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Day 34: Dakar

Dakar, Senegal 
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At a local contest in Dakar, the boys show how it should be done.
Michael Palin - SaharaDakar has a reputation as a lively, liberal, cosmopolitan town with a thriving music scene, which is why we find ourselves, late on this first evening, in a thatched shed down by the Fish Market. One side is open to the sea and the Atlantic slurps gently against a jetty, causing soft breezes to waft in and aerate the sticky atmosphere inside. Unfortunately, these cooling breezes also carry a pungent aroma of sewage and rotting fish. This seems to make absolutely no difference to the enthusiasm with which everyone throws themselves into dancing, foot-tapping and drinking to a six-man band called Nakodje. The sound is a fusion of Western and West African, with saxophone, clarinet and guitar lining up alongside Fula flute from Guinea and a balaphon (like a xylophone) from Mali. The audience embraces white and black, men and women in equal numbers. I find myself sitting next to a group of staid-looking Senegalese men in suits. They show a surprising interest in our filming and are keen to know if my programmes sell in Senegal. When I shake my head apologetically their eyes light up with relief, and they explain that they are Muslim and if it had been on Senegalese TV their wives would have seen them drinking beer.

The manager, a rangy black man with rubbery legs and red eyes, has taken a shine to me and announces my presence here to a bemused audience.

Towards the end of the evening, I'm at the bar drinking a last Flag beer and talking to Malek, the young Senegalese bass guitarist, who's halfway through a business management course, and Tom Vahle, an American member of the band, who has taught himself to play the Fula flute.

'It only has three holes in it. It's a combination of singing and blowing at the same time.'

An arm snakes round my shoulder and the face of the club manager looms close to mine. He's seriously unsteady now and I'm not altogether sure what he's on about.

'I'm Lebou,' he says with a flourish. 'We are fishermen, right. Dakar belongs to us.'

He's also an ex-basketball player, now sixty years old. I'm impressed and ask him how he stays in shape. He leers, wobbles, grabs my head and whispers loudly in my ear.

'Making love. Every single night.'

This boast completely convulses him and induces a brief coughing fit. My recollections of the ensuing conversation are hazy, to say the least, but I do remember a nicely surreal exchange when he was expanding on his previous experience.

'Is this different from the other clubs you've managed?'



'The other clubs were,' he pauses for quite a while, searching for the right word, 'rectangular.'
Dakar, Senegal 
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Wrestling is the second biggest sport in Senegal.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 34
  • Country/sea: Senegal
  • Place: Dakar
  • Book page no: 112

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