Séga: the Mauritian pioneers
Séga, considered the national music and dance of Mauritius, originated from the island’s early African slave population as a distraction from the harshness of their daily lives. The dance – a rhythmic, instinctual form of movement in which the feet never leave the ground – is historically accompanied by a traditional percussion instrument known as the ravane; a basic goatskin drum which provides a pulsating backdrop that can often whip up both performer and audience into a frenzy.
Séga music can be heard all over Mauritius, though its popularity as a modern-day art form is often credited to 1950s and 60s Creole singer Ti-Frére, whose legendary performance at the ‘Night of the Séga at Mount Le Morne’ in 1964 was a turning point which saw Séga emerge from the shadows and into the mainstream.
Along with Ti-Frére, one of the genre’s biggest stars has been Jean-Claude Gaspard, who in 2014 celebrated his 50th year in the music industry. Recently retired after a farewell show at the J&J Auditorium in Phoenix on 12th July, Gaspard passed on the Séga baton to his two musical children, Denis-Claude and Mary-Jane, both also Séga artists in their own right.
The now 68-year old Jean-Claude – raised by his grandmother Maria Rosa who taught him to sing French songs of the 1950s – made his major breakthrough into the public eye by winning a TV talent show with his rendition of the Johnny Hallyday number ‘Cheveux long et idées courtes’ (Long hair and short ideas). He then went on to write well over 200 songs – many of which were big hits and remain classics of the genre – and became one of the best-loved artists and performers in Mauritius.
Before his final show, Gaspard was invited to meet the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Dr. Navinchandra Ramgoolam, at the Treasury Building in Port Louis, where he was thanked for his contributions to the musical and cultural traditions of Mauritius, and reminded that he will be leaving a rich musical heritage to the younger generation. As for Jean-Claude, he may be withdrawing from the music scene, but not from Séga itself. As one of the genre’s ‘founding fathers’ and indeed, the father of two of the scene’s current crop, he remains proud to be a Séga ambassador for a long time to come.
Photo: Four Seasons at Anahita.