N’Dour’s music captures the heart of Senegal: mbalax dance rhythms mix traditional griot (West African singer-storyteller) music and drumming with Western genres such as jazz, soul, and rock. Here is the best description of mbalax I’ve come across: “This is highly addictive, popular music with an exotic touch that makes you want to pack your bags and explore Senegal!” Read the rest of this entry
Dakar, which I did have a chance to visit, is the Western terminus of the railroad built by the French almost a hundred years ago. The railroad connected Dakar with the city of Bamako, today the capital of Mali. The line opened in 1923 and linked the biggest cities in colonial French West Africa, connecting the Atlantic coast with the vast, mineral-rich hinterland along the Niger river. Nearly 800 miles across the arid land and baobab-studded savanna in between… Although once considered one of the most luxurious train rides in Africa, sadly its glory days are over. But even after its heyday, the trip must have been quite an experience and, vicariously, I feel I’ve had a taste of it through the writings of a Polish traveler and author Ryszard Kapuściński. In his great book The Shadow of the Sun he vividly describes a trip from Dakar to Bamako he took back in the 1960s, reflecting upon larger changes underway in Africa at that time. Read the rest of this entryThis time I’m writing about a trip I have not taken, I wish I could have taken, but unfortunately I’m not likely to be able to take any time soon. A train trip.
Youssou N’Dour. I don’t remember how I first came across his music but I instantly fell in love with it even though I don’t know Senegal’s Wolof language at all and French only in a cursory fashion. (Side note: if I were serious about learning French one day, I would want a Francophone African as a teacher – they actually annunciate =) He was born in Dakar’s Médina district, started performing at age 12, played with the band Étoile de Dakar, and eventually gained worldwide fame as one of the most celebrated African musicians. You may not know his name, but you’ve probably heard him in a hit duet with Neneh Cherry, 7 seconds.Before I ever thought I would visit Senegal I already felt I knew it because of one person: