Mamy announces that she has to leave the studio promptly this evening as she’s performing with Baaba Maal at Le Must in town. (I love the way that places with an English name in Dakar somehow makes them seem more ‘chic’). True to form, everything is running later than planned, and Mamy makes a couple of anxious calls in the car as we drive across town to her house.
We wait while Mamy puts the final touches to her make-up and chooses a pair of intricate yellow-gold earrings and an enormous ring from a large jewellery box. She skillfully wraps a length of fabric round her head, and takes one last look in the mirror to check her lipstick before we set off.
There’s a crowd hanging out at the entrance of Le Must, and Mamy pushes through to speak to the guy on the door. She tries to wangle free tickets for us, but to no avail. At 10,000 CFA each, it’s not cheap, but I’m excited about seeing Baaba Maal perform in the intimate setting of a Dakar club. We climb the narrow staircase, standing back against the wall to let a stream of others pass on their way down. Le Must is crowded and buzzing with anticipation. Cigarette smoke already hangs heavy in the air. Two chairs are squeezed in for us right at the front, literally at the foot of the low stage. The manager of the club sees our cameras and makes it clear that we don’t have permission to film or photograph - despite the fact that he knows we’re with Mamy. I manage to sneak in one shot before Mamy goes on stage.
Baaba Maal starts his set alone on stage, and is quickly joined by his kora player, Mamy on vocals, and another singer - an elderly, blind man who makes punchy declamations that complement Mamy’s elaborate improvisations. Within half an hour the full band of 10 musicians is crammed onto the tiny stage. The elderly ngoni player is a small man wearing a shiny dark grey suit that’s at least two sizes too big for him, and black patent shoes. His ngoni looks worryingly fragile, and he struggles to plug in the amp, but like all the other musicians on stage, he’s a really fine player.
As the performance gets into its stride, members of the audience make their way to the front of the stage to present Baaba Maal with money to show their appreciation. Some notes are scrumpled and simply thrown at his feet. Others make more of a conscious display, carefully producing crisp new notes from their wallet one by one and presenting them to Baaba Maal in a deliberate manner, ensuring that the audience witnesses their display of wealth and generosity. Baaba Maal’s manager gathers up the cash at regular intervals, replenishes his pot of tea and leaves notes written in heavy capital letters to indicate, for example, that the Minister for Communication is in the house.
The concert draws to a rousing conclusion and we leave to join Ngnima, Cheikh and Jules at Almadies - the ‘Las Vegas strip of Dakar’, as Daliso describes it. Everyone is dressed up for a night out on the town.
“Young women here automatically assume they need to wear something short to look sexy”, says Ngnima.
Right on cue, a young woman in an impossibly short skirt takes a tumble down the four concrete steps ahead of us. The gold ankle strap on her precariously high heeled shoes snaps, but she gets to her feet, apparently unhurt and continues on her way.