When I first waved back to him I was cautious. Too many strangers in Dakar had ulterior motives, and this guy from the distance seemed to be another. But this wasn’t Dakar. It was the island of Goree, 3 km offshore of the city.
In Dakar I was warned. In Dakar I saw: guys suddenly coming up to you – not the salespeople who were persistent and frequent – but the hustlers, the slime of the city. “Remember me?” is often the con-pick-up line – to which I replied in a ballistic mood – “Don’t even fuckin’ talk to me”; but others I was more polite too, chatty, even knowing I was giving them nothing and knowing they wanted everything.
The con artist; the scammer, will win your confident and then you get tricked – I’d been there a number of times before, across the world but fortunately caught on … And so I didn’t give a shit. Worse were the groups of men that just grabbed at you – not me, but a Latino-New-York couple that I’d befriended had, fending and shouting them away.
And so I approached this half-naked dread-locked guy mid-morning with interest and with my radar on as he welcomed me into his home.
A fortress complex that was first occupied by Dutch then French then English then French finally as Europe scrambled to ravage Africa, setting up bases to dominate trade – often gold, ivory & slaves – across the continent. The bunker complex Douaba lived in dated from the 1920s and saw use during Vichy France’s cooperation with Nazi Germany. Such was the island – weaved and tangled, brutalized by history, including a pretty colonial port town that was the departure point, the point of no return for slaves.
Along the long open tunnel entrance he’d stuck sculptures – junk that had been washed ashore – pegs – scandals – wires – bottles – clothes – cellphone cases – cans – anything stuck to a painted board – and as we entered the bunker entrance we took the main door – thick steel, door to the right, steps also below, as this was the observation turret for the mighty guns in the emplacement nearby.
His room was small, overwhelming concrete, but cool, clattered by clothes hanging, a bed, another on the floor with mossie net, collected water containers, graffiti and posters and wooden carvings, the bunkers slits mostly covered where they looked to the ocean and let in a breeze …
Basic and simple as it was it was the coolest houses/places to live, I’ve seen in years.
Out thru a door was a balcony – a concrete hole, a drop down to the cliffs and the swell of the sea, a tiny ledge with a slumped deckchair and rope net to stop you tumbling, and there we first really talked, wide ocean empty, about ourselves and our visions.
We had similar outlooks on life, and connected immediately.
Daouda is an artist, a musician, a Rasta-looking-guy – and a Baye Fall
One who follows the teachings of Cheikh Amadou Bamba, the 19th century Muslim Sufi leader of Senegal, and his most famous disciple, Cheikh Ibra Fall.
Across the country their images are everywhere like graffiti, cool like some spiritual rappers stenciled with a spray-can, these two veiled men, one in white, the other in black; even buses and shop signs have their names and / or images across them.
These sufis – Muslim holy men – despite having been dead sometime, the brotherhoods they founded still dominate the spiritual, political and economic circles of Senegal today.
(I later visited the tomb in Touba where Amadou Bamba lies, and the holy city where his direct-descendent resides today as one of Senegal’s foremost links between the people and God.)
Daouda said that he was allowed to stay free in this bunker as were other artists across the point of the island, where numerous fortifications existed, as the government allowed it and so there was quite a rustic, bohemian grouping within the “Castel of Goree”.
When I’d bought a copy of his CD – TouBamba – Un Jour Nouveau (A New Day) – which he’d played as we chatted overlooking the ocean, I said good-bye to then encounter other Rasta-artists living under the actual gun emplacement.
But … as it happened I met Daouda again later, wandering around – now dressed, off course – and invited him to drink beer in a café down the road to chat some more.
He was only into Fanta. And so as I drank beer – for hours – and we ate pizza as we talked deeped about the beauty of the simple life, of the consumerism traps of modern life, of travel as the teacher.
For he had at age 17, now 32, been across most of West Africa – Mali, Guinea-Bissau, etc, worked in a hotel for 7 years and spoke excellent English for a guy who you would assume did not (and of course he spoke French and Mandinka, hailing from the south of Senegal in the lush Casamance region).
Our visions of the striding artist were shared; he’d had a wealthy black American woman wanting to take him away as other did other local groupie-beauties – but no, he stayed here.
And while he went to the Dakar to play gigs with his 7 piece band, of which he is the leader / the singer / songwriter, he found that the city life did nothing for him – it was all about being an artist in the right environment, amid nature living a true, simple, sincere life.
Everytime I said something deep – yes, I am capable of thinking after a few drinks – he replied, Thank You.
Our mutual understanding was intense: we were brother artists living for our art and God allowed us to meet that day for one my most inspiring days in Africa.
TRAVELS IN SENEGAL 2007
Daouda Diabaté – La Perte
Daouda Diabaté – La Déroute (featured above)