Baaba Maal concert

Journal entry, 28th October 1999

I am trying to come to terms with the lack of privacy I experience in these hotels – I don’t know whether or not it is because I am alone, or if it is normal to have people constantly on your case.

Last night I was getting dressed after my shower – I had spoken to the men downstairs for a while, and watched a bit of the TV (president Abdou Diof). So I am half changed, and the manager starts rattling on the door of the dormitory! He tells me that I can’t keep the key, as perhaps there are other people coming to stay and that I have to keep the key outside. He scoffs at my suggestions that this would be unsafe. I persuade him to keep the key downstairs, and he sneers and departs.

At about 1:30 I am woken up!! The manager is wandering about my room only wearing a towel!!! At least I think it is him, my eyesight is so bad. I am completely tensed up but not wanting to say anything, as I don’t want him near the bed. He is fussing around with the fans, turning on the light and generally making noise. After a few tense moments I realize he is taking my fan, replacing it with another and taking mine away! The room has eight fans in it!!! I am speechless, particularly as I told him I don’t want anyone in my room!

I have to deal with this problem.

Subject: J’habite á Dakar!!!
Date: Sunday 31st October 1999

Nangadef from the city o thieves,
Am still very relieved to be somewhere semi-normal! Senegal is quite different to the previous countries, alas a little ruined by the tourist trade, as there is nothing but hassle on the main square. Luckily I am totally at ease now, and finding it all small beer.

For those who know a bit about African music, you are not going to believe this next bit – I saw Baaba Maal perform in St Louis for 2000CFA (about 5$!!!!!) My Dutch friends, Reint and Danielle were on the verge of leaving St Louis to check out a UNESCO site in Louba, a little village 1 hour away from St Louis. The manager insists that they stay, as there is going to be an “absolutely huge’ aid concert in town this evening, featuring all the big artists of Senegal. Baaba Maaal, Youssou N’Dour, Thies Diop and so on.

I regard this extremely sceptically, as this is a popular kind of trick in Morocco to make you stay another night. Also the musicians he mentioned are the most popular in Senegal, and apparently Youssou N’Dour is v. big in Europe. He tells us all the tickets are sold out, and we will have to buy scalpers’ tickets. Another ruse, I think to squeeze a bit of extra cash out of us! Reint and Danielle chat for a while, deciding he is sincere, and leave for Louba for the afternoon, while I wander off to the ‘Quai des Arts’ to look for these so-called scalpers. I walk straight into the building and buy 3 tickets numbers 30-32, with no hassle, and great surprise!
That evening after dinner we wander off, picking our way through the flooded streets (I think maybe floods will follow me around Africa), at about 9:00 as we have been advised to do so to get good seats before it starts at 10:00. We sit on a kerb and watch all the Senegalese arrive in all their finery – and I thought they were well-dressed during the day! We are also amazed at the lack of people, hysteria, jostling that would be mandatory in a western concert. We go inside, and are shown to a courtyard full of chairs overlooking the hall. I would liken it to a large scout hall, but our new friend Amadou assures us this is big time, and is most eager for us to show enthusiasm for it.

So we hang out in this courtyard for a while listening to the soundcheck, remembering only then of the concept of ‘African time’! By about 11:30 the courtyard is full of about 200-300 very well-dressed, very well-behaved people, all politely drinking coke and fanta, no worries! At some unseen signal, all is chaos. Everyone grabs their chairs and are racing towards the hall to get a good spot! We are highly amused, and are very glad we have met someone to explain things to us.

So the concert starts at about 11:45, and MC leaps on stage, and introduces various dignitaries, who waffle on for another 20 mins. Danielle whispers to me this is normal in Senegal, they love talking a lot and saying nothing, no wonder it is so hard to get directions! Then two stand-ups come on stage, kind of like Laurel and Hardy but in patterned boubous and speaking Wolof. The crowd is ecstatic, apparently they are big radio stars here.

Then finally some musicians, whose groovin’and jivin’ is only exceeded by that of the audience, indeed I don’t know which is more entertaining. One guy in front of us throws his cap on the ground, stamps on it and yells, I think he is going to throw his chair at the singers! His girlfriend screams and throws her arms to the stage as though trying to get rid of them, and in comparison to everyone else, they are taking it rather calmly. They are the most uninhibited and enthusiastic audience I have ever seen, leaping up constantly to jive, sing and strut. The men have some macho dance that involves lifting up their shirt to look at their wildly swivelling hips – this provides great satisfaction for them.

Up the front there is a mad middle-aged chick in a pink and silver sequinned robe with matching scarf up to the ceiling, who continually dances up and down. Instead of being asked to return to her place, she is spotlighted, the crowd loves her, and she soaks it right up! Her mate is this portly bloke who is also a sensational dancer, who is even invited on stage by a singer. The portly guy weeps, holds hands with the v. macho-looking singer, and even finishes up his song. They walk off stage arm-in-arm! People with no confidence could learn a lot from this crowd, indeed everyone invited onstage after this just laps it up and sprints around the stage.

The concert is not without the inexplicable – two of the grooviest singers I have ever seen are trying to be cool, when from the wings this dwarf cartwheels on stage. He has dredlocks, bells, and big baggy patchwork clothes on. He doesn’t sing, but I think his job is to fire everyone up, as if they need it. We learn now that Youssou N’Dour is stuck in a flood somewhere and can’t make it, but at least his backing band is here to make up for it. The dwarf jumps around them, and even does a bit of stage-diving.

Around 2:45 we are quite exhausted and a bit sceptical about the Baaba Maal thing, but without warning he casually strolls onstage at about 3:00, resplendent in huge yellow suit, glittery scarf and dangly gold earrings. I can’t believe I am only 10 metres away. Everyone throws the chairs aside and hoons up the front, just to hold their hands up in the hope he might touch them. He sings two songs, and this is the weird bit, halfway through the second one, people start to leave!!! The music dies away, he wanders off, and the MC pushes past him to say goodnight!!! By this time the hall is half empty!! We just look at each other and crack up.

Definitely the weirdest, funniest and most sensational concert we have ever been to. I buy a t-shirt for $1.50 that says in 3 languages ‘Í was there’, and we stroll homewards. So I have parted ways with Reint and Danielle, as they are touring along the River Senegal in the north while I am going along the coast. This is a little sad, as they are beaut people, I wish some of you guys could meet them.

Gurejef (thankyou) to everyone for your messages – Cazz, I don’t have to cover up here as much, Islam is thankfully not as apparent. Mosques are not on every street corner to wake me at 5:00 am, and people drink like fish, but still not on the street. X


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