Mbalax (or Mbalakh) is the national popular dance music of Senegal and The Gambia. Mbalax is a fusion of popular Western music and dance such as jazz, soul, Latin, and rock blended with sabar, the traditional drumming and dance music of Senegal. The genre's name derived from the heavy use of accompanying rhythms used in sabar called mbalax.
Mbalax in its current form developed in Senegal in the 1970s. Up to that time popular music was dominated by Haitian kompa, zouk, Congolese Soukous, American Soul and Funk, as well as, most prominently, Cuban music, as interpreted by Senegalese musicians. Influenced by the 'back to the roots' philosophy of Afrocentric and the receding influence of colonialism, artists began to mix these sounds with traditional Senegalese music and forge new sounds incorporating their new national identity. Musicians began singing in Wolof (Senegal's largest national language) instead of French, and incorporated rhythms of the indigenous sabar drum. Dancers began using moves associated with the sabar, and tipping the singers as if they were traditional griots.
Among the bands that played this new style, Etoile de Dakar (starring Youssou N'Dour and El Hadji Faye), and Raam Daan (starring Thione Seck), were the most popular and innovative and are credited with the modern sound. Since becoming popular, both Mbalax and its associated dance have spread to other region such as Mali, Mauritania, Ivory Coast and France. This dissemination has come about through radio, audio cassettes and televised video clips.
Following worldwide trends in pop music, contemporary Mbalax has evolved to contain keyboards, synths and other electronic production methods. As Jazz, Funk, Latin (especially Cuban) and Congolese pop music influenced the early sounds of Mbalax, today it is also influenced by RnB, Hip-Hop, Coupé-Décalé, Zouk and other modern Caribbean, Latin, and African pop musics. Recently, Mbalax artists have frequently collaborated with artists from these genres, such as Viviane Ndour's recent collaborations with Zouk star Philip Montiero and French/Malian rap star Mokobe. Perhaps the most well known collaboration of all was Youssou Ndour's huge hit with Neneh Cherry; 'Seven Seconds'. However, it's the Nder,(lead drum,) the Sabar, (rhythm drum), and the Tama (talking drum) percussion, and widely influenced African and Arabic vocalistic stylings that continue to make Mbalax one of the most distinctive forms of dance music in west Africa and the diaspora. This is exemplified by the use of vocal Microtonality.
Mbalax Dancing is popular in nightclubs and social gatherings as well as religious and cultural gatherings for example; weddings, birthdays, and naming ceremonies. Although it is popular among all ethnic and socio-economic groups, it is most popular among young Wolof. Movement varies across age and gender lines. Mbalax dance style incorporates pelvic gyrations and knee movements.
New Mbalax dance movements are constantly emerging, this often occurs with the increasing popularity of a particular song.