Wednesday 15 November 2017

Serge Lebrasse - Still Singing Sega by Richard Nwaba

Some things in life are just meant to happen. Take Joseph Emmanuel Serge Lebrasse who is known simply as Serge Lebrasse to his legion of fans, for instance. When he was just fourteen years old, an outbreak of polio forced him and other children to stay away from school. There are lots of things that he could have chosen to do to while away the time. But what did he do? He befriended a man that was set to change his life for good. That man was Jean Alphonse Ravaton but known to many by his nickname – P'tit Frere. This is the man that taught young Lebrasse to appreciate the music of his country of birth, Mauritius. It was the beginning of Lebrasse's love affair with Séga, the music that has come to be synonymous with just about all the islands of the Indian Ocean, save Madagascar.

Serge Lebrasse did more than just embrace Séga. He reinvented it. You see, in the beginning Séga used to be a minimalistic music genre, with just a handful of musical instruments like the ravane , (drum made of goat skin) the maravane (a box-like shaker containing seeds) and the triangle. Those three instruments, along with some hearty singing, was all that Séga was. That was not good enough for the enterprising Lebrasse, though. He decided to spice it up by introducing the guitar and Séga never looked the same again. The first hit, "Madame Eugène" duly arrived in the 1950s and it became clear that this formerly despised music style was going to take the country by storm with Serge Lebrasse as its undisputed king. By 1975 Lebrasse's fame had reached the ears of the Queen of England and she awarded him an MBE (Member of the British Empire). From then on it became almost the norm for every dignitary visiting Mauritius to be entertained by this talented musician. Tours of Europe and other Indian Ocean islands made Serge Lebrasse the unofficial cultural ambassador for Mauritius.

In far away South Africa, I stumbled on the music of Serge Lebrasse much later in life in the early 1990s when I typed in the words Mauritian Music in my search engine. The compilation album that I found at the local record library entitled "Sega Non Stop" had only five songs by Lebrasse, "Maman Jordi Mo Allé", "Berçeuse Créole", "Mom En Ti Créole","Bouge Bouger" and "Marsan Pistasse". Listening to all these five tracks explained why this Mauritian singer is so popular. There is a soothing gentleness in his voice, as it befits someone who lives in such peaceful surroundings. His singing evokes the tranquility that the island of Mauritius is famous for. There is not shouting here. Only a seductive vocalisation that makes you wish you were also a native of that paradise island or had the means to live there for eternity!

Serge Lebrasse was born on 25 June 1930 in the town of Rose Hill, Mauritius. This means that this year he turned 85. At that age most folks have retired and are now preoccupied with entertaining their great-children with some colourful folk-stories or keep themselves busy with some task, like tending some flowers from their favourite garden. Not Serge Lebrasse. He still performs regularly in Mauritius and overseas and is not set to retire just yet. Who can blame him? With such a silky therapeutic voice Mauritians will always continue to ask him to sing for them. To illustrate, Lebrasse was recently asked to sing at a wedding and he obliged! That is how humble this remarkable avuncular singer is. I am now trying to get his other albums like "Alléz Baba" and "The Best of Serge Lebrasse". That way I can also pretend that I live permanently in Mauritius!

*culled from

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