Le Relais, Chez Mendy, Cadjafoul, Vertigo

All local bars/nightclubs in Dakar. And all places that I went last Friday night/morning. It was the epitome of “bar hopping.” It started with a meetup with two couchsurfers (CSers) at Le Relais, a bar/restaurant with a great seaview and an even more remarkable seabreeze. Nightime seabreeze in Dakar is phenomenal. Le Relais is one of two restaurants situated right next to “Magicland,” a mini-amusement part located on the Corniche, the highway beside the ocean that runs North-South through Dakar. I had suggested the place upon an earlier recommendation by one of the CSers (one of whom came to the Le Relais, a Canadian). Le Relais is a simple, unpretentious (despite it being located next to Terrou Bi, a very, very, fancy hotel) local restaurant with a wonderful location. It’s just a nice place to sit, enjoy the sea breeze and “shoot the shit,” as they say. We were there for not too long when the Canadian CSer suggested we pick up a friend who lived nearby Le Relais and head to a more ‘buzzing place’, also a local joint. To clarify, my definition of local here is really a place that’s not overly frequented by tourists, although some places are more ‘local’ than others. Le Relais is local enough, but due to its wonderful simplicity and sea access, was bound to not be kept a secret for too long and is therefore frequented by a decent number of expats. Chez Mendy, on the other hand, is a very local joint. My companions were the only conspicuous looking expats in the place, and slightly before we left, I saw another white guy walk in with some Africans. To confuse you the reader even more, Chez Mendy is local, but not quite. The place is patronized largely by Nigerians and other West African ‘expats’, howbeit those who had been living in Dakar for a decent amount of time and knew the city. Another note, I had been somewhat curious to visit Chez Mendy because the Canadian CSer had mentioned that more than being a club, it was really a “workplace” for the many prostitutes that frequented it. Upon arrival, there was a particularly vivacious, short, chubby woman dancing, whining and romping her way through every song that played. The Canadian CSer proceeded to mention that she was indeed “working” and not just dancing.

It was poignant that I was able to suspect, almost immediately after walking into the club, that a large proportion of the men inside – there were only a handful of women – were Nigerians. There’s just something about Nigerians that make them so identifiable, especially by a fellow Nigerian. It was not so much the way they dressed, but much more so the they way they looked. I’ve also always suspected that the rigours of Nigerian life gives some of our brothers a too-intense look, an almost do-or-die resignation, if you will. That look was printed in bold-type on many-a-faces that morning. My inklings were further confirmed by the lip-synching to the P-Square and Timaya songs that they dj blazed for at least 45 minutes before switching to the obligatory Rihanna and some too-hard hip hop. I danced with the Canadian CSer and her friend, and we were joined by the other CSer (a Turkish brother – he also brought a friend) whose friend remained seated. The Canadian CSer’s friend also brought two male friends (Senegalese and Ivorian) who loaded our table with an infinite supply of beer.

The Canadian CSer’s friend (are you keeping up?), a French lady, suggested we relocate to another place after the hip-hop set at Chez Mendy’s had gotten a bit much and the Turkish CSer agreed. The Canadian CSer had also been falling asleep and wanted to go so I said I would leave as well, but when we got into the car (the Turkish CSer’s friend drove), it appeared that she’d be going to the ‘next’ place. My curiosity didn’t allow me to object so I followed along. Unfortunately, the Turkish CSer had gotten offended about the French lady’s comment about there being a dress code in certain places in Dakar and when we got to the entrance of the ‘next’ bar, his tone became confrontational and he pretty much ordered the friend to go home. Sure.

The next bar, Cadjafoul was actually quite interesting. It was located next to the Dakar fish market behind some shops selling African art and slightly stunk of fish and the ocean. It was a thatched roof hut-like edifice with a walk-way that extended into another hut that was built right on the water. Definitely a nice place, but could have done without the smell. Nevertheless, when we arrived, the MC was trying to pair women with some old white expats in order to dance. I wasn’t entirely sure what the purpose was or if it was just for entertainment sake. After all the fan-fair, the three or so couples that had been seemingly bullied into submission proceeded to the dance floor and some seriously romantic Zouk (although Zouk beats are romance, period) started playing. It was actually kinda nice. The French lady had also commented that the MC’s accent was Ivorien, and it made sense after hearing the Zouk. Senegalese people don’t seem particularly enthralled by the Zouk. Another pseudo-local joint. To be fair, Ramadan began on the 2nd of August in Dakar and I had been told that all the clubs and bars and the like would be closed so I was rather surprised that these two clubs had been open at all. So it made perfect sense that there would be little or no Senegalese there on this night. Anyway, after checking out the pseudo-floating extension hut, my compatriots decided the music was too soft so we moved to the next place, Vertigo.

