Saturday, July 14, 2018


So I made some amendments to the childhood tongue twister: She sells seashells from Seychelles down by the seashore made of sea shale. Try saying that a few times fast. (Now try it after a few drinks.) The only things I knew about the Seychelles were that they were near Africa in the Indian Ocean, and that I had read somewhere they were a popular destination for the rich and famous to spend their free time. And they have an odd double coconut. 

These islands were pretty much uninhabited, so there really isn’t a native name. The Portuguese called them the Amirantes. But it was the French who named them after their Minister of Finance to Louis XV, Jean Moreau de Séchelles. From what I gathered, the guy really didn’t do all that much for the Seychelles Islands, so they probably just owed him a favor or something.

The Seychelles Islands are located roughly 950 miles east of Kenya in the Indian Ocean. This 115-island nation is northeast of Madagascar and the Comoros Islands, north of Mauritius, and southwest of the Maldives. Some of the islands are granite-based and others are coral-based. Understandably because of its location and proximity to the equator, the Seychelles Islands are humid and tropical.  July and August are the cooler months of the year whereas the heat and humidity tend to be higher from December through April.

Although the islands weren’t readily inhabited, it’s also reasonable to think that sailors from the Maldives and the Arabian Peninsula probably visited the area. After the Portuguese arrived, the British showed up, and then the French. And there were a fair number of pirates who used the islands as a pit stop between Africa and Asia. However, the British moved back into the area and took control of the islands in 1794. The British and the French decided to work it out among themselves, and the British gains included adding the Seychelles Islands in with the Mauritius Islands, known as British Mauritius. In 1903, Seychelles separated itself from Mauritius and became a crown colony. They actually held their own elections just prior to their independence in 1976. It quickly became known as the place where the rich and famous go to play. However, there was a coup in 1977 and the new president warned about too much tourism and then put into place a strict one-party socialist system that lasted until 1991. The 1980s brought a number of coup attempts. But once they got rid of that mess, they approved a new constitution and tried to start over. In 2013, the Seychelles Islands were devastated by flooding from a tropical cyclone that tore through the islands causing quite a bit of damages.

The capital city of Victoria is found on the island of Mahé. Originally established by the British as the capital of its colonial government, the British gave it its current name after acquiring it from the French. With roughly 26,000 people in the greater capital area, there are several places of note they’re known for: their botanical gardens, their large fruit and fish market, a national stadium, a clock tower built after the Vauxhall Clocktower in London, and a couple national museums.

Seychelles’s economy is similar that of other island nations. Their major agricultural products include fish (both fresh and frozen), vanilla, sweet potatoes, cinnamon, and copra (dried coconut meat or kernels used to make coconut oil). There have been some efforts in recent years to really ramp up their tourism with more beach resort hotels and restaurants. 

The vast majority of Seychellois are Christian, with most of them following Roman Catholicism. The main Protestant denominations represented in the islands include Anglican, Pentecostal Assembly, Seventh-Day Adventist, and others. Because of Seychelles’s proximity and history with Arabs and Indians, there are also pockets of Hindus and Muslims as well. And surprisingly, there are a significant number of atheists and agnostics there.

While English and French remain as official languages from their colonial days, Seychellois Creole is also listed as an official language and spoken by most of the people there. Seychellois is a French-based Creole with a number of English words mixed in.

Miss Seychelles 2008, Elena Angione
So, I was reading about how their society is essentially a matriarchal one when it comes to taking care of the household and raising the children. In fact, unwed mothers do not share the same stigma that they do in the US. However, outside of the home, a woman’s status only goes so far. Sexual harassment, domestic abuse and rape, and discrimination still regularly occur, and the problem is that those in authority to do something about it often look the other way.  Numerous studies have shown that giving women access to education and equal job and housing opportunities are shown to help reduce poverty. This is why we need feminism.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, July 8, 2018


The July 4th holiday has come and gone. So it’s high time people stop letting off fireworks already. Seriously, we have one neighbor who thinks it’s cool to let off fireworks using some kind of cannon (which disturbs me every single time). And then last night, someone was letting off fireworks at 3am! Yes, they’re pretty. I get it. But I’ll never understand people’s obsession with it. Let’s keep it in the hands of the professionals. 

