Having just won its independence from French colonial rule, Senegal in 1960 was in the midst redefining its national identity. Under the presidency of poet Leopold Senghor, artists of all kinds were tasked with carrying forward Senegal’s cultural heritage, resulting in new opportunities for creative expression and collaboration. Musicians from all over West Africa traveled to cosmopolitan Dakar, where Afro-Cuban music was dominating the scene. With the Miami Club as their base, Ibra Kasse and Laba Sosseh formed the Star Band of Dakar, establishing Senegal as the center of the West African son cubano.

After a decade of reigning the Dakar nightlife, the group began to splinter. Founder Laba Sosseh went to Abijdan, Cote d’Ivoire to continue playing Cuban salsa, as other Star Band alumni sought to integrate indigenous Senegalese musical elements with the Afro-Cuban sound. In 1970 the Baobab Club opened, and brought six members from the Star Band to form the Orchestre Baobab, where frontmen Balla Sidibe and Rudy Gomi mixed southern Senegalese vocals with singer Laye Mboup’s Wolof griot style. In 1975 Papa Serigne Seck founded Number One du Senegal, and introduced traditional rhythms of sabar and tama, the talking drum, becoming one of the progenitors of the musical genre mbalax. This unique sound, which blends Senegalese and Cuban rhythms with kora string instrumentals and traditional melodies sung in vernacular languages, was popularized by singer Youssou N’Dour. In 1979 he became the leader of the wildly popular Etoile de Dakar, one of the last but most successful of the Star Band splinter groups, which provided a platform for establishing mbalax in West Africa, and eventually worldwide.