As the music and dance most closely associated with Mauritius, Sega has evolved from its traditional, mostly-improvised roots to a modern-day version often fused with other genres like jazz and reggae. Originating centuries ago among the island’s African slave populations, it quickly spread throughout the Indian Ocean – to Reunion, Rodrigues, the Seychelles, Comoros and Mayotte – and used imaginative new instruments to bring the exhilarating rhythms to life, provoking an unquenchable urge to dance among its listeners.
Traditional Sega was once important as a tool, in the process of adaptation. Through it early African slaves brought to the island articulated their sorrow, their yearning for home and their means of adapting to a new environment. Like other forms of cultural expression, the Sega functioned as a pressure valve, at times of great tension, distress and oppression. Moreover, it has been, and still is, an outlet or medium to convey stories and myths.
The essence of the Sega beat comes from the combination of several core instruments, most notably the triangle, the maravane – a flat wooden rattle filled with small pebbles or dried nuts – and the ravane, a circular wooden drum frame covered with a taut piece of goat hide, often heated over a flame to tighten the membrane for a livelier sound and sometimes ringed with bells.
Lyrics are normally in Mauritian Creole, though sometimes in French, with a vocal melody usually sung in verse/chorus form. Around the middle of the last century, the addition of guitars, accordians, drums and trumpets reinvigorated the genre, and by the mid 1960s Sega had emerged from the confines of private gatherings to become openly popular throughout Mauritius. Mauritian sega has been recognized by the UNESCO. This traditional Mauritian music was built around the ravanne (instrument), and has evolved with artists like Abaim, Lespri Ravann, Menwar, amongst others.
Mauritian sega has been evolving since the 1980s, through a faster tempo and the introduction of instruments like the guitar, drums, keyboards, etc.