The sabar drum (Sabarro in Mandinka) is by far the most
common instrument in Gambia. You can hear it at every
family gathering, Catholic Church meeting, political
rally, Baay-Fall Islamic meeting, and marketplace. Many
Gambians say if there aren't sabars at an occasion,
nobody will go. The sabar has become the backbone of
almost every Gambian music group. Contemporary Gambian
popular and semi-traditional music is generally designated
as "Mballax," named for a family of traditional
sabar dance rhythms ubiquitous in the country's music.
A group of sabars is an essential ingredient in all
• The nder, the lead sabar drum, is longer
and higher-pitched than the others.
The mbėng-mbėng is the mid-range accompaniment sabar.
Like the nder, it can produce several different pitches
and tones using different methods.
The gorong talmbat is a bass sabar and (unlike the mbėng-mbėng
and the nder) has a closed end and rests on the ground,
somewhat like a non-directional subwoofer.
• The lamb looks almost identical to the talmbat
but is lower by an interval of about a third and has
short tuning strings. Unlike the nder and mbėng-mbėng,
both bass drums produce only one pitch.
The xiin (not pictured) is shorter and stouter in shape
and is a favorite drum of adherents of the Baay-Fall
• The gorong babas is a lead sabar
with a sound similar to the nder but has the same shape
as the lamb and is a very recent addition to the sabar
family. Today's premier sabar player, Doudou Ndiaye
Rose, invented the gorong babas as a replacement for
the longer nder, which he found awkward to carry around
Sabars usually play in groups of at least three and
sometimes even dozens. Doudou Ndiaye Rose, the most
famous player in Senegambia, sometimes includes over
a hundred of his children and grandchildren in his concerts.
The sabars repeat complementary and predetermined patterns,
each player occasionally breaking from his pattern to
improvise. All the players watch the nder player for
sometimes abrupt and complicated transitions between
rhythms. As with any other instrument in The Gambia,
sabar players are traditionally only male, although
in some rare settings, females also play.
Sabar rhythms have many different functions. The most
well-known rhythms today are the dance rhythms, since
the traditional context of many of the other rhythms
has disappeared. Dance rhythms include the Mbalax and
Ceebujen and the sabar.
The ndėpp is played at
exorcism rituals, and the gajarde is the victory rhythm
played for returning warriors. The gajarde is still
well known even though traditional warfare no longer
exists because it is also played for victorious wrestlers.
Traditional wrestling is the most popular spectator
sport in Gambia, and wrestlers are the modern heroes
The Sereer and the Mandinko also play forms of sabars.
Sereer sabars are a bit larger than Wolof sabars, while
Mandinka sabars are much smaller, although construction
and tuning of these instruments is similar. Mandinka
drums, suruba are commonly called sabar soose in Gambia,
which means "Mandinka sabars" in Wolof. The
Mandinka sabar is about 10 inches tall, whereas the
smallest Wolof type, the Mbėngmbėng, is a musical drum
that is usually at least 2 feet tall.