Thankfully, Vertigo was right next to Cadjafoul. In fact, we had walked past it on our way to Cadjafoul. And Vertigo turned out to be another joint which I suspected, at least this night that we went, was largely frequented by Ivoriens. When we arrived, coupe decale was blasting and many of the people were out of their seats and dancing. The men seated next to where we would encamp were all up, about six or seven of them, and all dancing rhythmically in unison. I was supremely entertained! We started dancing shortly after we arrived and I remained dancing even after the music turned to hip hop, which I was overly impressed with. I wanted to see these people dance! Anyway, my dancing was definitely ‘toned down’ – nothing like the night of Le Patio. I didn’t really feel like sitting and could not just stand. There was also an impromptu entertainer/rapper which was welcome but which meant an interruption to a Sean Paul tune – this was not welcome. According to the French lady – who also did not appear amused at the interruption of the Sean Paul tune – respect for those fasting (and would need to rise and eat around 5am) prompted the MC to announce that the club would close at 4:30am, although this was succeeded by a harangue on religious tolerance and the like. The announcement was made around 3:30am, just before the impromptu entertainment which was followed by a couple of PSquare joints and the beginning of a coupe decale set – at this point, I and the Canadian CSer (who had, by then remembered that she was still tired) called it a night and left Vertigo.

All in all, it was an interesting night out although perhaps I need to learn to be more present at these things instead of trying to come up with ideas on how to solve some of the issues on display. I won’t take up too much more writing room but just to highlight:

1) Nigerian women and prostitution. I know of their fame in ‘far-away lands’ like Athens and Barcelona but here in Dakar? I mean, you gotta do what you gotta do, but could it be that some are actually choosing to become prostitutes (i.e. for supplementary income), rather than being thrust into it by life’s circumstances? And how do our men help propagate this phenomenon?
2) Nigerian (young) men and illegal activity. Despite myself, I could not help but think, when at Chez Mendy’s, that the majority of the young Nigerian men I saw were involved in something untoward. Is this fair? I mean, can I, in my priviledged position of being a Nigerian-Canadian who has the audacity to return to Africa to look for a job even judge? The French lady that night mentioned that Nigerian men are “dangerous.” I countered that they only “dared” to do and think what others feared.  Survival and criminality are sometimes highly correlated, but does a life of difficulties justify criminality?
3) Young men in Africa OUTNUMBER women. By FAR. There seems to be a disproportional ratio of young men to women. It was egregious to me when I first arrived in Dakar, but I dismissed it and attributed it to the fact that more women are employed in domestic activities and are therefore less visible on the streets. But at Chez Mendy, Cadjafoul and Vertigo, to say men outnumbered women would be an underestimation. Each woman at these clubs could have gone home with five men AND there would still be men left. Are African women averse to fun? Mind you, I didn’t notice this imbalance at Le Patio, but then again, a lot of those women were looking for ‘monied’ expats. It could still be that the domestic working women may not be allowed to leave their employers’ home at night (in the case that they sleep there, although many of the ones I’ve encountered do not). It could also be a Ramadan thing, women the world over being generally more pious than men. BUT I suspect that there’s something else going on. Could it be that Africa has suffered more “missing women”?

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Le Must

I also went out on Saturday night (when in Dakar, do as the Dakarois?). Another late night affair although this time, it was to meet with a Couchsurfer whom I had said I would meet up with. One of his goals for the trip was to see Orchestra Baobab perform and he had been tipped that they were performing at this joint on Saturday. The group actually did not begin performing until after midnight, actually close to 1am and they finished just shy of 4pm, almost three hours of performing. The entrance was a STEEP 10 000 FCFA ($20 dollars and a bit), but the group was wonderful and the men worked hard so it was a worthy investment. I just hope they earned more than a pittance. Drinks and food (it’s a bar and restaurant) were also quite expensive here but at least the cheapest thing on the menu was 1500 FCFA ($3). That cheapest thing turned out to be a beer (they had no juice!) so I ordered it so they would not pester me, or worse yet, embarrass me and tell me I could not remain seated.

