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Sabar (Drum)
Culture & Traditions   Music   Traditional   Modern Senegambian Music    
The sabar drum (Sabarro in Mandinka) is by far the most common instrument in Gambia. You can hear it at every family gathering, Catholic Church meeting, political rally, Baay-Fall Islamic meeting, and marketplace. Many Gambians say if there aren't sabars at an occasion, nobody will go. The sabar has become the backbone of almost every Gambian music group.

Contemporary Gambian popular and semi-traditional music is generally designated as "Mballax," named for a family of traditional sabar dance rhythms ubiquitous in the country's music. A group of sabars is an essential ingredient in all such music.

The nder, the lead sabar drum, is longer and higher-pitched than the others.

The mbėng-mbėng is the mid-range accompaniment sabar. Like the nder, it can produce several different pitches and tones using different methods.

The gorong talmbat is a bass sabar and (unlike the mbėng-mbėng and the nder) has a closed end and rests on the ground, somewhat like a non-directional subwoofer.

The lamb looks almost identical to the talmbat but is lower by an interval of about a third and has short tuning strings. Unlike the nder and mbėng-mbėng, both bass drums produce only one pitch.

The xiin (not pictured) is shorter and stouter in shape and is a favorite drum of adherents of the Baay-Fall sect.

The gorong babas is a lead sabar with a sound similar to the nder but has the same shape as the lamb and is a very recent addition to the sabar family. Today's premier sabar player, Doudou Ndiaye Rose, invented the gorong babas as a replacement for the longer nder, which he found awkward to carry around during concerts.

Sabars usually play in groups of at least three and sometimes even dozens. Doudou Ndiaye Rose, the most famous player in Senegambia, sometimes includes over a hundred of his children and grandchildren in his concerts. The sabars repeat complementary and predetermined patterns, each player occasionally breaking from his pattern to improvise. All the players watch the nder player for sometimes abrupt and complicated transitions between rhythms. As with any other instrument in The Gambia, sabar players are traditionally only male, although in some rare settings, females also play

Sabar rhythms have many different functions. The most well-known rhythms today are the dance rhythms, since the traditional context of many of the other rhythms has disappeared. Dance rhythms include the Mbalax and Ceebujen and the sabar.

The ndėpp is played at exorcism rituals, and the gajarde is the victory rhythm played for returning warriors. The gajarde is still well known even though traditional warfare no longer exists because it is also played for victorious wrestlers. Traditional wrestling is the most popular spectator sport in Gambia, and wrestlers are the modern heroes of Gambia.

Similar Instruments:
The Sereer and the Mandinko also play forms of sabars. Sereer sabars are a bit larger than Wolof sabars, while Mandinka sabars are much smaller, although construction and tuning of these instruments is similar. Mandinka drums, suruba are commonly called sabar soose in Gambia, which means "Mandinka sabars" in Wolof. The Mandinka sabar is about 10 inches tall, whereas the smallest Wolof type, the Mbėngmbėng, is a musical drum that is usually at least 2 feet tall.


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