For every huma experience there is a rhythm, and every rhythm has a name.

When the rhythms move from the ackground to the spotlight, there is a evolutio Saar.

In order to understand this music, I must paint you a picture of the place that birthed it. These writings are based on my travels to Senegal, West Africa, where I stayed with Aba and his family while collaborating on our own music project. You can see visual excerpts here, here and here.

In the dream that has come true, you have arrived. We are so glad you are here.

The city of Dakar welcomes you with a clattering of hooves, the smoke from a dibi barbecue and the sight of men doing their ablutions with plastic teapots in the street. The city bustles with activity, yet most everyone is relaxed. Here, you may find everything from high-end sushi and nightclubs, to beaches with whole communities exercising on the public equipment at sunset, but today is not the day to explore. Today, you join the circle, the ritual, and the dance known as sabar.

Senegal Dakar magic bus

The taxi arrives and you sit in the back while a Sufi medicine song plays on the radio, which is surrounded on the dashboard and ceiling of the cab by thick acrylic fur and decals of the driver’s Marabout, his spiritual guide. A tangle of prayer beads dangle from the rearview mirror. It’s clear what the tiny cupholder is for when you stop for a miniature cup of Café Touba: the strong, sweet coffee spiced with cloves and the dried fruit of the Guinea pepper served roadside.

Senegal road

Over paved and unpaved roads, you pass the ocean and mosque on your way into the neighborhoods.

You have arrived just in time.

Please, have a seat. We are celebrating your arrival. All the women are dressed up! Aren’t they so beautiful? Here, have some sweet mint tea, still frothy.

Welcome to the circle.

It is said that sabar drums were used by the village griots to communicate between towns several miles away. If a doctor was needed, the call would go out. The rhythm would move from village to village until a doctor was found and was sent along. Sabar is still a way to mark important events and to gather people together.

There is sand in your shoes. Galan sticks strike goatskin. An impossible backbeat overlaps with a frenzy of polyrhythms. Every syllable, a word. Every song, a conversation.

The dancers hike their skirts.

Bam bam BAP!

You feel it inside your whole chest.

You become like carved mahogany: resonant and vibrating with ancient message.

This is why you are here.

Sabar drum wood carver

Aba working on a small sabar drum

The dream of this music is to shine a rhythm into the world that communicates the medicine of sabar music.

It is already working: you heard it, and you followed the sound.

To be part of this circle through the music on this record is to support the griot’s function in the collective: the transmission of the stories held in the talking drums.

Where colonized language fails, rhythm prevails.

About the Album: “West African Sabar Fusion”

Revolution Sabar is a drum-driven Afro-pop fusion album from the Senegalese percussionist composer, sabar maestro, drum maker and griot lineage holder Aba Diop. The record features the sparkling African lute-harp played by the renowned “Jimi Hendrix of kora” Noumoucounda Cissoko, jazz-inflected guitar riffs by New Yorker newcomer Jason Hosier, and bass virtuoso Thierno Sarr with support from Senegalese players Samba Ndokh, master of the tama drum, and smoldering backup vocals from Zeyna Diop.

Rhythmically the music is influenced by traditional West African polyrhythms, the modern, Latin-influenced syntax of Senegalese pop music known as “mbalax,” and Aba’s own original compositions. Melodically, you hear the Arab-influenced hovering microtonal singing and occasional maqam scales accompanying the major-key West African chord progressions and the elastic, improvisational guitar styles found in the rock and jazz music of the west. Spiritually, this is Sufi devotional music with Senegambian roots: Aba is a member of the Baye Fall, a sect of the Mouride (“= one who desires”) branch of West African Islam. The overall effect is undeniably mystical, uplifting, and deeply dance worthy.

About Aba Diop & The Yermande Family

This explosively percussion-forward ensemble is the first to showcase the electrifying polyrhythms of the ancient sabar drum, the north star of the group: where even at live shows it is moved from the rhythm section to the middle of the stage.

Aba Diop & Yermande Family
Photo: Bec Stupak

This is Aba Diop’s revolution.

From the hypnotic opener “Selebeyon” invoking the genie “djinn” at the crossroads, to the last song “Bellio Mbaye,” trance-like and woven with feminine energy, the music evokes ancient heartbeats with a modern soul. Each track erupts with layered precision and a “mystical, romantic vibe” (The Arts Fuse Magazine). For adventurous ears that love acts like Ali Farka Toure and Zakir Hussain, “Revolution Sabar” is a refreshing new take on “world music.”

Yermande” is a Wolof language word that means to have a good heart that wishes for all people to be treated like family. Yermande Family consists of tama vanguard player Samba Ndokh on the “talking drum,” and “The Jimi Hendrix of kora” Noumoucounda Cissoko coruscates on African harp. The virtuosic U.S.-based Jason Hosier channels jazzy, meditative riffs on guitar, Thierno Sarr stays deep in the pocket on bass while Zeyna Ngom provides powerful vocals and Aba plays all other percussion on the album.

Together, the band is a visual feast that manages to both transport adventurous ears while touching the deep earth of our common humanity. The music channels ancient heartbeats with a modern soul, erupting from the stage with prismatic precision and elevated consciousness.

“Everyone in front of us is our family.”

Yermande Family exists to bring the healing medicine of the sabar ensemble to a broader audience through the rhythms that literally speak to the hearts of the listener: each beat is a word, an incantation of longing for a world where everyone is cared for, where everyone is family.

The Songs:

Selebeyon “sell-ah-bee-yone” is the first single from Aba Diop and The Yermande Family featuring an energetic emulsion of African sabar and tama drum in conversation, sparkling kora harp and meditative jazzy guitar riffs. Aba's multi-millennia lineage as a griot, the culture-bearers of West Africa, shines through the song describing a crossroads where the djinn—the genies—gather. Selebeyon stands at its own crossroads, ancient and modern, as it redefines "world music" for a new generation.

Bellio Mbaye “bell-yo mbye” Immerse yourself in ‘Bellio Mbaye,’ a polyrhythmic, percussion-driven healing ceremony song that channels the heartbeat of West Africa and radiates a kind of energetic trance while evoking the artist's deep lineage in the lyrics: hyping the ancestors including his grandmother who also sang the song. Female vocals weave in and out of this magic carpet ride of kora, sabar drums and electric guitar.

Serigne Cheikh Ndiguel Fall “ser-een cher ndig-el fall” is a devotional song with bass, tama, guitar and sabar from Aba Diop & the Yermande Family honoring the living spiritual guide of the Senegalese Sufis known as the Baye Fall. “I grew up playing in front of him, that is why I made a song to say ‘thank you’ for making us real real real Baye Fall.” –Aba, whose percussive vocal hook punctuates traditional background chanting. A humble and hypnotic offering of praise when music is all you have.

Liggueyil “lee-gay-eel” is about the cultural value of working hard for long-term success, because there are no shortcuts to true commitment. Bright, peppery rhythms and a minor key blend on this track about respect, faith, and the future that awaits the one who can’t stop, won’t stop.

Album Credits:

Aba Diop — Percussion, vocal, composer
Noumoucounda Cissoko @noumoucounda_ — Kora
Jason Hosier @j.a.hosier — Guitar
Samba Ndokh Mbaye @mbayesambandokh — Tama
Thierno Sarr — Bass
Zeyna Ngom @guerriere_zeyna — Vocals
Cheikh Ibrahima Ndiaye (Lamp) — Engineer, additional arrangement
Bec Stupak Diop @becstupakdiop — Producer
Rachael Rice @rachaelrice — Liner Notes
Aba & Rachael in Dakar