Salty cheese-filled pastries. What's not better than this?

One thing that’s NOT in the hands of a professional is cooking food from Serbia today. The first thing I’m starting with is Kiflice, or Serbian cheese rolls. The first thing I did was get my cheese filling ready: I took my crumbled feta cheese and smashed it with a fork to break it up. Then I added in an egg white, 1 tsp of chopped green chilies, and 1 tsp of minced garlic, stirring everything together. It shouldn’t be runny, but firm like cream cheese.  Then I warmed up about 50mL of milk to room temperature (maybe slightly warmer) and dissolved my yeast packet, 1 tsp sugar, and 1 Tbsp of flour into it. My yeast had apparently gotten warm, so when I poured it in, it clumped up. I stirred it together and set it off to the side until it turned frothy. After mixing my flour and salt together, I added in my yeast mix along with an egg, oil, and more milk. Once the dough started to come together, I formed it into a ball and covered it in plastic wrap to rest for about an hour. After it rested, I kneaded it for a minute before dividing it into 5 balls. I rolled each dough ball out until it was about a ¼” thick and divided it into 8 segments (cut like a pizza—in fact, using a pizza cutter made this super easy). Then I took some of my feta cheese mix and placed it on the wide side of the triangles and rolled them up like crescent rolls. Once I had done all 40 of them, I brushed the top with an egg yolk and milk mixture and sprinkled paprika on top. Just before I put it in the oven, I took 3 Tbsp of butter and divided each square into quarters and placed these small butter cubes throughout the baking sheet so that it would melt and make them crispy. It was also a little difficult to get them off the pan, but they were really tasty. I thought these were fantastic, and my family agreed.

I have a 9-year-old son. I know what it looks like. But it TASTES 109% better.
My main dish for today was Serbian Cevapcici. These were pretty much like uncased sausages. They were meant to be grilled, but I didn’t want to mess with setting the grill up, so I pan-fried them instead. I mixed together some ground beef and ground pork (I left out the ground lamb because I couldn’t find it where I was) along with an egg white, some minced garlic, salt, baking powder, black pepper, a little bit of cayenne pepper, and paprika. Using my hands, I mixed everything together as much as I could. It’s still gross to handle raw meat, and I’ve been like that since I was a kid. I was supposed to form these into finger-like sausages about ¾” thick, but mine were much bigger and probably a little misshapen. But they held up and tasted far better than they looked. I loved these, but I would probably make meatballs out of them instead of this shape when (not if) I make these again.

Someone needs to have a cookout so I can make this again and bring it.
To go with this, I made two side dishes. The first one was Krompir Salata, or Serbian Potato Salad. This was a nice alternative to the usual potato salad, and I’ll definitely repeat this one. I boiled 4 cubed yellow potatoes and placed them in a bowl after they cooled a bit along with some onions. In an old spaghetti sauce jar, I added in some white vinegar, some olive oil, minced garlic, diced roasted red peppers, salt, sugar, and some black pepper and shook everything together. Then I tossed the dressing on top of the potatoes and onions and stirred. This was fantastic, except that I used four potatoes instead of the six the recipe suggested, but I forgot to adjust my oil amounts. So, outside of being a tad oily and having to drain off as much as I could, I loved everything about this. I hadn’t ever used roasted red peppers in a jar, but I will definitely think about using these again.

This picture looks better than it really was. Actually, it wasn't that bad.
And finally, I made Prebranac, or Serbian baked beans. I went with some Great Northern beans and boiled them for what seems like forever and still wasn’t enough. While that was going on, I chopped an onion and fried it until it started to brown. I put that in a bowl and mixed it with some garlic, paprika, salt, and pepper. When my beans were finally almost done (ok, my kitchen was super hot by that time, and I was tired), I put them in a dish, added a layer of onions, a layer of beans, onions, and finally beans. I sprinkled some garlic powder on top, added a couple of bay leaves, and drizzled the pan drippings from my sausage on top. Then I put it in a 375ºF oven for about 35 minutes. It was actually pretty good minus the few beans that were still a little undercooked, and the top was a little dried out. Beans are still on my list of dishes that I need to work on, especially if I’m making something from dry beans. I just don’t have the patience for something that takes that long to soften up. (Well, I don’t know… I have been married for 13 years.)

