in providing a steady rhythm during the song recital. Song and lyrics associated with this type of instrument are very slow in pace and soft, and usually describes early traditional life on the island.

3. Tanbour Moutya

Tanbour Moutya is a unique musical instrument in Seychelles. These are drums made of wood and goat, or cow skin. The wooden part of the instrument is carved from a tree called 'Var' which grows on the seaside. The diameter of the drums is usually around 70-80cms. The entire device comprises of three drums were each drum makes a different sound.

4. Makalapo

Makalapo is a two feet long instrument which derives its resonance from the ground or sometimes even the human body. The base of this instrument is like a tin can, and the upper part consists of a set of strings, like a guitar, attached to a wooden pole. To get the perfect echoing sound, Makalapo is usually played in the corner and is believed to have originated from the district of Zulu and the Makhuwa tribes of Africa.

5. Mouloumba

Mouloumba is believed to have been invented by the slaves in Africa, decades ago. It is a lot like the Tanbor Moutya, that is, like a drum set. The only difference is that the drums are made from around 2.5 feet of Bamboo, instead of wood.

Different Musical Styles of Seychelles

Music of Seychelles, in the earlier times mainly grew under the influence of European culture. Seychelles music also had an African touch to it, as it came along with the slaves who were brought, by the Europeans. So, here are the various classification of Seychellois music:

1. Sega

Sega is one of the most popular in the influential form of music in Seychelles and is a dominant form even now. It initially originated in Mauritius, among their African slave population and later spread to Seychelles.  Sega form of music, in its authentic style, is mostly performed using simple instruments like rattles, gourds, musical bows and hand drums. This form of music traditionally had lyrics that described the oppression, pain and the desire to be free from slavery, expressed by the African slaves. Sega is accompanied by a traditional dance performance which involves the feet, which stays firmly on the ground and the rest of the body moves.

2. Moutya

Moutya or Montea is another popular style of music, which still holds a firm grip in Seychelles. It is quite similar to Sega, but the only difference is the dance form accompanied by a Moutya performance. Unlike Sega, the dance form accompanying Moutya has distinctive movements, and the dancers do not have their feet restricted to the ground so that they can move freely. The performance begins with slow drum beats around a campfire, and the music starts intensifying with time. The drum is made from goatskin, and hence it is kept beside the bonfire so that it gets fine-tuned as it gets heated.

3. Maloya

Another style of music in Seychelles, similar to Sega is Maloya. Though the instruments used in this style of music is similar to Sega- rattles, gourds, musical bows and hand drums, the music is slower and is more reflective than Sega. It was historically a rebellious form of music; the lyrics were sung in a shout and response style, with a strong political tone.

New Musical styles in Seychelles

The European style largely influenced traditional Seychellois music. Recently, European music continues to evolve as it still leaves a mark on the music in Seychelles. With the introduction of what we call the ‘Western Phenomenon’, there have been notable influences of the different forms of ‘rock and roll music’ in the music of Seychelles. Also, with the emergence of famous bands like The Beatles in the 1960s, the music of Seychelles has evolved. The two main styles of music which developed in the late 1970s are-

1. Zouk

Zouk was initially introduced by a band called ‘Kassav’, sometime around 1985. This new genre evolved when this band blended traditional music with modern instruments. What followed was a unique mix of contemporary music like jazz, rock and fast beats. The youth started liking the tunes, and even now, it is still a popular form of music in Seychelles.

2. Seggae

Seggae is a classic fusion of traditional Sega beats along with reggae form of music in Seychelles. It has gained quite some popularity since the time it was introduced in the late 90s.

Although Seychellois music has a robust western paradigm to it, the musical culture of Seychelles still maintains its individuality by the techniques and styles which suit its tradition. So, even today, their musical journey continues to evolve, but they have always kept their roots intact.

The unique combination of music and dance in Seychelles, performed by the locals can be seen at many popular hotels and resorts in Seychelles. Other than the hotels, you can also witness these unique performances at the city centre. Let your tour operator know in advance that you are willing to attend one of these cultural performances, and they will take you to see the best performance. If you are in Seychelles, trust me, the tunes of the Zez and Bom will keep you grooving throughout, so do not give it a miss!

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