I love Drums and Wires in true faith. It’s one of the first sections I flick to to see who’s being playing and who’s been jammy enough to be there. So being positioned in one of the bastions of the vibrant West African music scene I thought a Senegalese version ‘Djembés and Koras’ would be a worthwhile instalment. The crown jewel of the Senegalese music scene is Youssou Ndour who shot to fame in 1994 with 7 Seconds alongside Neneh Cherry. In fact, Ndour, alongside his band Super Etoile de Dakar, had been massive in Senegal for decades having been the pioneers of Mbalax, a uniquely Senegalese style of music that combines a thumping percussion of djembés and tam tams, with artfully strummed acoustic, electric, bass guitars and koras (a typically West African stringed instrument).
The perfect ‘intro’ song to share with you from this genre has to be Immigrés/ Bitim Reew (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRct2TKjwsE ), (“Immigrants” in French and then Wolof) a song Ndour wrote in dedication to his audience when he was invited to play at a meeting for the Senegalese Taxi Drivers Association in Paris in 1984. I was fortunate to see the artistry of this song live back in December when Ndour played a stadium concert in St Louis for 1000CFA (1.25 GBP) a ticket. Not bad considering 2 months before he’d played to a sold-out Paris Bercy Arena for €50 a head! The song’s message about Senegalese people being driven to Europe in search of work is as relevant today when you consider the number of people who see ‘success’ as leaving their country in a desperate chase for prosperity, whether that be those who gamble on treacherous pirogue crossings to Spain or aspiring footballers searching for the big bucks of the Premier League to send home.
Back to Dakar and perhaps the best live experience in a city that has music bursting out of its seams at night is found at Just4U. When I first started going ‘clubbing’ with my mates in town (and that’s a generous description of getting turfed out of Fluid for looking 14) my Grandad used to question my footwear and fondly recall how he used to go out in South Shields to a music club that would insist you were ‘dressed to the nines’ in order to get into a supper, big band and dancing evening. While I smiled and nodded politely at the time, impatient to see the bright lights of Newcastle on a night out, nowadays that level of ‘class’ is something a bit like gold dust on a night out where almost every place plays homogenous commercialised beats as everyone looks sideways at each other, all desperately trying to fit in and stand out at the same time. Just4U, Dakar sees local couples and friends, all the image of elegance, dine and dance under a decorative, Mauritanian tarpaulin in front of a live band that changes every night. Impressively it manages to attract huge contemporary Senegalese stars and the best I’ve seen by some distance was Carlou D. His 2010 album Muzikr is superb, in particular SenRegal (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvtlBqDEStE ), which is as patriotic as it is melodic. If that snapshot of the Senegalese music scene sparks interest in anyone, he’s launching a new album New Day at the end of the month with a gig at Dakar’s pretty Institut Francais.
Speaking of Dakarois institutes, April has seen me return to Stade Demba Diop for the first time since last month’s ‘Ouakam Riots’. The fears over further aggro at future matches involving Union Sportive Ouakam was evident in last weekend’s Stades, which featured interviews with USO’s captain pleading for ‘tranquilité et calme’ in the stands when his side face off against their local rivals Olympique Ngor in the ‘Lebou Derby’. Ouakam’s my local quartier and while I wouldn’t say I favour them (or any) local sides, I’ve certainly ingratiated myself with Babacar and his pals in their supporters club after I popped into ‘HQ’ (a gazebo with a red flag and a fixtures blackboard outside a cattle market) to buy a shirt as a souvenir. They tried to get me to come with them to ‘Ngor away’ with them but to no avail as I was intent on avoiding spending my weekend having rocks thrown at me from a height. Perhaps a more ‘beginners’ destination will persuade me to join them for my first Senegalese away-day.