This was a surprisingly tasty meal. Very full of flavor!
The days that I cook typically take up most of my afternoon, and I’m usually pretty tired afterwards. Today was no exception. My kitchen was like 192º in there while I was cooking. But cooking today almost had a different purpose – it was more therapeutic. I went to a funeral calling for a 2-year old yesterday, and then my car decided to give me a bunch of weird messages and drive like crap. Seeing how I never have money more than 22 minutes after I get paid, I’m hoping it’ll be a cheap and quick fix. So today, baking served a different purpose for me. This might be a stressful few days coming up, but at least we’ll be well-fed. I guess it’s like what the French say, c’est la vie.

Up next: Seychelles


Much of the music from Serbia is similar to that of the larger Balkan region. A large portion of traditional early music is tied to the church, especially music from the Medieval Period. During this time, court music pretty much made up the rest of their music. Later, more secular music used epic poetry as its basis. 

The gusle (a 1-stringed fiddle) was often used in the music using that epic poetry. (Skip forward on the video below to about the 1:30 mark to watch an example of the gusle.) Other instruments you can hear include the gadje (bagpipes), several kinds of lutes (tambura, tamburitza, gusle, kaval, bouzouki), different kinds of drums (tarambuke, davul), frula (a 6-holed wooden flute), diple (another woodwind instrument), zurna  (another wind instrument that looks like a small trumpet), the accordion, and the duduk (a double reed instrument made from apricot wood).

Serbia has a long history with its folk music. Generally, they’ve divided it into rural and urban folk music. And unlike many cultures as we enter the modern era of music, Serbia never dissed theirs: they incorporated it into other musical styles. Today, there are a plethora of musicians who integrate traditional folk styles into pop, jazz, and a combo of different genres. During the 1970s and 1980s, many of the lyrics spanned between typical folk poetry themes to more of an edgier political nature (anti-Communism). After the break-up of Yugoslavia and through the 1990s and 2000s, turbo-folk emerged, which brought rock and electronic dance music into the folk genre. And the lyrics got racier as well! Think sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll! 

Although many folk songs were danced to, there is one type of folk dance that stands out: the kolo. It's a circle dance, most often danced to the music of an accordion. And it’s almost done entirely with feet and no movement from the waist up (perhaps a little like Irish dancing in that aspect).

One of the faults of teaching Western classical music is that it generally only covers certain music of certain countries: England, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Russia, the United States with a few others added in for effect. However, there are whole cultures of classical composers not extensively studied. Serbia has produced many classical musicians and composers alike, many who have studied under some of the top European legends. If you’re looking for something different to perform, try looking up some of these names: Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac, Petar Konjovic, Stevan Hristic, Miloje Milojevic, Ljubica Maric, and Milan Ristic.

I found quite a few musicians on Spotify. The first ones I listened to were several artists who sung various folk traditions. In some songs, I could definitely tell a modernization to them. For one, they used modern instruments, but with trills and vocalizations that were indicative of folk styles. Some of these musicians include Silvana Armenulic, Lepa Lukic, Vesna Zmijanac, Neda Ukraden, and Lepa Brena.

They also have some dance/EDM/pop representation with MC Stojan. Still including plenty of Serbian flare, he mixes these styles with others like hip-hop and incorporates traditional instruments in with the electronic sounds.

Mile Kitic brings a little more of a pop sound to his music that also clearly incorporates Serbian vocal folk styles. However, compared to the earlier folk music where I felt like I was at an international festival, this one made me think I could probably hear this on the radio. Sanja Dordevic, Tina Ivanovic, and Indira Radic are other singers who also make me think I’d hear their music a little more commercially.

I even found a few rock musicians here as well! Smak is a blues rock band that I very much enjoyed listening to. Van Gogh is another band I listened to (I wonder if they pronounce it as “van goff” like the rest of everywhere-that’s-not-the-US?). The lead singer has a deep voice that sounds like the Serbian answer to that Canadian band from the 1990s, Crash Test Dummy.

