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Baaba Maal: 10 Things I Love About Senegal

From the Pink Lake to wrestling, Senegalese legend Baaba Maal shares the 10 things he loves the most about Senegal.

In our “10 Things I Love” series we ask our favorite musicians, artists & personalities to tell us what they like the most about their home country.


In this new installment, Senegalese legend Baaba Maal, who released his latest album The Traveller  earlier this year and recently collaborated with Mumford & Sons, shares the 10 things he loves the most about Senegal.

The Pink Lake

The Pink Lake is a lake near Dakar. The water can look really pink in the middle of the day when it's sunny.

But it's not just about the color, I was wondering why it was called a "pink lake" and one of my friends, a woman who has a kind of restaurant and bungalow down there, was explaining to me that the lake turned pink because of a queen that used to live down there.

A traditional queen, at one point she had a problem with the community and decided to jump into the lakes and not return. Since she was a queen, she had to choose one of the beautiful colors, so the lake became pink.

But it’s also because of its salt that people can explain the color of the lake.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Jeff Attaway (via Flickr).

The National Sport is Wrestling

We have a very strong soccer team, but in Senegal, the national sport is wrestling. It happens in the big stadiums with tens of thousands of people watching.

It's not just the fighting between the champions, who are really good—they train and they have hundreds of people behind them call also them small champions—but it's also the culture that comes surrounds it.

Three or four hours before the big match, you’ll see all the different types of cultures that come from Senegal come together. All the drumming, all the clothing, all the dancing, all the choreography. It’s a festival in just one afternoon.

It's very impressive and very unique to Senegal.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Sebastien Lafont (via Flickr).

My Hometown, Podor

It's where I come from and I really want people to discover it more because it has it's own story and it’s own history, also.

Podor is a very ancient town that changed names centuries ago, maybe a thousand years ago. It used to be a small kingdom, and the capital of that kingdom, Takrur. Then the French people came and transformed it from a traditional African village into what we call in French a comptoir colonial, where you see all these factories that bring everything that comes from France into this part of the world.

It's really mixed. The best thing about Podor is that it's very cultural. Most of these ethnic groups in West Africa, they have people who represent them down there, so you can access all their music.

Podor is at the north of Senegal, near the River Senegal. It is just facing Mauritania. Actually, you can see down in this border of Podor and talk to other one from the other country and say, "Hi, how are you doing today?" You don't need your phone or nothing. Just shout and they can hear you. From a country to the other one.

Sandaga Market

Sandaga Market is a very big market in Dakar. The building of the market is really, really beautiful. Also, to go into the market is like going into another world. You can't discover it until you go inside and investigate. It's a kind of a full ambiance that gives you the flavor of every market that you can imagine in Senegal.

They sell everything. From gold to fish to jeweleries to clothes. Everything that you need, you can find it in Sandaga Market.

I used to go there a long time ago when I was a student from the conservatory, but since I'm getting well known, it's not easy for me to go there. People do not let me do that, it’s a shame [laughs].

The Lions of Teranga

In 2002 we went to France for the World Cup—that was the starting point for these young footballers from Senegal, who played also in the leagues in France and England, to know that they have something to bring back for their generation.

Now they’re a symbol of hope for the young generation. I like them because every time we think that they might fall down, they find chance to stand up again and to reinvent themselves. They're not shy about playing any other team.

They very much represent Senegal. We are a country that’s not shy at all. We like to show that we are nice. The team is called the ‘Lions of Teranga". "Teranga" in Wolof in Senegal means "hospitality". Senegal is a country of hospitality. You see the difference between a lion and hospitality.

I love El Hadji Diouf, who’s kind of the spirit of that team. He's very well known in the UK and across the world.

Le Village Artisanal de Dakar

It's a kind of village that sells artisanal crafts to decorate your house or things like that. From wood to iron to other things, it features crafts from hundreds of hundreds of artists who make their own things.

But it's not just about the things that you can buy, but the whole ambiance around there, of all these people being together, working in different skills and sitting next to each other. It's a really natural. You can spend one day down there and visit all of their stands, it’s exceptional.

