Je souhaite que je puisse parler francais

It’s been an odd few days that have passed quickly without me feeling like I’ve done very much. On Friday, I did absolutely nothing apart from eat a pizza for lunch and wait in at the hotel so I could go out and see music that night. The WiFi here is steady so I watched the snooker and Neighbours and time absolutely flew by. That night I’d earmarked a place called Pen’Art, a Jazz club with live music on most nights. It’s on a road between Le Balajo and Just 4 U on Avenue Cheik Anta Diop, which I’ve now walked up and down so many times they should name it after me instead. 

Pen’Art doesn’t actually exist anymore. I got there at about quarter to midnight, having walked the 50 minutes it takes to get there, and it was nowhere to be seen. Some blokes at a restaurant near where it was supposed to be didn’t know either. Luckily Just 4 U being so close acted as back up, so I trundled round and who was on but Pape Diouf, he of ‘song I found here and really like’ fame. It was nearly midnight and the place was empty. Even though I’d dithered all day to be as late as I could, I was still an hour early. And still full from that pizza.

The first band on was a reggae band. In my notes I’ve just written ‘another imitation’ and I can’t remember a single thing about them! In the first chapter of How Music Works, David Byrne speaks about how important an environment is to the music played there. For example, 100 drummers in Olodum sound absolutely perfect outside Casa do Olodum in the Pelourinho, because that music comes from there and suits that environment. Reggae came to be, as the progression after Ska and Rock Steady, in the late 60s and the environment it was played in was huge sound systems, mainly in Kingston. That’s the music’s home. Same thing with Jazz in dingy basement clubs and Merseybeat in Liverpool. You take the music out of its environment and it’s going to change it. 

To anybody reading this, it must seem like I’m literally never happy when I watch music! I’ve come all this way and all I do is complain about it. I think it might be a case of a very low boredom threshold. I’m a sucker for variation and am a prime example of the playlist culture we live in now, where I rarely listen to the same two artists in a row. The only music I can think of that doesn’t bore me when played at length is Samba Reggae, but even some days I never want to hear another clave again.

Speaking of reggae, and this might be ill informed nonsense, but many men here look to me like they could be Jamaican. Their features, hair and dress sense could easily be from Kingston. I wonder if there was a larger percentage of Senegalese people that ended up in the Caribbean instead of South America, or it’s the Jamaican visual influence travelling this way. Without knowing anything I can’t say too much about it and I may be talking rubbish. Maybe I’ll find out when I land in Montego Bay in February. 

Pape Diouf came on after 1am and was great – properly native Senegalese mbalax music. The sound and acoustics at Just 4 U are gorgeous and the bands are really clear. Although, you guessed it, after an hour I was bored because it was the same tempo every song. He did the tune I really like, and I like it because it’s a bit slower than a typical mbalax song, but he sped it up so it matched all the others. Early incarnations of this blog were called ‘the search for the sound in my head’, a piety and self-important sentence if ever there was one. What it meant though was a search for variations of music, preferably at the same time. When I spend most waking hours thinking about or listening to or playing music, I’m gonna be a bit easily bored I think. 

I can’t remember what I did on Saturday. I was out and about but can’t remember. Yesterday I feel like I didn’t do much either but I walked 10 miles and saw some gorgeous music in the evening. It was Lamine Kouyate, a Kora player, and he was joined by a violin and a keyboard. He sang over the top in French and Wolof and it was just gorgeous. The Kora is played with thumbs and one or two fingers and it’s a little bit like texting. It’s native to Senegal, Mali and Guinea and is a beautiful sounding stringed instrument. Bugger to keep in tune though. You see them in London; tube buskers can be Kora players sometimes. 

It was at a restaurant up the road called Le Calebasse and it’s a real treat that place. I was sat next to a large table of Americans but I resisted any temptation to talk to them. I couldn’t make out through eavesdropping who they were and why they were in Dakar. The waitress was the most beautiful woman in Senegal and laughed at my joke (which I said in French!) before she smashed a glass all over the floor and up my leg. I used my translate app to line up some better lines but completely bottled it. I’ll definitely go back there tomorrow night. 

Today I felt like a completely different person. I hadn’t realised it, I rarely do, but I’d actually been having quite a sharp mood drop that had lasted nearly a week. I was only eating once a day, going on long aimless walks and was always absolutely knackered. I stopped reading and didn’t have any thoughts or feelings about my project ideas. It explains why I’ve been confined to my hotel room a bit too and when I have left I’ve been bored with all the music and things I’ve seen. It appears to have passed now and it just feels like I was this shell shuffling around Dakar feeling like I should be doing things, whereas really I wanted to get back to the hotel and hide as quickly as I could. It softened last night and even more so at lunchtime today and my entire physical make up has changed. I stand up straight, make eye contact with people, I’m not tired, I smile – so much so that people just started talking to me randomly when I was out this afternoon. I can’t really remember much at all of the last few days; it’s only because I keep notes that I can write about them. This trip was always going to be a risk having such frequent and pronounced lows, especially as I still don’t really realise I’ve had one until it has gone, but gone it has and I can move on. I feel like I’ve lost a week but it’s gone and we move onwards. I suppose the reason I don’t realise I’ve had one until it has passed is because during it I don’t feel anything at all.

This morning before lunch I popped by the musical instrument maker in Grand Dakar for that Sanza (or Kalimba as it is called here – thumb piano in English) and left him a note because he wasn’t in. I thought I’d get the bus and pop somewhere round Place de L’Independence for lunch. I had a much needed salad today, c’etait plus que necessaire, at the French Institut in downtown Dakar. Strangely that same group of Americans were in there too so I sat at the opposite end of the cafe. It’s a great cafe and has a cinema, library, media centre and concert space in the Institut grounds. 

There is nothing like a potato, avocado and tomato salad finished with 2 chocolate crepes and all washed down with 5 cups of tea. No wonder my mood passed. There was a stall selling CDs and playing some music. I got my translator out and typed in ‘what song is this?’, mumbled it to myself and looked up at the fella at the stall – he had a big grin cos he knew exactly what I was doing. It was a bit of Boubacar Traore – and it wasn’t this tune but this is a properly great bit of African blues by him:

On the way to the bus stop to head back, a bloke stopped me to say hello and it turns out he was the percussionist from the reggae band the other night. I didn’t show him my note on them. He could speak English and his sister has lived in London for 20 years. His name is Zal and was sat on a plastic chair outside his house, chatting to folks. After a few minutes I asked him about a Kalimba and he knew somebody with instruments for sale, so I bought one from him. It was made in Casamance, in the south, because it’s an instrument from south Senegal apparently. It’s a lovely instrument. Upon playing with it this evening I accidently learnt the riff to No Limit by 2Unlimited. Now there’s a project idea. 

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