As far as Serbian hip-hop goes, I found a few who hold up. I was hoping I would. It was kind of an interesting listen; you can tell they pulled their influences from a variety of places. Beogradski Sindikat uses a lot of strings in their music, which I like. I also listened to two female rappers: Sajsi MC (with DJ Bko) and Mimi Mercedez. Sajsi MC’s music tended to be a little more on the EDM side of things, while Mimi Mercedez had more of a “hardcore” sound to it (not to mention that every song had “explicit” next to it, even though I had no idea what she was rapping about). I’m just happy they have some female rappers.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, July 4, 2018


Art in Serbia stems back to Medieval times. Like much of European art during this time, most of it was centered around the church. Frescos done in Byzantine and Italian styles were especially common. One known as “The White Angel” is the most famous: it was the first satellite image from Europe to America as a message of civility and peace. It was also used in trying to reach aliens. (We’ve gone downhill in civilization since that was painted apparently.)

Once the Ottomans arrived, they took the fun out of art. There just wasn’t a lot going on. The Baroque period took it back in the right direction, and painters started picking up the brush again. The 1800s saw a huge rise in a number of different artistic styles and themes, like Romanticism (like Katarina Ivanovic), Neoclassicism (like Pavel Durkovic), Realism, Symbolism, and Biedermeier (a Serbian art movement aimed at an awareness of family and home).
"Death of a Poor Woman" by Katarina Ivanovic
Right around the turn of the 20th century, the first art schools began popping up. Many artists were still traveling elsewhere in Europe to learn painting and sculpture, mainly bringing back the avant-garde styles from Germany and other countries. As the 20th century progressed, other contemporary art styles like performance art began to dig in and make a place for itself in Serbian art. Marina Abramovic is one of the most famous performance artists from Serbia and has had her work showcased around the world.
Marina Abramovic
Serbian literature is primarily written in the Serbian language. Some of the earliest examples of literature were religious texts during the 15th century. Genres mostly included poetry, church service-related texts, hymns and hagiographies, as well as other prose styles. Old Church Slavonic was a prominent language of the church during this time.
The Bible written in Old Church Slavonic
The Battle of Kosovo during the 14th century opened up a new chapter for Serbian literature, especially for epic poetry. Such a battle as this was the prime subject material for a genre like this.  As the Medieval period became a thing of the past, the Baroque period brought along some new changes: the language started to merge into the Slavonic-Serbian language. By the mid-1800s, Romanticism became the preferred style, and through the efforts of Vuk Karadzic and Duro Danicic, the groundwork for the Serbian language began to solidify.
Ivo Andric
The 20th century brought along an array of authors who wrote under many different styles. Some of the more prominent writers include Ivo Andric (won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1961), Vladimir Arsenijevic (award-winning novelist, known for his work In the Hold), Milos Crnjanski (expressionist poet and diplomat), Miroslav Josic Visnjic (award-winning novelist and poet), Mesa Selimovic (Yugoslav author, known for his work Death and the Dervish), Miodrag Bulatovic (novelist and playwright), Danilo Kis (essayist, novelist, short story writer), Milorad Pavic (short story writer, novelist, poet, literary historian, known for his work Dictionary of the Khazars, one of the most prominent authors from Serbia), and Jelena Dimitrijevic (novelist, poet, feminist). And a bunch of others.

Up next: music and dance

Saturday, June 30, 2018


So, the World Cup is upon us once again. Besides always rooting for Japan and Brazil no matter what, I always root for the smaller countries and countries I’d like to visit. I was actually rooting for Serbia and caught a little of one of their games when I was at work. To be honest, I don’t quite understand all the rules of soccer yet. I tried to look at the standings and just threw my hands up at all the abbreviations. Stop making things complicated. 

Essentially, Serbia refers to the Serbs or Sorbs, but where they got their name is pretty much unknown. There are a handful of theories, many are stemmed from words of Indic, Greek and/or other Slavic origins, all with an array of possible meanings. (Who ARE these people anyway?) It’s also changed names several times, from People’s Republic of Serbia to Socialist Republic of Serbia, and now it’s just Republic of Serbia.

