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Sabar, Polyrhythm, and the Politics of Body Movement

Dance Workshop Series, Talks, Convenings

June–Sept 2024

All Dates
Photo: Antoine TempeÌ

Photo: Antoine TempeÌ

Originating from Senegalese shores, sabar is a sonic language that was born out of the coastal oral traditions of Wolof, Lébou, and Sérère communities. The term comes from the Wolof language, designating the single drum instrument as well as its ensemble, the drumming style, its sensual dancing, and the popular celebration which often takes place in the context of important social events such as naming ceremonies, weddings, and rituals of initiations, among others.

Very much practised in griot families, drumming and sabar are traditions that constitute a pillar in Senegalese oral history. Also known as a storyteller, the figure of the griot occupies an important role in society: messenger, mediator, counselor, organizer. Traditionally, sabar gatherings were planned and organized by the griot in close collaboration with male drummers who held the knowledge of activating the drums’ sonicity; women who could work on the social aspect of the gathering and take care of clothing arrangements; and younger people, who were often more active when it comes to spatial organization, lending a helping hand. Also known as a spiritual practice, sabar has been used in healing ceremonies, using the drums as a connector to higher spirits. Accordingly, the sabar never occurs before the mandatory baak call that greets the ancestors.

The ceremony takes place in a circle starting with a set of six, twelve, or twenty-four drums. The sounds circulate from each vibrating drum through each person present in the circle. Although the dancing portion of the sabar starts from the individual who is at the centre of the circle, the general choreography grows through collective movements between duos, trios, and more. The polyphony provided by the collective drumming aims to align the body with the rhythm of the drums, fostering a strong conversation with the beats offered. Visually, the dancing can appear to follow the rhythm, however the intention is to have various  sonic rendez-vous that are directed by the lead drummer. 

The etymology of the word ‘sabar’ derives from the Wolof word ‘sabal’ that refers to a bird call or song. Echoing this root, the sonic calls of the sabar encompass a mix of staccato, glissando, vibrato, whistling, and warbling bird songs, among others. As the sabar dancing gets activated by the drumming, its movements resemble those of a rapid walking bird, creating an array of frenetic and sometimes sensual body expressions.

Bringing sabar traditions to HKW contributes to the Politics of Rhythm project initially established at the house with the Bullerengue workshops in June 2023. It sustains the aim of HKW to welcome technological modes of collective movement as practices of togetherness and body liberation. From June to September 2024, HKW hosts sabar drummers Nago Guèye Koité & SAF SAP; Wadane Coumba Rose Ndiaye and Bouyo Ndiaye Rose; Professor of Literature and African Civilisations. Ibrahima Wane; dance historian Aïssatou Bangoura-Sow; literary scholar and curator Ibou Coulibaly Diop; artists, dancers, and choreographers Germaine Acogny, Yama Reine de Sabar, Babacar Mané, Baye Mor Dieng and Pape Ibrahima Ndiaye aka Kaolack; as well as communities located in and outside of Germany to collectively revive and resonate with the vibrations of sabar drumming, its dance, and its ceremonial practices.

Public events take place in French and German with translation into both languages.
Workshops take place in German, French and Wolof with language assistance possible.
Limited number of participants, registration possible at any time.

If you are interested in taking part, please send an e-mail to sabar@hkw.de, with the subject ‘Participation’ and specify which workshop(s) you would like to join.