I know very little about Orchestra Baobab. I may have heard a few songs of theirs but I wouldn’t say I’m familiar with their music, definitely not as much as my counterpart. This music turned out to be some mix of salsa and mbalax, Sahel blues (Malian type crooning) among others – I even thought I heard some Sunny Ade Fuji in one of the songs. So it was a very pleasant morning, and the saxophonist blew my heart away. The band’s average age was probably in the late forties, and median probably in the fifties and this was similarly reflected in the age of the audience. There were a handful of young people, but the rest were some older, monied gentlemen. Interestingly, I had read an academic article just a few days prior about Salsa in Dakar (I would also love to do research on Salsa in Dakar – why didn’t I think of this for my paper?!) where the author, among other things, noted that Afro-Cuban music in Dakar had greatly diminished (having been replaced by the newer generation Mbalax) and that those who now listened to it were the older generations or members of the elite who sought to hold to their ‘traditions’ and uphold the gentility that Afro-Cuban-Senegalese Salsa was supposed to represent. The article resonated in my mind the entire night not only because the average age of the audience must have been in the late thirties, but also because they seemed like members of a higher societal stratum who all seemed to know one another and the music well. There was one particular older gentleman who just had to get up when they threw it back to the older, more classic Salsa tunes. He was swaying and feeling the beat and having a good time.

My counterpart commented to me that you wouldn’t get this kind of vibe in Sweden – people actually chatting, dancing and seeming to have a good time. Now Sweden is a country I have a decent amount of a experience with and he was more than right. But I suppose that’s why he’s also here, that is, to experience what he wouldn’t in Sweden.

Anyway, after this weekend of sampling Dakar nightlife and restaurants, I must say I’m even more broke than I usually am. I certainly have to get a sugar Daddy, go out less or find cheaper things to do.

But I don’t eat sugar so I guess I’m let with the other two options.

Le Must Bar and Restaurant

Le Patio

Le Patio is a bar, restaurant and nightclub in Almadies, a well-to-do neighbourhood filled with monied expats and Dakarois alike. I was supposed to go to this club with a girl I met at a concert at the French Cultural Institute some three weekends ago, but laziness and apathy overcame me and I cancelled on her both the Friday and Saturday. So this past weekend, I decided to do something with my life. I wondered if my accomplice chose this place because she was interested in the monied expats, but she told me she liked it because she liked the music. I wasn’t particularly convinced about this but when upon arrival (after midnight), the music was actually quite decent, lots of danceable music (even the techno!) including the compulsory convict music, the required Rihanna, the predictable P-Square, the mandatory Mbalax and the crazy coupe decale. A few songs were repeated but this was forgivable, especially since the dj was schooled enough to know NOT to play a song in its entirety.

Patio is an unbelievably expensive place. We didn’t pay cover but seating required drinks purchase, and the cheapest things on the menu (watery juice, pop, 50ml water) were each the equivalent of $6 (3000 FCFA)! Except that we didn’t really sit, although my accomplice’s friend was not much the dancing type so she sat probably 85% of the time. She seemed a lovely girl but I was rather confused as to why she came. But I was glad I shelled out the money to buy one of the watery juices because I danced and perspired so much – I must have danced for some three hours – that it came in handy.

There were definitely a lot of beautiful women there, many of whom could have grazed the covers of some magazine. Not the least because they were beautiful but also because they had some amazing shapes! But I was unimpressed with the calibre of the women themselves, beautiful or not. For one thing, they were vain! They all wanted to dance in front of the mirror and stare at themselves dance. I couldn’t understand this – I tried to do it myself but was distracted by some facial or bodily imperfection and kept loosing my rhythm. My accomplice was adept at this mirror-dancing exercise, however, as were many others there.

Also, there were two women whose cleavages assaulted me the whole night. Initially, I was overwhelmed, but this turned into absolute fright by the sheer size and sight of them. But then, this is not a uniquely Dakarois thing and I suppose if I had them I would also flaunt them (not really) but I thought this bore mentioning for some reasoning. Generally, the women here are well-endowed so I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

A lot of the women seemed to be there for the expat men, a lot of whom were old enough to be their fathers. When we first arrived and sat down, we sat beside a girl that perhaps was in her early twenties and a man that was at least in his sixties, and he kept kissing and groping her. My heart just fell! Now I’m not one to judge and I don’t know what situation these women are in, but to be frank, Le Patio is not a place that someone with meagre means would go to. You have to look a certain way (to say I was underdressed is an understatement) and many of the girls definitely did not look poor. But looks do deceive and having some means could perhaps still not compare to whatever lives the girls imagine awaits them in Europe or North America or wherever they hope these men will take them. Some may not necessarily want to leave Dakar, but are just looking to live a certain way while here.

A Dakarois man told me earlier this week that he was loathe to date Senegalese women because they’re only after money and do not really care about love. But I imagine it’s not that simple. Who doesn’t want a so-called “better life”? But for some who find these expat men, it does work out, at least for some time, and that is absolutely worth it for some of these women. On the flight to Dakar, I met a Senegalese woman with a mixed child who was returning to visit her family. She said she lived in Spain, and had been for a few years with her child’s father whom she met in Dakar – we actually communicated in Spanish and her kid was too cute! She definitely looked fine, so I guess for her it worked out, and I hope it continues to…