So while Ouakam cruised to a 2-0 win away in Ngor I watched the day’s action unfold at Demba Diop, where AS Pikine (Les Banlieuistas, literally The Suburbanistas) brushed past Dakar University Club (Les Etudiants, The Students) 3-0. The match had its usual dose of controversy as the referee managed to miss a perfectly good goal for Pikine after a drive went into the bottom corner of the goal but escaped through a hole in the net. Fortunately Pikine were already leading by 3 against DUC so the inevitable ‘radge’ was kept to minimal. Mind, the poor ref still required a police escort off the pitch as the previously dormant stadium buzzed and crackled like a disturbed wasps nest in the afternoon sun.
The second game of the day saw Port Autonome de Dakar beat Casa Sports 1-0 which was more notable for the people than the play. Casa Sports are undoubtedly the most fervently followed team in the LSFP which stems from their quite distinct identity as the only side from the troubled Casamance area (the region south of the Gambia which has been embroiled in separatist struggles over the decades since Senegalese independence in 1960). I’m not sure what, if any, role Casa Sports plays in this issue but judging by the uniformly vivid green colour and noise emanating from their fans during the match it is clear that the club is a massive source of pride for its people and a major component of their identity. What I do know is that the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, recently visited the region’s capital Ziguinchor and donated a bus to the city’s football team in what I’m assuming was a cute political move. I may find out more over the next month as I make my own visit to the region where Papiss Cisse and, I believe, Habib Beye hail from. I’ll be happy if my impressions are as good as they were of the fun-loving bunch of fans who clambered off the bus at Stade Demba Diop at the weekend, swaying behind a sixty-odd year-old saxophonist who was leading the rendition of what I presume was Casa Sports equivalent of the Blaydon Races.
Casa’s opponents Port Autonome weren’t well followed at all, essentially being a works team for the capital’s industrial docks. As it happened one of their only fans in the ground was the canny chap sat next to me, a docker from the port, who asked who my team was and then impressed me with his knowledge of Newcastle United. With my black and white comrades fuming after another gutless display at Stoke, Leopold next to me courteously, almost apologetically, summarised our season as ‘disappointing since Christmas’ and then, brilliantly, added, ‘I have to say I find the manager very arrogant’, which I found quite superb that Alan Pardew should have become so odious as to receive intercontinental condemnation. We finished our conversation with him recalling fondly the United team with ‘Ginola and Shearer’ and, with a beautiful naivety, enquired politely ‘how we didn’t win the league under Keegan?’ In the end it was me, not unlike Pardew, squirming even under benign questioning with that awkward shame we all carry with us from the glorious failure of ’95.
If seasons as brilliant as Keegan’s entertainers or equally seasons as soul-sapping as Pardew’s band of bottlers are part of our shared Toon tapestry that unites us, then fanzines such as The Mag and true faith have acted as the alternative chroniclers of our story over the years. It was with initial sadness that I read that both are to cease to go to print, not in the traditional sense anyway. Since adulthood they’ve both played a huge role in developing my footballing and cultural conscience away from the ‘party line’ it was easy to sleepwalk under during the Keegan and Robson days when the football was the ultimate seduction and the official programme and its “exclusive access” to boyhood heroes captivated my teenage years. Seeing my name in print in true faith on my first article from the 2012 Hillsborough Vigil Service remains one of my proudest moments and I’d like to thank Michael and everyone involved for the chance to be involved in something so good both then and now. I have to say though that I agree with the sense of excitement that is surrounding the new step into the digital direction – you get the same buzz seeing your name put to something online, even when it’s ramblings about all sorts of nonsense from Sub-Saharan West Africa! Jokes aside, the fact that there are Geordies contributing to the fanzine from thousands of miles and, culturally speaking, light-years away from the Tyneside football scene shows some of the massive potential that exists in the fanzines ‘gannin digital’. I bet when The Mag and true faith first started out the editors never imagined them to be as successful as they have been and I’m sure the new versions will surpass expectations. Then again, didn’t someone from Langley Park once say ‘It’s not beyond our wildest dreams because we do have wild dreams’?