One of those great random days when you’re out and about on your own with no real plans and can just say yes to people, ending up in all sorts of places.
After a fantastic bit of Thieboudienne for lunch (a Senegese staple) at a restaurant called Le Djembe in Downtown Dakar, I went to see Zal again to have another look at a Talking Drum. I ended up going to his home town of Pikine, having a pint with him in his local, meeting half of his family and playing drums in his Dad’s home studio.
The change in me when not under a cloud, or smothered in a blanket, or followed by the black eyed dog – whatever you want to call it, the change once it has left is remarkable. The whole world opens up and to quote Edwyn Collins, “the possibilities are endless”. Negative character traits are amplified in those moods, just the same as positive ones are amplified when I’m feeling alright. Play me the same music 4 days apart and I will often have polar opposite reactions to it depending on how I’m feeling. My lack of consistency has been called exhausting by friends and other people who’ve spent time around me, so imagine what it’s like being all these moods in the same head.
Zal lives with his family in a block of flats in Pikine, just north of Dakar. His Dad Pierre lived in France for 40 years as a bus driver and his Mum, who died a few years back, was a Midwife from The Gambia. They speak English in The Gambia, which considering it’s a coutry that runs up a river in the middle of French speaking Senegal, is really interesting. Because Zal’s Mum grew up speaking English, Zal and Pierre both speak a bit of English too, so mixed with my awful French we can just about make sense of each other.
Pierre’s home studio is on the top floor of the block of flats they live in. He opened it in 2000 and he’s recorded all sorts of people and music in there. It’s an amazing space. It is two rooms, one control room and one live room, and has everything you could ever need in a studio. A 16 track Roland recording desk, Pro Tools, loads of speakers, keyboards, guitars, saxophone, congas, timbales, a drum kit – all of it. We spent the afternoon playing instruments and it was so good to sit at a drum kit. I haven’t had the chance to play kit here yet. Pierre popped on some Bossa and Salsa and I played along, loving it. We listened to some of the bands that Pierre had recorded there too. All sorts of Reggae and Salsa, and all Senegalese artists, sung in either French, Wolof, or the language of south Senegal, Mandjak. Pierre played his Salsa music he’d written and recorded and it was all in Mandjak – and you can imagine what a treat it was listening to really cool Salsa in the middle of a town in Senegal, sung in Mandjak, recorded in the room I was stood in, with the bloke who wrote and played it singing the words back at me and grinning.
What I said the other day, post my bad mood, was that music out of its environent changes it. Of course it does, and it looks as if I’d written it as a criticism I think. Today I heard Senegalese Reggae and Salsa and it was absolutely brilliant. See? Same thing, 4 days apart, polar opposite views of it. That music has its roots in Africa and it’s come back here with a new interpretation and it’s all the better for it. It’s all the stuff I usually bang on about really. I took some artist names down but they are non-existant on the internet so I can’t link to any of it.
Zal is Rastafari – leading on from what I said about thinking many people here look Jamaican. I didn’t ask him about shared ethnic groups here and in Jamaica because I didn’t want it to come out wrong. He did tell me though that the Kalimba, the thumb piano I bought from him yesterday, was one of the first 2 instruments that freed slaves made. I didn’t make out the name of the other instrument, but I know it was a drum of some sort.
Tomorrow I’m off to The Gambia for a few days to hopefully play some drums and maybe even a Kora. I’d love a go at that, knowing full well I’ll be rubbish at it so have nothing to lose. Thank you to the lovely Charlie for the contacts there – the committee have spoken and have granted you FaFTL status. Then one more evening in Dakar on Sunday night staying at Zal’s, before Ethiopia beckons next Monday. My West African adventure is coming to a close and I begin to mentally prepare for heading to East Africa. It’s been quite some 2 months. I’m not sure when it’ll sink in.