Yela Boundou: Lama Binta Seck

Yela is a form of Halpulaar praise song from Senegal, traditionally exclusively sung by women.  There are two regionally distinct forms of Yela, Yela Futa from the Futa Tooro region (the Senegal river valley) and Yela Boundou, from the Boundou region of Eastern Senegal.  The Boundou region corresponds roughly to the territory of the 17th century Boundou Kingdom, founded by the religious leader Malick Sy Daouda.

Yela is sung by female griots (gawlo), with a lead voice setting the tempo and pushing the melody.  The chorus vocalists provide rhythm accompaniment with gourds (bolong) and calabashes (numbali).  Yela songs are performed at baptisms, circumcision ceremonies, and weddings.  The texts sing the praises of the Sissibés, the noble lineage that founded the Boundou kingdom.  Like the classic griot repertoire throughout west Africa these songs use historical epics to articulate the normative values of their community.


This post features a cassette I found in Senegal in the mid-1990s that was simply titled Yela Boundou, there was no indication of the artist, the group, the context of recording.  After repeated listening, I am fairly certain that this cassette features Radio Senegal recordings of the most famous Yela Boundou singer, Lama Binta Seck.  The typical Yela ensemble of voices and percussion is enlarged to include acoustic guitar and hoddu. 

Download Lama Binta Seck

Lama Binta Seck was born in 1939 in Bassé, Gambia and passed away in Dakar, Senegal on May 13th 2016.  She was the only daughter of Malick Sory Sama Farbabeguel Seck and Binta Seck, both from gawlo families.  Lama Binta Seck made her living and developed her craft performing at weddings and ritual ceremonies throughout Senegal.  Late in her life she became a nationally recognized artist through her regular Sunday afternoon appearances on a weekly television program devoted to Halpulaar culture (see the YouTube video below).  Today her daughters Houlaye Lama Binta Niang and Madina Lama Binta continue her musical legacy.

Skip ahead to minute 10 on this video.  Lama Binta Seck leads the group in a beautiful melody.


The picture of the Yela ensemble and the information on Yela were taken from this article.