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Baye Fall Musician: Daouda Diabate – Living on Goree Island, Senegal

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When I first waved back to him I was cautious. Too many strangers in Dakar had ulterior motives and this guy seemed to be another.

But this was Goree Island – 3 km offshore of Dakar.

Approaching Goree Island from Dakar
Approaching Goree Island from Dakar.

And so, I approached this half-naked, dread-locked guy with interest and also with my radar-on as he welcomed me into his home.


He lived in a fortress complex that was first occupied by the Dutch then French then English and then finally the French again.

Gun battery on Goree Island
Gun battery on Goree Island.

During this colonial lust-fest Europe was ravaging Africa, setting up bases to swallow-up gold, ivory & slaves.

The bunker complex Douaba lived in dated from the 1920s and was use during Vichy France’s cooperation with Nazi Germany.

Such was Goree island – tangled, brutalized by history, including a pretty colonial port town that was the departure point – the point of no return, for slaves.

bunker goree island senegal
Entrance to Daouda Diabate‘s bunker home.

Along the long open tunnel entrance, Douaba had stuck sculptures – junk that had been washed ashore. Pegs, scandals, wire, bottles, clothes, cellphone cases, cans – stuck to a painted board.

And as we entered the bunker we took the main door of thick steel. Another door to the right. This was the observation turret for the mighty guns in the emplacement nearby.

His room was small, overwhelming concrete. But cool from the heat.

Hanging clothes, a bed, another on the floor with mosquito net, alongside water containers. Graffiti and posters and wooden carvings on walls. The bunker’s gun-slit covered where it looked to the ocean and let in a breeze.

inside baye fall artist bunker home goree island senegal
Inside Douaba’s bunker-home on Goree Island.

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. There we talked, wide ocean empty, about ourselves and our visions.

We had similar outlooks on life, and connected immediately.

Daouda Diabate is a Baye Fall Musician.

VIDEO: My favourite song by DAOUDA DIABATE AND TOUBAMBA Les Titans


He is one who follows the teachings of Cheikh Amadou Bamba, the 19th century Muslim Sufi leader of Senegal, and also the teaching of his most famous disciple, Cheikh Ibra Fall.

Across the country their images are everywhere like graffiti. Like some cool spiritual rappers stenciled with a spray-can, these two veiled men, one in white, the other in black can be seen on buses and store signs.

Slave legacy sites on Goree Island.
Slave legacy sites on Goree Island.

For these Muslim holy men – despite having been dead sometime, their brotherhoods dominate the spiritual, political and economic circles of Senegal today.

(I later visited the holy city of Touba and the tomb of Amadou Bamba. Today, his direct-descendant resides as one of Senegal’s foremost links between the people and God.)

VIDEO: DAOUDA DIABATE AND TOUBAMBA – La Negation

Daouda said he was allowed to stay free in this bunker as were other artists across the far point of the island, where numerous fortifications existed. The government allowed it and so there was quite a rustic, bohemian grouping within the “Castel of Goree”.

After 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.

Later, I encountered other artists living under the actual gun emplacement.

But as it happened, I met Daouda again – now dressed – and I invited him to a café for lunch.

Daouda Diabaté + MRP at cafe on Goree Island in Senegal, 2007
Daouda Diabaté + MRP at cafe on Goree Island in Senegal, 2007

He was only into Fanta; I drank beer.

Eating pizza, we talked about the beauty of the simple life. About the traps of the consumerist modern life. And of travel as the great teacher.

At the age of 17, he’s now 32, Daouda had traveled across most of West Africa – like in Mali, Guinea-Bissau, etc.

He’d worked in a hotel for 7 years and spoke excellent English (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 did other did local groupie-beauties. But no, he stayed here.

crowds swimming goree island beach senegal
A fine day for all: Locals enjoying the beach on Goree island.

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.

For Daouda, it was all about being an artist in the right environment, amid nature and living a true, simple, sincere life.

Every time I said something deep – yes, I am capable of profound thoughts after a few drinks 😉 – he replied: Thank You.

Our mutual understanding was intense.

We were brother artists living for our art and the universe allowed us to meet that day for one of my most inspiring days of this West African journey.

Travels in Senegal – 2007


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