Not even 10 hours out of Dakar and I’m already missing it. What a great city. I’ll definitely be back soon, and hopefully have a better hold on my French language skills.
Dakar in a lot of ways (right now at least) is the African city of my dreams. It’s not my ancestral homeland, but it feels like home to someone in between worlds like myself. A diverse cosmopolitan population, but a strong sense of cultural pride and deep traditional legacy. You have two strong different strains of identity making, the poetic pan-Africanist philosophies of Leopold Sedar Senghor mixed with the deep tradition of their unique African Islam, a mix of East and West for me that have come together to form a peaceful, fairly forward thinking, and welcoming nation. It’s reflected in the music. At any night of the week you can go out and enjoy a live show with mbalax infused blues, reggae, or salsa, an “African” club specializing in everything from Mbalax to Zouk, Coupe Decale to Funana, or a Euro-American lounge/nightclub playing European, American, and Caribbean Club Hits.
If you happened to be in town last Saturday, you could have caught me at K Club, playing Dancehall, Kuduro, Juke, and Southern Rap/R&B. I have to admit the night didn’t go off without it’s glitches, and I did get a little uncomfortable by the over romanticization of the US and Jamaica, just as I get uncomfortable about the reverse in the states, but I guess that’s what traveling and being a representative (again being in the middle) is all about.
The night was fun though. Sogui made his homecoming debut, and a lot of his old friends came out. The dance floor filled and emptied throughout the night, as I think folks were testing the waters a little bit with the new, new tunes that may have been unfamiliar. Proudly, my remix of Akon’s tune Right Now (Na Na Na) was one that was met with surprise and shouts of delight (pandering to the hometown crowd) and kicked off a Coupe Decale, Kuduro section that was the highlight of the night for me.
The night didn’t go off without its glitches, and the ones that did happen were quite interesting! I didn’t realize until someone told me that when I juggle a riddim of hip hop remixes or dancehall versions, it didn’t really matter unless the folks really knew the song, cause the lyrics weren’t in French. A big Homer Simpson “Doh!” went off in my head. I don’t know I wasn’t playing my Gwada Dancehall! The electricity cut off several times during the night messing up the flow of the dance floor. And, late in the night, some local rappers almost killed the night completely when they couldn’t control the feedback they were putting into the mic. Sogui turned to me and gave one of many, “This Is Africa’s.”
The industry intrigues me in Dakar, so much so that I’m thinking about going back soon to work, perhaps in a club, and at the same time perhaps do music production workshops at Africulturban in Pikine (Dakar’s South Bronx) a community Hip Hop organization I got linked up with through Mr. Ghislain Poirier.
Akon and Hip Hop have such a huge presence, but so do Youssou N’ Dour, and other more traditional artists. Brick and Lace, who are signed to Akon’s label had flyers all over town for their show on Wednesday, and Titi played a show at local live club, Just for You on Sunday night. As always representation and identity come back when I think about place. Akon is such an interesting case of an African American, one I’ve mentioned here before. People hate his latest album, and say they don’t like him (for going too pop.) I’ve defended him often, and Eddie Stats even said I redeemed Akon for him, but just like any national idiosyncrasy, it can be at the same time a source of pride and embarrassment. I think Malik put it best by saying, “when I’m inside Senegal I get annoyed by Akon, but when I’m outside Senegal I’ll defend him to the death.” In reality what we see in Akon are all things that being African reflects/represents in us, all his contradictions are ones we share. After all, public figures are only more visible representations of ourselves.
As a final note, I think the documentary I Bring What I Love addresses some of these issues of representing a nation from Youssou N’Dour’s perspective. It’s opening this weekend in San Francisco with a special talk by the director this weekend only.