West African Cultural Dance in Gambia
music and West African cultural dancing go very much together in Gambia. They
range from the vibrant cultural dancing of he Jola tribe to the
more modern dance style of the Wolof which is accompanied by
Ndaga (Mbalax) music.
Each ethnic group has its own dance and ranges from wild, dynamic and exuberant arm and body movements, foot stamping and
hip gyrating. Some types incorporate the
Kumpo masked dance from
the Jola which has to be seen to be believed. It involves a man
decked in lots of grass twirling while pivoted on a pole on his
Although each people have their own favourite drumming tunes and
unique dance styles, most Gambians perform a similar popular
dance. Typically a circle or semi-circle is formed with the
dancers facing the drummers. Each in turn, dancers will come to
the center for an energetic but usually short yet spirited
display of fancy footwork and vigorous hip movements. Women's
head scarves (Mussour) will often be thrown into the ring to show
appreciation for the drummer's ensemble, and a dancer may draw
someone else into the circle with the same Mussour.
Mandinka dancers are known for their arm movements and footwork,
where as Wolofs tend to emphasize their hips. It is the men who
usually play the drums while the women dance, but sometimes men
will also take part in the performance.
This type of dancing is more of a community affair with everyone
participating. In contrast, the special acrobatic male dance of
the Fulas is more of a performance. Their ensemble consists of a
lead flutist, a fiddler, and one or more drummers beating ringed
fingers on calabash gourds placed on their chests. Each musician
will take his turn performing acrobatic feats to the
accompaniment of the others. These dancers often perform on
weekends at various beaches such as Sanyang.
The "Taxuraan" is a type of show put on in villages including
dance and music. Men's dances are featured with the men wearing
the very full chaya pants which sway back and forth as they
move. Wolof dance is accompanied by a "tama" (underarm talking
drum). Two types of griot participate in the Taxuraan - the
tama players and others who sing and speak.
While the Sabarr features mostly women dancers, the Taxuraan is
mainly a men's thing where they improvise and puns, jokes, and
riddles addressed to the female audience they hope to attract.
The "Tatu Lawbe" is performed by women wearing many strings of
beads around their waists and their hips up in the air. The
beads make a clacking noise while the hips undulate. This dance
has given birth to the modern-day "Climatiseur" or the
faster "Ventilateur" of Senegambia.
A Lebu dance of rejoicing on the election of a new Djarraf (village
chief) is called the "Gumbe." Another occasion for a
special Lebu, performed by the women, is when fishermen bring in
their catch. Mask dances are more traditional
among the Mandinka, Jola and Basari in the south and east of
Gambia and Senegal.