School of Music


Master of Arts in Music and Worship (MA)


Katherine Morehouse


Ethnomusicology, Hip-Hop, Mbalax, Sabar, Senegal, West African Music


Ethnomusicology | Music | Music Education | Musicology | Other Music


What is mbalax and how is it adaptively transforming the modern-day culture of Dakar, Senegal? Throughout This this study, willI plan to provide a glimpse into the current hip-hop culture of Dakar, ultimately revealing how up-and-coming artists are implementing mbalax. The research for this study took place I was in Dakar, Senegal from January 26th - February 16th, and was completed my field research in both Washington D.C. and New York City from February 22nd-26th. During this time m, I was able to connect with multiple hip-hop artists, political activists/rappers, drummers, and sabar dancers were consulted. More knowledge was obtained than anticipated. I also had the unique privilege of taking 12 hours’ worth of private sabar drum lessons while in Dakar. These lessons were a key element to understanding my topic because it allowed for an insider’s perspective to mbalax and led to numerous connections that will blossom beyond this study. tThrough one-on-one and group interviews while in the field. I acquired more knowledge than anticipatedThis wealth of insight will assist the efforts of this study in and hope to conveying a sense of insight insider perspective into the vibrant Senegalese culture of Dakar, Senegal. Understand that mbalaxMbalax is a signature rhythm of the Senegalese people, but it is also much more than a beat, a rhythm, a dance, or a succession of patterns on the mbëng-mbëng drum. Mbalax is an identity, recognized as being solely Senegambian, it is the sound of home for those who were born in that particular region. Mbalax arose from a longing; a longing for traditional instruments to be heard in popular Senegalese music. Since its rise in popularity over fifty years ago, it is crucial to examine how mbalax continues to thrive and sustain relevance amongst an ever-changing music culture. I want to bridge the scholarly gap that presently exists amidst mbalax research as it pertains to its relevance in modern hip-hop music; revealing why this specific traditional style is becoming increasingly prevalent amongst hip-hop artists in Dakar. Senegalese hip-hop artists have become aware of the overall need for multi-generational and cross-cultural acceptance, but more importantly, they want to convey a sense of “place” within their music, which is why traces of mbalax are essential as they record new albums.