Serbia is located on Europe’s Balkan Peninsula, surrounded by Hungary to the north; Romania and Bulgaria to the east; Macedonia and Kosovo to the south; and Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Croatia to the west. The northern part of the country has some plains, but the central and southern parts are quite mountainous as the Dinaric Alps, the Carpathian Mountains, and the Balkan Mountains rise up throughout these areas. The northern areas and high-elevation areas can have a pretty temperate climate, but the southern areas are a little more Mediterranean. There are several rivers that flow through the country, but the Danube remains the most important one. They’re also at risk for quite a bit of severe weather (woo-hoo! I love storms, just as long as it’s not super bad on the damages).

Slobodan Milosevic

The earliest known evidence of human settlement dates back nearly a half-million years ago. Serbia has a history that is rife with other people controlling its lands. The Greeks, Celtic tribes, the Romans, Byzantines, and Bulgarians were among those who ventured into this area and claimed at least part of the land for themselves. Christianity was introduced during the Middle Ages. During the 16th century, Serbia fell under Hapsburg and Ottoman rule who fought for nearly a century before the Hapsburgs eventually took over. However, the south remained under Ottoman control, and being a largely Islamic group, hated on the Christians. Christian Serbs were considered inferior, and many started moving north into more Christian-friendly lands. It took over a decade of fighting against the Ottomans to gain their independence, but they finally did that in 1815. Although there were some uprisings, the Serbians did finally kick feudalism to the curb. Even though they declared their independence in 1815, the last of the Turkish/Ottoman soldiers finally left in 1867 (talk about unwanted guests–apparently Serbia was the first Airbnb complaint). However, a few years later, in true adolescent fashion, they announced their unity with Bosnia and warred against the Ottomans.  In 1912, the Balkan League kicked the Ottoman’s butt, eventually allowing for Serbia to expand its territory by 80% while doubling its population. Serbia was a major player in the Balkans during WWI. During WWII, Serbia became part of Yugoslavia. The Axis Powers invaded the area, and an estimated nearly 16,000 Serbian Jews were killed during the occupation. In 1989, Slobodan Milosevic took the top job in Serbia, causing a lot of problems in Serbia (like refusing to accept he lost elections, among other things). In 1992, the country of Yugoslavia changed its name to become Serbia and Montenegro, which disbanded in 2006 when Montenegro decided they’ve had enough and wanted to be single. In 1998, Kosovo decided they also wanted to go out on their own, and after fighting a conflict over it, decided they were done with Serbia. However, not everyone is on board with this decision (basically Serbia). [But for the sake of this blog, I’m including Kosovo and the other two non-UN member states at the end].

With a little over a million people located at where the Danube and Sava Rivers meet, Belgrade is Serbia’s capital. And it’s one of Europe’s oldest capitals, first conquered by the Celts in 279 BC. Generally located in the north-central part of the country, it’s been leveled and rebuilt 44 times and has seen battle another 115 times. I’d say that makes it a pretty resilient city. It also served as the Yugoslavian capital. Today, it serves as the Serbia’s center for commerce, finance, government, culture, media, transportation, and more. There are several universities and colleges located in the metro area, and the city is also known for its architecture.

Serbia’s upper-middle income is the result of an emerging economy. Many large international corporations including Coco-Cola, Carlsburg, and Siemens have invested their money and resources in Serbia. They have a prominent agricultural sector, making them a leading producer of frozen fruit in Europe, especially in raspberries. They also have a significant wine industry as well. While Serbia may not be a huge tourist destination, it’s certainly more popular as a domestic and regional tourism spot.

Although Serbia is a secular state, Orthodox Christians make up nearly 85% of the population. Other Christian denominations include Roman Catholic, Lutheranism, and Calvinism. There are some Muslims, a few Jews, and a handful of atheists/agnostics.

The official language is Serbian, and it’s the only European language to have two alphabets: Cyrillic and Latin. The Serbian Cyrillic script was listed as the official script in their constitution in 1814, but today slightly more people prefer the Latin alphabet instead. I know, I do: my Cyrillic reading ability sucks. 

