Sega is the traditional music of Mauritius, described by Percy Yip-Tong as “the blues of the Indian ocean.” It was created by African slaves from the islands of Seychelles, Mauritius and more. These people worked in sugar cane fields, creating the steps of the sega to express their pain, stories and experiences. After slavery, it is said that sega was cast aside. In an interview with CNN, singer Linzy Backbotte explains that “since sega was sang in creole, it was not forbidden, but looked down.” Yip-Tong describes how sega became “a celebration music, a party music” and in recent times, sega has been fused with reggae to create ‘seggae’. “Soul Sok Séga” – a compilation released in 2016 by Strut Records – documents how artists of the 1960s and 70s combined sega with electric guitars and synthesizers, with the record showing how the music had become a source of national pride.
J Beatz is a grime producer from Enfield, perhaps best known for being a DJ, producer and key member of Mode FM. His latest release ‘Sega Boy’ taps in to his Mauritian heritage, fusing the two genres together for a three track EP.
Throughout ‘Sega Boy‘, rhythm is king. J Beatz uses the backbone of sega – the ravanne and the triangle – to create percussion lines that engulf the speakers, priming each track for sound-system domination. The rhythms are tight and feel gargantuan – but most importantly of all – they make you want to move. Each track features watertight percussion that’s continuous, the perfect foundation for the grime elements of the EP to come to the fore.
For opening track “Sega Boy”, it starts as a glitch, chopping away in the spaces between the rhythms, transforming into a lead line that twirls atop the rumbling low end, each element of “Sega Boy” combining to create a slick fusion of sega and grime. “Ravanne” skips from the speakers. Unfurling percussion and fuzzy ravanne stabs make up the track, eventually joined by string lines that provide a delicate offset to the rumbling low end underneath. “Dodo” closes out the EP. The now-familiar sega inspired undercurrent shaking the speakers, decorated by whirlpools of bass. They shudder intermittently, combining with the drums to create a dub-style tour de force, and as the track closes, sprightly melody lines compete for space with heavy bass lines.
The Mauritian influence goes beyond the music, as J Beatz takes track names from key elements of sega. “Ravanne” takes its name from the instrument of the same name, a tambourine-like drum that’s crafted from wood and covered in goatskin. “Dodo” shares its name with the flightless bird, now extinct but native to the island of Mauritius. J Beatz has Mauritian heritage – so he will always have a genuine connection to the sounds he is using – but these subtle elements show a producer fully aware of the history and context of the music he is sampling from, keeping ‘Sega Boy’ from being a fusion of genres done at face value.
‘Sega Boy‘ fuses the two styles well. Sega and grime are two genres where the creators tell their stories, but equally use the music as a celebration. The venues might be different; the context and time frames separate, but they share collective enjoyment and community spirit in abundance. J Beatz’ understanding of this context is what makes the EP work, he takes the rhythmic elements of sega and makes them ready for the sound-system, opening up new sonic territory within grime and exposing listeners to something they may never have come across otherwise.
Featured image taken from Bandcamp, created by Harry Ley.
This piece wouldn’t have been possible without documents that gave me the information to provide context about sega music. ‘Sega, the sound of Mauritius’ can be viewed here. It features vital information about the relationship between sega and slavery. This interview with Menwar and this article from Strut Records also feature some good information.
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