MAURITIUS: Cassiya II - Cassiya
Updated: Oct 31, 2021
The wonderful music on this sega album serves to remind us of both the perils of slavery but allows us to celebrate the resilience of human nature
Mauritius, to many outsiders, might simply seem to be just a paradise for tourists. Famed for its biodiversity, their culture is made even richer through its cultural diversity, for example in its varied cuisine. Mauritius today, alongside India and Nepal, is one of only three nations with a Hindu majority. Don’t let this fact fool you into thinking that Mauritian identity is mostly linked to South Asian culture. Much like Comoros (as discussed in the review of Wassi Wassi by Maalesh) it is culturally a very diverse nation, almost the primary confluence of Asian, African and European culture. After discovery by Portuguese sailors its colonial past of Dutch, French and British rule left behind a history of slavery as well as an entrenched connection to aspects of European culture, particularly noticeable in the fact that Mauritian Creole is a French-based language.
“...the music signifies the freedom that many Mauritians’ forefathers fought for and as such will forever be deeply relevant.”
As a deeply multicultural, and indeed multilingual, society the fact that it’s Creole is used as the language of the primary music culture, sega, displays a shift in attitude to their difficult past. Not too long ago, sega was looked down upon due to its intrinsic association to slavery, and is now part of the national culture, considered the national music of the country, shared by all regardless of heritage. Throughout this whole process of finding albums from all over the world, just when we think we have come across every genre another unique one with its own fascinating story and beat finds its way into our lap. On a rhythmic level the sega genre is one that bares similarities to other ‘island music’ we have listened to throughout this journey of musical discovery. However, what sets it apart from the rest is its deeply engrained relationship with Mauritius’ tragic history of slavery, existing today as a celebratory reminder of the resilience its people showed to overcome historic difficulties.
The story of the Le Morne Brabant Mountain, which has parallels to the famous Siege of Masada in the first Jewish–Roman War, is a huge part of the modern Mauritian national identity and sega music is wholly connected. The tale goes that slaves who escaped their masters sought refuge hidden at the top of the mountain that was considered inaccessible by their former masters. When police arrived in uniform with weapons to finally announce emancipation, the appearance of the police was misinterpreted by the former slaves who believed they had been recaptured. Instead of pursuing a life of continued slavery those at the top of the mountain opted to jump to their deaths, with the prospect of dying a free man more appealing than a life back in chains.
The connection to sega music lies in the fact that at the foot of the mountain the former slaves used to express their pain that they had previously experienced through sega music. Despite the literal shackles and wounds of slavery they wore, they danced to sega in defiance, liberating their mind and spirits. In light of this, the music signifies the freedom that many Mauritians’ forefathers fought for and as such will forever be deeply relevant. The music on display on Cassiya’s Cassiya II does exactly this. It balances the hypnotic and excitable percussive rhythms of the ravanne with an underlying mournful tone, reminding its listeners of the plight of their ancestors. The upbeat tempo varies greatly from the fast-tempo tracks Mové Défo and Jouny Jouna, to the more sombre Marlène and Suivre La Loi. What however, stands out for me is the fusion between the traditional semba style and more modern instruments. My favourite track, the rather beautiful Z'Enfant Innocent, features a rather wonderful horn section, whilst Frère O has classic rock elements to it with some rather glorious electric guitar riffs. Overall, the album is an enjoyable listen and preserves an important message. More so than that, it unifies nation with a cultural tradition all can be proud of and serves as a great example of the genre.