A Brief History Of Mauritian Séga Music

Séga is the foremost traditional music of Mauritius and the Mascarene islands — born from the music of African slaves and the Maroons, and shaped by their Creole descendants. It is most often sung in French creole. Séga is also popular on the islands of Agalega and Rodrigues as well as Seychelles and Réunion where Maloya (a cousin genre) is equally prominent. The music and dances differ across these islands and is performed in each islands’ respective Creole dialects. Originally it was made only with traditional instruments: the ravanne, triangle and vocals. The songs are often written in protest against inequality, oppression and political malpractice in island society.  

The first records of slaves arriving in Mauritius were people stolen from  Madagascar in 1639. The Dutch East India Company established  settlements, tobacco and prominent sugar cane plantations. Trade opened to the French colonialists and slavers during 1769. From then onward, also under the British Empire from 1810, people who were treated as stock, were traded and brought violently from other countries, including  Zanzibar, Tanzania, Mozambique and the West African coast. The population increased from 15,000 to 49,000 in only 30 years. During the late eighteenth century the displaced people (slaves) made up around 80% of  Mauritius’ population. By the early 1900’s there were 60,000 on the island. Today the island of Mauritius is only gradually coming to terms with its  colonial past, and the Creole population remain among the poorest and most disadvantaged in Mauritian society.  

“The King of Séga” Jean Alphonse Ravaton known as “Ti Frère”, which  means “little brother” in Creole, was born on April 22nd 1900 in the  settlement Quartier Militaire, in the district of Moka. His father was a musician of Afro-Malagasy origin who would host substantial dances named “bal bobesse”, so from a young age Ti Frère was exposed to ‘Séga Typik’. This gave him a vital foundation in Séga music, enabling him to improvise a song on request. In 1925 he recorded his first séga, ‘Tamassa’. The song was pressed in 1948 by Damoo sound & music; the first 45 rpm recorded on Mauritius island. During this period, faced with a restricted, racially guided class system on the island, Séga was regarded as vulgar, primitive African music. Despite this prejudiced misconception, Ti Frère’s popularity grew progressively larger and the outcome was the crown “King of the Sega” in 1964, although he was given this title, Ti Frère remained living in poverty.  

During the 1970s with the introduction of the modern sega, Musicians like Cyril Labonne, Serge Lebrasse, Ti L’Afrique, Jean-Claude, Yoyo and Michel Legris helped take sega into an electric era, taking influence and fusing it with funk, Rock and Jazz. Likewise the same was happening on Reunion island with both Séga and Maloya music, with artists such as Alain Péters, Hervé Imare, René Lacaille and Danyel Waro.  

During this time and into the 1990s the Legend Ti Frère and ‘Séga Typik’  became much less appreciated. Ti Frère died in 1992 but his songs survive.  With a renaissance of traditional Séga, Ti Frère’s Most popular songs, ‘Maa  Bole Maa’, ‘Charlie Oh’, ‘Anita’, ‘La grain café’, ‘Roseda’, ‘Papitou’, ‘Baré’, ‘Ki ti baliyé la’, are still heard in Mauritius and among Mauritian communities worldwide to this day.  

Jean Claude Gaspard rose to prominence around this time with over 200  songs to his name. Other significant traditional Séga artists include Cyril  Labonne, Roger Clency, Marie Josee Clency, Roger Augustin and Serge  Lebrasse, who was introduced to Sega by Ti-Frére. The legacy of Traditional Séga and Maloya lives on through many current musicians – Menwar, Fanfan,  Danyel Waro and Firmin Viry just to name a few – who continue the culture and the storytelling of the Mascarene islands.  

Listen to a mix of Mauritian Sega Music put together by Reginald Omas Mamode IV and Jeen Bassa AKA Mama Ode.

Their new album, Tales & Patterns of The Maroons, is out now on Five Easy Pieces.

Sega, Malagache Maroon, Mascarene – Tracklist
Maroon introduction
Mira pipes of pan – Gidole tribe instrument
Accompong Maroons – Maroon Law
Sakalava music recorded in Nossi-Bé (1963) – Madagascar
Ti Frere – Roseda
Ki Pozition Ensemble – Rain man
Granmoun Lélé – Bangoueni
Danyel Waro – Batarsite
Alain Peters – Plime La Misère
Mama Odé – Sega Moves
Jean Claude Gaspard – Mademoiselle
Caméléon – La Rosée Si Feullilles Songes
Ti L’Afrik – Sol Sok Sega
René Lacaille – Odé Drum Edit
Fanfan – Ti Bambou
Hervé Imare – Mélé-Mélé pas toué p’tit Pierre
Fanfan – Petit Pêcher
Carrousel – Oté Maloya
Menwar – Wayowaya
Bird on water (Madagascar) – Ny vorona eny ambonin’ny
rano Ramone – Nouveau Venu Dans L’endroit
R.Omas – Kand zot pou Apprende? Instrumental)
Mo Kolours – Afro Quarters (Original Take)

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