Mauritius sega 
Island music and dance

The Mauritius sega is a rich cultural heritage recognized by UNESCO.
Folk music, creole songs and dance were devised by slaves from Africa and Madagascar. 
You’ll be captivated by our island folklore and traditional musical instruments. Wide floral skirts, colourful, vibrant, enticing …

Let’s dance the night away! Under the stars on the beach around a bonfire.
What better place? 

The history of Mauritius sega

At the beginning there were no colourful costumes or electric guitars. Reggae and remix, what’s that?

Let’s go back to the 18th century when slaves arrived on the island from Africa and Madagascar. Life was hard on sugar plantations so slaves devised their own entertainment.  Creole songs, folk dancing and homemade musical instruments. 

Slaves also performed the sega to communicate with spirits, in magic rituals and during funerals. Worshiping ancestors is an important part of African religious beliefs. 

The Catholic Church did not see eye to eye with some of these rituals which were performed at the back of courtyards. This type of sega called ‘backyard music’ is not practiced anymore.

Typical Mauritius sega instruments

Long after slavery was abolished sega songs and dances were still considered with suspicion by many Mauritians.

That’s until 1964 when a sega show called ‘La Nuit du Sega’ or ‘Sega’s Night’ was organized on the slope of Le Morne Mountain. ‘Ti frere’ the father of Mauritius sega was immortalized with his famous song called ‘Anita’. The first recording of a sega song.

It’s heart-warming that the sega typik moricien has now been recognized by UNESCO. Mauritius sega is inscribed on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Our traditional song and dance form is an important part of the island culture and heritage.

Three traditional musical instruments

  • The ravanne
  • The triangle
  • The maravanne

They were so cleverly invented! All handmade using a specific wood, goat skin, seeds and iron. Let’s have a look.

The 'Ravanne'

The ‘ravanne’ is the most important instrument in sega typik. It’s a type of drum with a circular wooden frame and a goat skin glued to it. Before the show starts the ravanne is heated to stretch the skin for a perfect acoustic.

To make a ravanne is a lengthy and delicate procedure.  Slaves used wood from a tree they called ‘bois lacolle’ or ‘glue wood’. The wood gave a glue-like substance when cut.

the 'ravanne' a typical sega music instrument

The triangle and the maravanne 

The triangle is a simple iron rod which has been bent to form a triangle. The ‘musician’ uses a short iron stick to bang on the triangle.

The maravanne is a wooden box with seeds inside held by a musician who shakes it.

the maravanne used in Mauritius sega

The young generation is not really interested in learning the art of making traditional musical instruments from the elders.  

Traditional Mauritius sega

Sometimes musicians are hired for the evening. Add a few tots of rum and soon the rhythm gets going. The photo below was taken at a friend’s birthday party. 

The creoles are from Black River on the West coast. They are famous for performing the traditional sega. They wear humble clothing playing their cherished musical instruments. 

I think they had a few tots of rum already …

Other traditional segas

As usual creoles use very imaginative words. Look how they describe the many types of sega. It has to do with the location of the show.

  • Sega salon (ballroom sega)
  • Sega lotel (hotel sega)
  • Sega lakour (garden sega)
  • Sega dans lari (street sega)
  • Sega boutik (shop sega)
  • Sega typik divan la porte (sega typik in front of the house)

When I was manageress of a boutique hotel in Grand Bay we had a sega ‘show’ once a week. Aldo our barman was the lead singer. His musical instrument was a drum made from a petrol jerricane (empty of course). Denis and Francis two of our waiters played the guitar and triangle. 

Sega musicians 'typik'

The music of Mauritius

Fusion sega music and remix are popular. Kaya a well-known Mauritian musician invented the ‘Seggae’ a combination of sega and reggae music. Electric guitars and a modern imitation of the ravanne have made their apparition at music events.

The modern ravanne

Let’s hope our ‘sega typik’ is not going to be completely lost to new music trends. It's important to keep the culture of the Mauritius people alive.

Formal sega 

Sega shows have moved away from the humble family and friends get together to formal affairs. Colourful costumes combined with choreography and live music offer you a memorable evening.

Lots of moving and gyrating of hands and hips with small steps. All done without body contact within a circle formed by musicians.

Apart from sega shows we also celebrate our many religions with fascinating festivals.

Formal Mauritius sega

You’ll see formal sega during various official celebrations to commemorate our independence, the abolition of slavery and music festivals. 
Most resort hotels have weekly shows for their guests. A great opportunity to learn how to dance the Mauritius sega!

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