People & Culture

Ancient ancestry

Over ten main ethnic groups live in Senegal, though five account for the majority of the country’s people.

The largest group is the Wolof in the northwest and central region, who make up nearly half of the population. The Wolof tongue is a common language across Senegal.

Traditional dancing

MusicIn this video… Watch some traditional Senegalese dancing and music.

In the north, are the Fula/Peul/Fulbe/Fulani, one of West Africa’s largest and most diverse ethnic groups speaking two distinct languages and accounting for around a quarter of the population.

The Serer live in the central region, the Malinke and Mandinka in the southern Casamance region and the Diola/Jola in the southwest. Smaller groups include the Tukulor, Serahuli, Bassari, Bédik and Lebou.

Many of these groups are the descendents of ancient kingdoms which controlled vast areas of West Africa – for example, the Wolof culture harks back to the 14th century Jolof Empire, the Malinke and Mandinka to the Mande people of the 13th century Mali Empire and the Tukulor date their cultural roots to the 9-11th century Tekrur Empire, one of the earliest to embrace Islam.

The Senegal music beat

With few written records, knowledge of these ancient empires has been passed down the generations through oral tradition. Griots, or story-tellers, memorise epic tales and sing many of them to music. One of the most common instruments used is the kora, a harp-lute which dates back centuries.

Boys watching football on TVDrums also play an important role in African music. The traditional rhythms of the sabar and tama drums still form the backdrop to one of the most popular types of music in Senegal today – Mbalax. This is a fiery mixture of Cuban and African sounds.

Among the younger generation, reggae and hip hop are also popular. Dakar has a varied music scene, with all kinds of salsa, jazz and pop played in the clubs, cafes, cars and homes of residents. And music isn’t just for indoors – the various sounds of Senegal’s music compete against each other from stereos carried along by their owners.

It's only when a national football game is played, that the streets become silent.