Sunday, April 3, 2011

Traditional Music Concert

For me, one of the biggest draws to come to West Africa was the music.  I love all types of music (okay, opera is awful and I've never been a big fan of country OR western), but I devour world music with the same appetite as a pile of ribs with slathering sauce...  I must have listened to every African CD released by Putumayo Music and was ready to absorb sounds upon arrival.

If you read any guidebooks for Senegal, they will explain the rich culture and how music is a part of everything in West African culture.  I expected to get off the plane and be greeted by a welcoming committee of local musicians.  I expected my students to sing and play instruments while studying for a test.  I expected drum circles on every corner and singing at the grocery store.  Instead, the only local music I ever hear is what we Americans would refer to as "urban."  That's right: most of the Senegalese men listen to rap and gangsta while the women listen to "pop/soul" and the equivalent of the Top 40. 

In fact, the worst American export ever can be readily found here.  I'm not talking about Michael Jackson, I'm talking about the fashion style wherein young black men wear their pants halfway down their butt.  One of my students (who is a bit overweight and incredibly NOT hip) tried out this fashion with disastrous results.  Apparently no one told him that if you want to try that style, you're not supposed to wear "tighty whiteys" underneath...

So when I learned of a traditional music concert featuring artists from the Casamance region, I jumped at the chance to see some real, live African music.  But first, I had to get there... Every taxi driver in Dakar will nod yes when you tell them where you want to go.  I could say, "Worcester, Massachusetts" and the driver would nod in agreement and give me a price.  Only after they drive into downtown will they stop to ask directions. 

To make matters worse, the concert was venue was listed as the Theatre de Verdure.  Everyone (except me, and - of course - the taxi driver) knew this place better as "The French Institute."  We stopped at least 5 times to ask for directions.  Then, before the driver actually arrived at the location, he stopped to and ask for more money because he didn't realize it was located so far away.  This ensued in the usual argument of epic proportions (he in Wolof, me in English) and resulted with me exiting the taxi to find my way from who-knows-where.

I arrived 20 minutes late, but that was okay because everything in Dakar is one "African time."  My friends will tell you I am 20 minutes late for everything in America, but I seem to be the only person who shows up for any event in Dakar expecting it to start promptly.  The lights were down as I found a seat and the band kicked into high gear.

The concert itself was fantastic.  The band was called Keloumake and the musicians played traditional instruments such as the kora (a stringed instrument made from a gourd that is played much like an Irish harp), an akontig (a lute-like instrument with a bamboo neck called a "bangoe" that - not surprisingly - produces a banjo-like sound), the bougarabou (drums), a bolong-guineen (another gourd-like drum instrument), a bass player, a guitar player and an attractive female singer/dancer.  After reading all that, wouldn't it be easier if I just inserted a link?

You'll notice the akontig player is dressed in traditional garb of bare feet and a giant tie-dye diaper.  He smiled all throughout the performance.  He may have even toured with the Grateful Dead in the 70's...

Which brings me to the unexpected irony of this blog entry: the audience.  During the first song, the lights were panned onto the audience and I realized the place was filled with what looked to be rejects from a PBS beg-a-thon.  Of approximately 150 attendees, at least 80% of the audience was comprised of white, middle-aged people (me included).  Two women who would  have easily qualified in the category of "earthy, crunchy" began dancing in front of the stage during the first song.  I'm not sure what tribe they belong to, but if their dance was indicative of their mating ritual I am pretty sure I understand why neither one of them wore a wedding ring.

That's when I realized I would have to change my ways.  I might be getting older, but I can't believe I have devolved so much that I am now willing to spend money to hang out with the "Kum-Bay-Ah" crowd.

I think I'll go listen to some gangsta rap to make myself feel younger.  I might even pull my pants halfway down my @$$... but, don't ask what I'm wearing underneath!


  1. Just don't wear the tighty-whiteys! Great post - and that gourd thing is amazing. World music is very cool, what a disappointment to hear what trash they're listening to over there! Even my kids don't fall for that stuff. ;)

  2. Btw- I think you might enjoy this: