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Senegal, part 2 (of 3)

1 February, 2009 (09:08) | Living in Europe | By: admin

Paul and Jane Bowles, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, not to mention Henry Miller and others would all envy me with my melodica and flute. With my gift of music and my ear for language, I am able to fit in. If the vibe gets bad I can tame it with music. Mark is an ardent and passionate travel writer and sound designer himself, the two of us pouring our images into one. He is an accomplished guitarist with burgeoning fluidity. This is a dream vacation for musicians who love to jam.

Unfortunately this is the only video or recording I have of us playing music in Africa, because normally I’m too busy playing my instrument to record the scores of momentous magic music moments we have. In this one, once I set down the video camera I got everyone to sing along “get up off that thang”, “huh!” and “Shake your booty”. That was was way cool! James Brown in Africa!

Mark and I are becoming one within our music which continues to be a strong force for good paving our pathway. When we engage in the endless beach jams (which often includes a run through of i Feel Rude) we both get to spread our wings and sail over the complex polyrhythms these natives provide with growing conviction. A striking image etched in my memory was the night of the big Kora player, whose name is Jalil. We sat in a circle around a campfire. Every so often, when the music really gelled a couple of guys would leap up and start dancing on the beach. These are my favorite moments. Its gratifying to me as a musician. They are starved for melodic instruments here in Africa, so I’ve found myself playing music in some form or another every single day. There is one guy I’ve nicknamed “AHA! because we play really well together. Whenever our music becomes magic he always sings out “Aha” during his favorite Monalia notes. His “Aha!” rings through, no matter how many musicians are playing and he spurs me to outdo myself musically.

Yesterday we were sitting under a palapa on the beach when I heard a rhythmically tricky one note drone with a sweet voice singing over it, Mark had just come up from body surfing, was drying off in the sun. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my piffero flute, delighted to find the voice and rhythmic drone in tune with my piffero. I didn’t even look back, to see who was playing and singing, I just joined in, complementing the vocals. I soon hear the distinctive “AHA! voice, look around to find it is AHA! playing an instrument he made out of a tuna can, a bent stick and some fishing line. We played a light song, a happy afternoon in the breeze song in which he would sing as he played his one note instrument percussively (his note being A) and I would flutter around his melody like a butterfly in the key of a minor.

Another time we jammed with a great harmonica player with his prodigy kids on djembe and sarouba drums. They were really good musicians. I have a couple photos of that:

Jamming with harmonica player and his kids.




Solo Tam Tam is the quintessential hard working, street smart, talented, wise looking forty-something rastaman with his magical expandable chiringuito. He seems to be the head of an immediate little clan of helpers and musicians who swirl around him. Solo is the boss in his circle. He dispenses orders and is clearly the sharpest businessman of the lot.

Solo Tam Tam has a shack on the beach near the Kossey compound, where we are staying. He has built it out of bamboo and scraps of wood. It has a tiny wood burning stove where they do all their cooking and heating of water for coffee. There is an inside dining area that is just a plastic table that seats two and an area behind a curtain where Solo sleeps at night.

Solo has a small team of guys who work for him; they open up and cook and make coffee and tea and clean the beach area. Our first day on the beach we made friends with Solo and his gang, as they all play drums and kora and sing and dance. When we started showing up with our guitar and melodica we would all end up playing for hours. The guy’s just love it when we show up and hang out at their place. Matique seems to be the cook in charge under Solo and his all around right hand man. Mark goes to the shack early in the morning and hangs out with Matique while he gets the fire started for coffee.

Matique with Solo, a couple beach musicians, Mark and Solo

Matique tells Mark about his teeth which are in really bad shape. He points to one that is very loose and tells Mark he feels the coldness from it inside his body which Mark takes to mean that it is infected. After a long discussion about what is involved Mark tells him he will give him the money to travel to Ziguinchor to visit the French dentist who will be able to stop the infection and pull the tooth. Mark gives him the 7 thousand francs (10 euros) so the next day Matique goes to Ziguinchor. When he returns that night he is very grateful that the infection has stopped (antibiotics). He has to make a return trip to get it pulled though.