Hahaha, ok. Just kidding.
So, most people associate vampires with Dracula as being “the first” one. But there was one before the Romanian story: it was Petar Blagojevic (not to be confused with the former governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich, who is also of Serbian descent). In fact, even the word vampire has its origins in the Serbo-Croatian word vampir. Who knows, maybe Rod is related to this vampire guy? I wondered why all of his press conferences were held at night, and once I swear I saw him turn into a bat just to avoid traffic on the Dan Ryan.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, June 24, 2018


Well, the heat of summer is upon us, and Independence Day is coming up. I’m surprised I haven’t heard more fireworks in the neighborhood. In years past, we’ve had a few neighbors who always start in on the fireworks several weeks in advance. But it’s been fairly calm so far, more or less (knock on wood). Like most Midwestern cities, we have a weird mix of urban country dwellers, people who live in the city but still act like they live in the country. Like modern-day Beverly Hillbillies.

If you're looking for something not super sweet and like spice cake, this turned out well. These would make nice muffins

On a different note, I’m cooking from Senegal today. And to be honest, it seemed like an amazing meal from the beginning, and I’ve been good and hungry for days. They are known for a bread similar to a baguette called tapalapa, which is actually kind of ubiquitous throughout West Africa. I made a version of it already, so I was looking for something different and landed on Sweet Potato Mango Spice Cake. In my small bowl, I mixed together 2 ¾ c of flour, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp of salt. Then in a larger bowl, I beat 1 c of oil and 2 c of sugar before adding in 1 c of mashed sweet potatoes (you’ll have to cook these and mash them beforehand) and 1 c of diced mangoes and beat them well with an electric mixer so that everything is smooth. Then I added in 4 eggs and 1 tsp of vanilla and mix it again. At this point, I slowly added in the flour mixture into the liquid mix and stirred. Once the batter was done, I poured it into a greased cake pan (I used a rectangle one instead of a round one) and baked it for about 60 minutes in a 325ºF oven. I let it cool in the pan for a while before I dusted it with powdered sugar. This was surprisingly good. It didn’t really taste like sweet potatoes or mangoes. I did forget to put in the grated ginger, but I think the recipe forgot to mention it, too. But it was pretty good.

Interesting, to say the least. I lament that I burnt the onions.
The main dish today is Poulet Yassa. In a large bowl, I mixed together the chicken pieces (I used thighs), sliced onions, vegetable oil, some diced peppers (I used jalapeños), lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and a little salt & pepper and let it sit in the refrigerator for several hours. When it was time to cook, I took the chicken out and pan fried them until they were browned on the outsides. Removing the chicken to a plate, I sautéed the onions from the marinade. When the onions just started to brown, I added in the rest of the marinade and the chicken pieces and let it cook down for about 15-20 minutes. I served this with some couscous. My onions and sauce got a little burnt, and I added some green onions to the mix too. But otherwise, I think it was pretty good.

These were amazing, but I ate too many, and now my stomach hurts.
To go with this, I made Akkra. This tasty treat is often served as street food across Africa, the Caribbean, and Brazil and comes with a number of varieties. I soaked some black-eyed peas for a while and drained them. Then I took my beans, chopped onion, and some water and blended it until it became a paste, seasoning it with hot sauce, salt, and pepper. I don’t have a food processor, so I was using my blender as an alternative. However, the blender burned up as I was doing this. So, needless to say, it wasn’t quite as blended as I was hoping it would be. However, I heated some oil in a skillet and dropped in spoonfuls of this bean mix and fried it like a fritter. They were pretty good, but I think this recipe was missing a couple of steps. One, it basically said to soak the beans then grind them. Next time, I’m cooking my bean first, or using canned beans. I think it would make it a lot easier. But regardless, these are really good. I probably ate too many of them. And they’re even better with hot sauce on them. I could even see these used as a veggie burger of sorts.