Except when the tourists come down there, they will grab on you and try to sell you everything. You will not go home with the money you come with on your pocket [laughs]. Which is nice, it's the African way of doing business.

Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine

Number five is that new monument that we call the "Monument de la Renaissance." It was built by the former president Abdoulaye Wade. It talks about the culture of black people. It's represented by a mam who’s quite naked and his wife, and they holding the hand of the young one. That means it encompasses all generations. The woman, maybe for me, looks like the second lady of Africa. The young one represents the next generation of Africa. And they’re all looking towards infinity.

The future of Africa. It's in a very high place. People in the United States have the Statue de la Liberte. We have the Monument of the Renaissance. It's beautiful.

A photo posted by ?Yemi Akamo? (@yemiakamo) on

Soumbedioune Fish Market

It's a place near the ocean.In the morning, you can see all the boats of the fishermen—very nicely decorated boat with a lot of color, names, and everything.

The fishermen go into the ocean—they pass all day or they go all night—many kilometers inside of the ocean and do their fishing. At 5 o'clock, 6 o'clock, you see them all coming back when the sun is coming down.

You see all these boats coming down and on the ground you see a lot of women and men waiting for them to come down. It's like a big party. You see all these different colors, you see all the colors of the tissues of the women, what they're wearing and all the energy down there waiting to see what these people have caught. This is what’s going to go to all these different markets in Dakar. It's a whole place that you can get lost in also and see the ambiance, discover the work of the fishermen in Senegal.

I have one song called, "Lampenda" on The Traveller that talks about that particular place.

Casamance

Casamance is in the south of Senegal. We used to have a rebellion there, but I think people are very, very nice down there. It's the most green part of Senegal. The culture is so diverse. Some of the instruments that we love so much in African music and Senegalese music, like, the kora come from there.

It's a place for where many different ethnic groups who are not the main ones in Senegal cross paths. They’re all very talented in whatever they do and very compact in their love for Casamance. For example, when they go to Dakar to support their team, you will recognize that these are the people who come from Casamance. You can see them in green. They remind you that this part of Senegal has a lot of water, a lot of trees which keeps it green. I love Casamance.

FESMAN

The last thing that was celebrated in Senegal with a little bit of controversy, but I think we have to celebrate it more, is FESMAN.

FESMAN means the Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres. It's the World Festival of Black Arts, a very huge event that happens nearly every 10 years. The festival brings people from across Africa to come celebrate black arts and culture.

You can see everything there. The last time it happened, in 2010 I think or 2011, it brought hundreds of thousands of people. The opening ceremony had thousands of people on the ground participating. This is something organized in a very huge, big level. I think Senegal has the ability to host things like that because we love parties, we love big manifestations, we love big ceremonies, we love very big meetings that celebrate culture.

Interview
Photo: Benoit Peverelli

Interview: Oumou Sangaré Proves Why She's the Songbird of Wassoulou

We caught up with the Malian singer to talk about her new Acoustic album, longevity as an artist, and growing up in Mali.

When Oumou Sangaré tells me freedom is at her core, I am not surprised. If you listen to her discography, you'll be hard-pressed to find a song that doesn't center or in some way touch on women's rights or child abuse. The Grammy award-winning Malian singer has spent a significant part of her career using her voice to fight for the rights of women across Africa and the world, a testimony to this is her naming her debut studio album Moussolou, meaning Woman. The album, a pure masterpiece that solidified Oumou's place amongst the greats and earned her the name 'Songbird of Wassoulou,' was a commercial success selling over 250,000 records in Africa and would in turn go on to inspire other singers across the world.

On her latest body of work Acoustic, a reworking of her critically acclaimed 2017 album Mogoya, Oumou Sangaré proves how and why she earned her accolades. The entirety of the 11-track album was recorded within two days in the Midi Live studio in Villetaneuse in 'live' conditions—with no amplification, no retakes or overdubs, no headphones. Throughout the album, using her powerful and raw voice that has come to define feminism in Africa and shaped opinions across the continent, Oumou boldly addresses themes like loss, polygamy and female circumcision.

We caught up with the Malian singer at the studio she is staying while in quarantine to talk about her new album, longevity as an artist, and growing up in Mali.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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