SOUL SOK SÉGA
STRUT RECORDS IS SET TO RELEASE SOUL SOK SÉGA ON JANUARY 22ND.
Following successful excursions into rare tropical and island sounds with the ‘Sofrito’ series, ‘Haiti Direct’ and ‘Calypsoul 70’ albums, Strut Records turns its focus to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius for a new compilation of the incredible séga sounds that emerged from the island during the 1970s, ‘Soul Sok Séga’.
Séga is the traditional music of Mauritius island and is known as the “blues” of the Indian Ocean. It was born during the 17th to 19th centuries as African slaves, transported against their will to Île de France, now Mauritius, gradually forged their own identity. Improvised music and dancing to night fires helped them forget harsh conditions in sugar cane fields and on colonial land. They would make up Creole riddles, “sirandanes”, and sing and dance all night to rhythms from their homelands in West Africa, Mozambique, Zanzibar or Madagascar. From these diverse African influences sprang a new, insular dance and music, the séga.
The ravanne drum is inseparable from séga, a percussion instrument made from a goat skin strung over a large wooden circular frame. Séga is always accompanied on the ravanne, the maravanne (a thin box made out of dried sugar cane flower shoots and filled with dried seeds) and the triangle, the three basic instruments of séga ravanne, the typical sega (“séga tipik”) of Mauritius.
Early settlers and missionaries disapproved. For them, the dancing was too erotic, the rum too rife and the fighting too frequent. Post-slavery, black and mixed race musicians who still moved in the circle of white land-owners whilst living in their villages developed a more “civilised” form of the music, mixing traditional elements with European instrumentation, which began to be performed at parties or to honour guests. With this shift and thanks to groundbreaking artists like the legendary Ti Frère and Serge Lebrasse, séga became popularised during the ‘60s. An accompanying dance emerged also - couples moved together without touching. Hips swung, arms were raised and feet swept the floor in lateral steps. Couples would crouch down on their knees, their busts meeting before leaning over onto each other, back and forth.
By the mid-‘60s, séga had become a symbol of national pride and identity for Mauritius. With the advent of electric instruments, the influx of funk, soul and jazz from the West and the growth of LPs, séga went commercial. Dancefloors started grooving to a more soulful, funky séga beat and séga artists popped up all over the island with a new generation of charismatic singers becoming national stars. Séga, sung in Créole, now united all the communities of the island. Mauritians from the European, African, Indian and Chinese communities, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, all danced and enjoyed séga.
Later, Indian percussion instruments like the dholok and the tabla were incorporated into the music, giving rise to séga bhojpuri. Other variants developed organically: séga ravanne to seggae, a fusion of séga and reggae, séga folk to protest séga or séga engazé. On neighbouring islands, séga also thrived as séga tambour and séga kordéon in Rodrigues, as séga and maloya on Reunion Island and as moutia in the Seychelles.
In Mauritius, many of the ‘70s generation of artists learnt their trade from producer / arrangers Marclaine Antoine and Gérard Cimiotti and owe them their careers. Antoine has been at the centre of the development of séga throughout his life, composing and arranging prolifically for other artists and has passionately championed the preservation of Créole culture. Cimiotti had started out in 1955 and became the bandleader on the influential Mauritian TV talent programme ‘Star Show’. He was one of the first to accompany and help launch the careers of young ségatiers including Jean-Claude, Ramone and Coulouce.
Séga was not often played on the only radio station, the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and, although it was released on vinyl records, not many people had record players. So, it was primarily live bands that popularised the music. At weddings and parties, bands started playing séga in amongst international hits.
Among the biggest of the new stars was Claudio Veeraragoo, the first mixed-race star of séga. His stroke of genius was to marry séga rhythms with qawwali and Bollywood styles and he broke through as a major star with his cassette release, ‘Bhaï Aboo’ which exploded across the island upon its release. Ti L’Afrique aka Roland Fatime was another to break from ‘Star Show’ and, despite suffering heavily from piracy of his compositions. He rejuvenated séga, adding raw soul to the mix accompanied by Eric Nelson’s explosive electric guitar solos.