We have seen Solo and Matique feed more than 6 people at the same time, which is incredible considering what they have to work with. The “kitchen” conditions are a bit rough in that they are basically cooking on the beach and you will often find big clumps of sand in your food. Mark and I quickly got used to the sand in our food in Abene; the first baguette we ate here at the Kossey compound had sand baked right into it.

This morning, while having coffee with Solo, Mark notices the elaborate series of leather bands he has around the upper bicep of his arm. He asks him about it and Solo tells him it us his Juju. Mark says, “Juju? Really? What does it do?”. Solo says, “this one protects me from getting stabbed, the knife does not enter by body. This one protects me from being attacked, no enemies, they fall down and can’t move if they attack me. This one helps my business and attracts people to me. ”

Mark is completely intrigued. As we travel throughout the world we always try to buy things or do the rituals that bring luck. At Ankor Wat we climbed to the top of the tower where they have four gods facing in each direction, North, South, East and West. It is said if you pray to all four gods in the traditional Hindu manner holding sticks of incense between your hands and bowing that you will have good luck and lead a charmed life from then on.

In Bali we bought a circular weaving that was woven by women working only by moonlight and only when they are not menstruating. The weaving can never be cut to break the circle or all of the good luck will run out. It now hangs in our music studio to bring us luck through music. Our first time In Barcelona we drank from the fountain that has an inscription that says ‘He who drinks from this fountain will be enchanted and will return to Barcelona”. We now live in Barcelona. Now, in Spain we buy candles for our local bruja (witch) to help with our business. We burn incense everyday to ask for certain things (a practice we learned from the Hindus in Bali). We also pray to dead ancestors like they do in Vietnam. So with this type of history of good luck charms we just had to have a juju charm. They are called gris-gris in French and Sa-fe in Mandinga.

Mark asks Solo if it is possible to get some juju charms for ourselves and he said “Yes, we will have to visit the Marabu”, Mark agrees, “Ok, tomorrow we visit the Marebu”. A Marabu is a bush doctor or witch doctor but not like you see in the movies. This one is an elder, a teacher, a very wise man with mountains of books and text in his spartan room. His name is Mamado Swane. He teaches children the Koran everyday. He also makes juju charms.

Photos of Mamado Swane, Marabu holy man

There are three different types of juju charms to wear on the body. An arm band to wear above the bicep, a belt and a necklace. The Marabu writes messages and names on pieces of paper and puts other things inside the charms. The charms are then taken to another man who makes the goat-skin covering. The whole process takes about three days and cost us about 30 Euros for 6 charms (3 for me, 3 for Mark).

After our meeting with Mamado Swane, Solo take us on a tour of Abene which includes the sacred BantamWaro tree, a huge tree, or actually 6 trees grown into one huge tree, that people have been coming and praying to for centuries.

Then he takes us around to see all of the very rustic hidden neighborhoods of Abene. We pass an evil tree where sacrifices are made to request things from the gods or the spirits. I was discouraged from photographing it, so I refrained. However later we would luck out when were walking along our dusty trail and happened upon a group of Animastes singing around a campfire. This is them singing their Animaste chant:

recording of Animastes singing around the campfire

The base religion here in this Senegalese village is Animaste, a spiritual religion based in Africa. Many other religions have been introduced and adopted including Islam, Christianity, Rasta and something called Baishal (sp?).

Near the end of our walking journey around Abene Solo asks us what we would like for dinner tonight. I have been eating lots of potatoes and bananas all week, so I reply, “chicken!”. He gives us a funny look and says he will need some money to buy the chicken, so we give him some and he leaves to go get a chicken. To ask for chicken for dinner here is something much different than in more developed parts of the world. There are no supermarkets with chicken in a display case. It doesn’t occur to us Solo will have to spend the afternoon going from compound to compound asking if anyone has a live chicken they are willing to sell. We don’t find this out until later. Once Solo finds a chicken he brings it back to the shack on the beach. Fortunately we never saw the poor thing alive, in fact it just didn’t occur to me that yet one more skinny African chicken was about to give its life up for the whim of a tourist.

