By Tim Hazell
Prior to Senegal’s independence becoming official on April 4, 1960, many Senegalese identified with French instead of African ethnicity, due to the country’s long history as a colony of France. Its first President, Léopold Sédar Senghor (October 8, 1906 – December 20, 2001) was also a poet, cultural theorist and one of the primary exponents of the griot, a West African class of musician-entertainers whose performances include tribal lineages. Here is a sampling of his lyrics from the national anthem of Senegal:
Everyone strum your koras, strike the balafons.
The red lion has roared.
The tamer of the savanna
Has leapt forward,
Dispelling the darkness;
Sunlight on our terrors, sunlight on our hope…
The community role of male and female griot cultural guardians, storytellers, and musicians was to preserve the genealogies and oral traditions of the tribe. Francis Bebey in his “African Music, A People’s Art,” explains: “The West African griot is a troubadour, the counterpart of the medieval European minstrel.”
In a society where literacy remains the privilege of a few, the position of the griot as a living archive of the people is still rigorously maintained. During recitals, Senegalese practitioners draw from their own sources of inspiration, while striving to recount actual events as faithfully as as possible.
Modern griots are often skilled instrumentalists on the kora, a long-necked lute-like instrument with twenty-one strings and a gourd body resonator. West African plucked lutes may trace their origins back millennia to ancient Egypt.
Senegalese cuisine is known for its gumbo, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, chicken yassa, grilled meat skewers and its most famous dish; thieboudienne made with rice and well-seasoned fish. This salad is a welcome summer surprise; avocado and mango topped with traditional Senegalese dressing called rof. Serve on its own or as an accompaniment to refresh the palate!
Senegalese Avocado and Mango Salad
2 cups lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 scallions, roughly chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1 habanero chili, stemmed and seeded
Kosher or coarse sea salt and ground black pepper
1 tsp. grated lime zest, plus 1/4 cup lime juice
2 tbsp. fresh orange juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. sesame oil
Two 16-ounce ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted, cubed or sliced
2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, cubed or sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Garnish: chopped parsley and sliced red onion (optional)
Directions: In a food processor, combine parsley, scallions, garlic, habanero, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Process until finely chopped, about 1 minute, scraping the sides of the bowl down as needed. Add the lime zest and juice, orange juice, olive and sesame oils and process until smooth, about 30 seconds. In a medium bowl, combine mangoes and avocados with 4 tablespoons of the parsley dressing. Toss gently to coat, cover and refrigerate to meld flavors, about 1 hour. To serve, transfer salad to a serving bowl and top with the cherry tomatoes. Sprinkle with extra chopped