Amadou Ndiaye Samb, the deep roots of Wolof music

Amadou Ndiaye Samb was a master of the xalam and of Wolof epic songs, his melodies and lyrics immortalized the heroes of the past and shaped the values and culture of a newly independent Sénégal.  He was part of the cohort that the Senegalese often call 'les Grand Griots', masters of the traditional repertoire who were the first generation of artists to become, thanks to the radio, nationally known.  This cohort included his cousins and fellow xalamkats (players of the xalam) Samba Diabare Samb and Boucounta Ndiaye, the korafola Lalo Keba Drame, singers Ablaye Nar Samb and Aly Batta Mboup, and Demba Lamine Diouf, famous for his historical narrations. 

Amadou Ndiaye Samb was born in the 1920s in Ouligara Tall, a village in the Louga region, in northwest Sénégal.  By the early 1950s, he had settled in Dakar, and in 1957 he became the co-host, with his cousin Samba Diabare Samb, of 'Regards sur le Senegal D'Autrefois', a national radio program that made them both stars.  Their radio program was one part of a larger cultural and political movement, led by Leopold Sedar Senghor, to overcome the fractures of Senegal's colonial experience by reaffirming the country's precolonial traditions, values, and narratives. 

After independence in 1960, President Senghor built cultural institutions that would further his objective of cementing a national identity through the arts.  One of his early realisations was the opening of the Theatre National Daniel Sorano, the national theater, and the creation, in 1965, of the Ensemble Instrumental Traditionnel, a national orchestra featuring the country's most talented griots.  Amadou Ndiaye Samb was one of the founding members of the ensemble.

Throughout the 1960s, Amadou Ndiaye Samb also represented Senegal abroad, performing with Samba Diabare Samb in Finland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Republic of the Congo, and Morocco.  In 1970, after five years with the Ensemble Lyrique Traditionnel (the name was changed from the Ensemble Instrumental Traditionnel), and mounting frustrations with Maurice Sonar Senghor, the director of the national theatre and a nephew of president Senghor, Amadou Ndiaye Samb left the group.  He was part of the group of musicians led by Samba Diabare Samb and that also included korafola Lalo Keba Drame, and singers Ablaye Nar Samb and Astou Ndieguene Gningue, that formed the Association Culturelle et Artistique du Sénégal (ACAS).  For the rest of his career Amadou Ndiaye Samb performed primarily with the ACAS. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the group performed frequently across Senegal.

Soon after the launch of the national television in 1973, Amadou Ndiaye Samb and the other 'Grands Griots' of the ACAS, started to broadcast 'Senegal Demb', a television program building on the same concept as their long-running radio program.  These television appearances introduced Amadou Ndiaye Samb to a new generation of Senegalese.

Amadou Ndiaye Samb passed away in 1991.  Today his musical legacy is slowly and almost surely disappearing.  His cousins Boucounta Ndiaye and Samba Diabare Samb still perform occasionally; a new anthology of Samba Diabara Samb's greatest recordings was released in late 2017.  And while there are younger xalam players, there don't seem to be any young masters of the epic repertoire that Amadou Ndiaye Samb sang so beautifully.  Today's young xalamkat perform in modern orchestras, providing 'traditional' ornamentation for mbalax ensembles.  This recording features nine tracks of Amadou Ndiaye Samb in his prime, recorded by Radio Senegal in the early 1960s.  They feature Amadou Ndiaye Samb solo or accompanied by a second singer.  This is timeless Wolof music.  All of the songs are praise songs.

Download Amadou Ndiaye Samb

Sa Ndene Codou Fall is a praise song for the royal family of the Baol kingdom.  Niani Bagne Na is not only Amadou Ndiaye Samb's most famous song, it is also one of his most beautiful vocal performances.  This song praises Lat Dior, a 19th century Damel (king) of Kagoor, a precolonial Wolof kingdom, famous for his resistance to the French colonial army.  The song title can be translated as 'Niani has refused' (Niani is the name of one of the regions of Kagoor).  Another version of this song, from one of Amadou Ndiaye Samb's only commercial recordings, is featured on this compilation.  Both Taara and Oumar Foutiyou Tall are praise songs for El Hajj Oumar Tall.  Both of these melodies are from the Halpulaar repertoire.  Birima sings the glory of the royal family of Kagoor. Dabakh is a praise song for Abdoul Aziz Sy, the charismatic Khalife of the Tivaoune branch of the Tijanniya brotherhood.

There are versions of these recordings on youtube and itunes, but the recordings I have posted are the cleanest I have heard.

Special thanks to Professor Ibrahim Wane of the Universite Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar for his help and insights.  If you are interested in Senegalese culture I highly recommend Aboubacar Demba Cissokho's blog Le Grenier de Kibili.  His post on the recent Samba Diabare Samb anthology was a particularly helpful reference.



  1. Thanks again, very much appreciated audio, and to point Le Grenier de Kibili.
    Just add a note to the interesting introduction, about the song Niane Bagne,
    'Niani has refused' is not about the French colonization, but about the history of the request of horses by Tiramakan (at the orders of Sundiata Keitá), to the Damel of Kayor, the Damel replied that he had never seen a Mandinka on a horse and sent him a dog.


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