Solo plans it all like the true maestro he is: When he sees Mark and I come out for our afternoon swim he takes the chicken out behind the shack and cuts its throat. He times it to spare us of hearing the shriek of a chicken being slaughtered. Then he spends the time and energy required to pluck the chicken, which he then gives to Matique to cut up and cook. During all this Mark and I are swimming, sunbathing, blithely enjoying the warm afternoon surf after our long morning of walking.

Something unfortunate happened during the cutting up of the chicken though. Something we have never heard of before. Somehow after cutting off the legs and the wings some sort of organ was cut in the wrong manner and destroyed the breasts of the chicken. We are like “what!?!?”.
Maybe we don’t understand the story correctly but we end up with the legs and wings and a spine of a skinny chicken that was all very sinewy and tough, probably from a lifetime of trying to dodge his inevitable fate.

“At least it isn’t covered with sand though like my fish was last night.” Mark says.
“I think I’ll stick to pomme de terres and bananas from now on” I reply.

Last night’s sandy fish head dinner, Candle light meal at Solo’s expandable shack, Jalil the kora player waiting around for us to finish eating so we can jam

During the whole time Mark hangs out with Solo, Solo shares his plans for his expandable shack and the young guys that hang around. He wants to start a program where he gets a bunch of rakes and has the guys clean the beach every other day. He feeds these guys almost every night for free and wants them to do a bit of work for their food so that they connect work with food. He also wants to get an irrigation system going so he can get water from the well for free instead of having to pay for it and lugging it to the shack everyday. He also wants to plant coconut trees around the shack for everyone to enjoy.

Solo Tam Tam carrying buckets of water to his shack, “AHA” showing me something he wrote, Solo’s posse sitting around.

Solo Tam Tam is charming and consistently trying to milk literally any opportunity for advancement in life. He is also a good Djembe player. After a few days of jamming on the beach to the setting sun he begins to get a glimmer in his eyes … he is already trying to persuade us to agree to play somewhere as the main act so he can make money off our music. (we say no).

On the night of the big jam with kora, djembes, saroubas, dancers, (everyone here is a singer) Solo sends out a couple flunkies with a big pot of water which is then boiled over the fire, pasta and spices are added.

We musicians jam. About 20 minutes later Solo says to all the musicians, – you eat now and hands us all a loaf of bread. (which he has most likely purchased with the money we gave him to make us our gris gris jewelry). All the musicians jump up and stand around the pot of pasta, which has now been placed on an impromptu (ingenious) table. The musicians are ravenous. They devour it all in about 5 minutes flat. With the pitch black night, the pounding surf, the bonfire with primitive pot of boiling liquid on it, for a fleeting moment I feel like we are living in a film set in prehistoric times.

The one thing that impresses me most about Solo is that he actually protects the tourists on the beach. The guys roaming the beach can really be pests at times, especially with white women. These bothersome guys will sit next to a woman on the beach for hours hoping for some kind of charity. Solo reprimands these guys, tells them that if they bother the tourists too much they will not return.

We really respect Solo and his efforts to help and do good with absolutely no resources and no money. He is dirt poor but still manages to figure out a way to feed the hungry guys on the beach.

Mark bought him three rakes for his program and from then on Mark was referred to as the “kind white man”.

Solo and sidekick make use of the new rakes Mark buys them.



Our ju ju/gris gris Marabu witchdoctor visits us one day at Solo’s shack, looking every inch the holy man he is. He brings us oranges and peanuts. He only stays for a short visit, long enough for me to take some more snapshots, in case I write about him on the internet. He would like people to know they can go to Solo Tam Tam to request the gris gris goat skin belt, necklace and belt and armband like we have to protect themselves and attract business.

Photos of Mamado Swane, Marabu holy man