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This Week in Beat Making: Sabar Drumming Deep in Dakar

How Sabar drummers sample their drum sounds and created a one-of-a-kind West African drum kit to use for Beat Making Lab's electronic production.

One evening in Dakar, our beat making curriculum was transformed by a chance encounter.

I struck up a conversation with a West African drummer, in front of a coconut vendor. He was a weightlifter and a welder and fluent in Japanese, and part of a lineage of traditional Sabar drummers. Within an hour of meeting, he invited me and my friends [producer Apple Juice Kid and filmmaker Saleem Reshamwala] to his home in Medina. For two miles, we darted between sewing shops, street vendors, and mosques; stopping every few blocks to speak to children playing in the streets and to soak in the early evening air, which was filled with the delicious scent of cheebu jen (fish and rice).

When we arrived at his house, he introduced us to his family and retrieved a dozen drums from a small wooden shed. He and his brothers then started teaching us traditional Sabar rhythms—native to Senegal—while women and children from his family danced and laughed. Eventually I put my drum down and started rapping—clumsily trying to incorporate some of the limited Wolof I had learned over the previous days—into my lyrics. This was my introduction to Sabar drumming and one of my most memorable experiences in Dakar.


As an artist and beat-making teacher, one of my goals is to create memorable experiences through music. In our Beat Making Lab curriculum, one of the cardinal rules is to boycott the use of default drum sounds that come with beat-making software. The reason is simple: if you want to create an interesting sounding beat, you have to sample or record original drum sounds, and amass your own unique kit. This brings a fresh foundation to the beat, and is a good first step towards composing an original, memorable song.

The Sabar drumming was some of the most unique any of us had heard, so after our impromptu session, we hired two Sabar drummers to sample their distinct drum sounds and create a one-of-a-kind West African drum kit to use in our electronic productions. This has since become a part of our process and curriculum. In each country we build a Beat Making Lab, we have our students search for original drums, instruments, chants, and environments; record them; edit them into samples; and publish them for anyone who wants to use them to make music.

We can't invite you into our first Sabar cypher, but if you would like to create a few of your own, please feel free to use our sounds.

Beat Making Lab builds studios in cultural centers around the world and trains youth musicians in the art of beat making. This post is part of This Week in Beat Making, a weekly series on GOOD—follow our adventures with new episodes here every Wednesday.

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