I was worried about the mango, but it blended quite well. And I'm amazed I actually found ripe mangoes in the store.
Finally to cool off the heat, I made Mango Fonio Salad. I started out with mixing the liquids first in a small bowl: lemon juice, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Instead of using fonio, I used the easier-to-find quinoa and just made it according to the box. I put the quinoa in a bowl along with some parsley, mint, diced mango, grape tomatoes, diced cucumber, and onion. I poured the lemon juice/oil mixture into the salad, stirring everything so that it was mixed well. The recipe calls to top with spiced cashews, but I couldn’t find any (and if I had, it was probably expensive). I was going to top it with some other nuts, but realized the kids were too big. (Just kidding.)

Overall, it was a very good meal, even with a burned up blender and a moment of gluttony.
So, I’m now down another appliance. I didn’t use that blender often, but man, now that I don’t have it, I’ll come across a 2.6 million recipes that require a blender. I guess that’s how things go. Maybe I can actually find a decently priced food processor. I could definitely use one (or so it seems). So, let’s have a moment of silence for all the appliances that have died by not using them as directed and showed us the white smoke of defeat.

Up next: Serbia


Senegal is a multi-ethnic country, and its music reflects that. During the time of French control, some Senegalese even thought of themselves as French rather than African.  However, after the Négritude movement took hold during the 1930s, many of the people began to promote their own African identity and Afrocentric culture. 

The instruments heard in Senegalese music are similar to instruments used in the cultures of West Africa. And like much of Africa, drumming plays an important role in their music. More specifically, they’re known for a type of drum called the sabar. The sabar drum is brought to us from the Serer people. Originally, it was used as a means of communication and could be heard from nearly 15 km (9.3 mi) away! And I thought marching bands were loud. Sheesh. Other drums include the nder and the tama drums. Of course singing has long been a prominent part of African music and grew out of the griot traditions.

One of the most notable features of Senegalese music and dance traditions is a type of dance known as the mbalax. Meaning “rhythm” in Wolof, this dance was developed during the 1970s in Senegal and the Gambia. Part of it is based on traditional Serer religious music, and part of it is based on rhythms and styles of the African diaspora: jazz, blues, rock, R&B, hip-hop, soul from the US; varieté from France; Congolese rumba and zouk from Africa; several Latin styles from the Caribbean and US. And since they wanted this to be their own urban dance, they chose to sing in Wolof instead of French. The musicians not only use traditional drums but electric instruments as well.

As far as current (more or less) musicians out there now, I came across a few. Probably most notably, rapper Akon is known on an international level. Although he was born in the US (in St Louis, MO), he spent several years of his childhood in Senegal. I bought his album Konvicted back when it first came out in 2006. I think he tends to mix hip-hop and a little bit of R&B along with some Afro-reggae styles as well.

I also found an excellent collaboration between an English blues musician Ramon Goose and a Senegalese griot named Diabel Cissokho. Together, they created Mansana Blues, an album that merges African blues with more Senegalese and West African rhythms and musical traditions. There were times when I heard some of the musical influences from northern Africa, with more Arabian flavors mixed in. It’s an excellent album.

And then I found a rapper who goes by the name MC Solaar. He’s got more of the same dramatic orchestral sound that I love. He reminds me of the French-Congolese rapper Youssoupha, whose mother is actually Senegalese (and I have two of his albums). I really like his stuff. I might get some later on.

I also listened to the band Positive Black Soul. They are more of an Afro-reggae group, but with definite West African rhythms. However, there are also tracks that have more of a dance feel. Daara J is another musician whose music generally almost falls into the same category, but they utilize more hip-hop and Latin styles into their music (they sometimes remind me of the Cuban group Orishas).

Wagëblë is another rap group I sampled. Although the lyrics sound harder (even though I don’t know exactly what they’re talking about), the music behind it tends to use a lot of piano and strings – I really like what I listened to.

Talking about Senegalese music would be remiss if I didn’t mention Youssou N’Dour. Not only is he an accomplished musician, he also served as the Minister of Tourism for Senegal as well as working with many organizations promoting human rights and other social issues. His music draws on many of the rhythms and sounds of Senegal, using traditional instruments along with modern ones. And he borrows many of the Latin styles, soul, jazz, and hip-hop in his music. Baaba Maal is another famous musician, known for his ability to play guitar, percussion, and singing. He mainly sings in Pulaar.

Up next: the food