Another TV show that would help kick-start the careers of notable ségatiers like Michel Legris and John Kenneth Nelson was ‘Sugar Time’, a singing competition organised by PROSI, an organisation bringing together the island’s sugar industry. Like fellow traditional séga legends Ti Frère and Fanfan, Legris could not read or write but had a gift of capturing a moment perfectly in a song. He was a close friend of the Workers party and the Duvalistes and they in turn supported his career, facilitating tours to China and Europe until his recent passing.
Hailing from the village of Britannia, John Kenneth Nelson was another artist who called heavily on séga’s rural roots for his guttural vocal style and folk arrangements and was part of a leading Mauritian musical family alongside two brothers, Harold and Eric. Eric was a virtuoso electric guitarist and a leading member of influential bands Soley Ruz and Features Of Life.
Other artists helped the development of séga in different ways. In 1967, singer Cyril Labonne was asked by hotelier Michel Cervello to form a group of dancers to perform séga for visiting tourists at his new hotel Le Nouveau Vatel in Curepipe, the first time a séga group had been asked to do this. Their success led to record releases for Labonne.
The greatest séga vocalists of the ‘70s had a unique turn of phrase and a skilful lyricism. One of the best of this era, Jean-Claude Gaspard, was the son of another legendary ségatier, Roger Augustin and would become the highest selling artist in the Indian Ocean region. His lyrics included the double meanings and skilful mocking typical of séga but he was also a poet, an incisive observer of life around him, garnered from his time as a foreman for a local Mairie.
There are sadly some tragic tales within the history of ‘70s séga. Jean Pierre Mohabeer aka Coulouce had been one of the coolest of the island’s artists during the ‘70s, a chic dresser and a ladies’ man scoring domestic hits and performing some of the most erotic segas of all. Sadly, he became destitute in later life and passed away in the grip of alcohol.
‘Soul Sok Sega’ features extensive sleeve notes from long time Mauritian cultural champion, Percy Yip Tong, including new artist interviews, photos and original vinyl artwork. The compilation is by DJ duo La Basse Tropicale (Natty Hô and Konsöle), based in the neighbouring island of La Reunion. All formats (1CD / 2LP / digital) are unmixed, with all tracks never reissued internationally since they were originally available. An accompanying European tour featuring Ti L’Afrique, Jean Claude and Claudio with an all-star band of original musicians is planned for Autumn 2016.
1. TI L’AFRIQUE – SOUL SOCK SÉGA
2. JEAN-CLAUDE – MADEMOISELLE
3. GEORGIE JOE – ELIZA
4. JOHN KENNETH NELSON – MANUEL BITOR
5. MARIE JOSÉE & ROGER CLENCY – LA VIE EN BADINAGE
6. CLAUDIO – BONOM CHINOIS
7. LES STARDUST – SÉGA LENOIR
8. COULOUCE – L’AMOUR ARTIFICIEL (SOUL SÉGA)
9. CLAUDIO – BHAÏ ABOO
10. CHRISTOPHE – MO PARRAIN
11. CYRIL LABONNE – POP SOUL SÉGA
12. HAROLD BERTY – MONE LASSER DIRE TOI
13. MICHEL LEGRIS - ELIDA
14. CATHERINE VELIENNE – MO MARI FINI ALLÉ
15. JEAN-CLAUDE – SÉGA SOUVAL
16. RAMONE – NOUVEAU VENU DANS L’ENDROIT
17. JOHN KENNETH NELSON – Z’ENFANT MISÈRE
18. GEORGES JEAN LOUIS – AFRO MAURICIEN
19. YOYO – COCO MAMZELLE
20. CHRISTIAN TOSSÉ – MADAME ZEAN
For more info, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, 323.254.4027.