DAKAR – Senegal

Events: 21st February – Project Presentation, 7pm @ Kër Thiossane
13th + 14th March – Open Studio @ Kër Thiossane

traffic cups, calabashes, plastic bottles

an introduction by Stefan Rummel

Following a brief stopover in Lisbon, we land well past midnight at Dakar’s Blaise Diagne Airport. The driver finds us at the exit. We just manage to squeeze all our baggage into the trunk and off we go. The ride passes through a very dark steppe landscape, from time to time a lorry or mini-vans with dark tinted windows pass us. After just about an hour we reach Kër Thiossane in Sicap Liberté. Everyone goes to bed. Around four in the morning I awake to the sound of indefinable, haunting singing that floats above the whole district, the whole city – or that is the way I perceive it still half asleep. At six o’clock, the singing gives way to cyclic birdsong, which soothes me. At eleven, we have our first meeting with all of the participating field researchers for urban sound phenomena in Dakar.

loom in the desert sand, dogs in the yard, cat on thatched roof.
three examples of excursions …

Sicap Liberté
The next day, we take our first walks through the district, on primarily sandy streets and paths. The colour of luscious green, of the type familiar from memories and photographs from home, is absent here, due as well to the fact that the plants are covered in dust. We visit the garden, Jardin jet d’eau, which the operators of Kër Thiossane have created in collaboration with the local authorities – a dome made of iron bars overgrown with vegetation offering seating in the shade serves as the centrepiece of the complex. Small beds are arranged around this dome. The soil is very dry, watered by a single garden hose. Between the houses, on the nearly ankle-deep sand across the way, children play football. The slamming and screaming sounds bounce off the houses. The public library is located right around the corner, though unfortunately it has been closed for quite a while, supposedly only one person has a key, so instead we pay a brief visit to a primary school next door. Afterwards, we eat in the small restaurant behind the garden, seated outside next to the spot where the bowls and plates are washed by hand. The colour of the dishwater gives me cause for concern, but the food is quite good and digested without incident. The “terrace” has a plastic table and four plastic chairs and a wooden bench – we share this seating arrangement with the locals, along with the drinking water. Next door are workshops where they weld and cut metal fences with angle grinders, and in the adjacent small shops everyday items are sold on the street-facing side, sewing supplies, shoes and dishes. Over the next days, we take more walks through the district. Now, we venture further and further afield from our centre-point (Kër Thiossane), leaving the Sicap district and visiting a large metalworking shop. Most of the work is done outside. At the entrance, four sceptical men are sitting on a bench, marvelling at our visit and our project. We make some sound recordings, shadowed all the while by one of the workers filming us with his smartphone for fun. Afterwards, we walk through the marketplace and narrow alleyways, one of them with an almost Mediterranean feel…with children at play and women cleaning vegetables, men standing and consulting with one another in front of the raised hoods of cars.

Meeting with two local personalities from the music/street-art “off” scene. We meet at the coast, on the beach lie the long, colourful wooden boats (pirogues) of the native fishermen. A wild mixture of materials and smells. “Mud Boy” shows us around his old neighbourhood, self-confident, gliding on inline skates, together with “10,000 Problems”. We take a look at the first murals (colourful, representational, thematic) on the house facades, alongside the ocean road with its heavy traffic. He also shows us the works of the “Illustrator”, well known in the neighbourhood, including inside the entrance to his house. Black-and-white drawings made with cigarette butts, leftover bits of charcoal, etc., mostly figures, heads and lions. Sombre. We make a couple recordings, but it’s more a thing for the eyes and the nose, ordinary urban noise. We enter a market hall (Marche Tilene) and encounter a million flies, 300 people: merchants, shoppers, 4 sonic explorers and a mentor and Mud Boy, 10,000 Problems and his dog, which everyone is scared of. The sense of smell is tested to the limit, the eyes see dead meat and lifeless fish. No recordings here, as we pass through quickly. To understand a place like this, one must adapt all of one’s senses.

Weaving Mill
We visit a weaving mill that belongs to an optimistic female entrepreneur who produces furniture and fabrics. We are greeted at the entrance by wonderful people. A young woman named Lika and her greying boss. The sort of boss that does every operation good. The carpenter’s shop is in front of us. Without exception, the men are wearing dust masks, we record sounds later on. The looms, to be operated manually, are upstairs on the second floor – we record their clacking and whirring. No one is bothered by our actions. From time to time, solitary men naked from the waist up exit the washroom blithely, on the way home or back to the weaving loom. Lovely recordings are captured here. Our two guides lead us to an additional hall on the other side of the street. Here we find the large electrically driven power looms using a punch card system. Several Spanish models from the 1970s/80s/90s. The machines are actually not being used on this particular day, but the workers perform a couple rounds for us on their steel instruments. I feel transported to another time. At the exit, a man boils tea on a gas burner and in the hall next door a solitary Chinese man seems to be doing gymnastics atop mountains of cardboard and canned goods.

Exchange of Goods, Exchange of Ideas, Exchange of Cultur

Experimental sound works in the open studio. How does one react to what one has experienced, the city’s sounds and the visual impressions? Does one rely on tried-and-true methods or search for new techniques, for other formal languages and unfamiliar sounds?
The grant recipients have primarily limited themselves to trying out new things.Exploring the city together, markets etc., searching for materials. Undertaking excursions together.

When one travels to a place like Dakar in Senegal for four weeks, one should give thought to how to open up to the other, how to adapt one’s self and search for the unfamiliar. Every country, every city has its own habits of seeing, its own smells and sounds (ambient background noise). Sometimes they resemble the things that one already knows from other places. That’s why one should dive in deeper, research more precisely into the special nature of the sounds on the ground there. The grant recipients spent 1-2 weeks getting their bearings and reflecting on which materials they would like to work with, culminating in a presentation in the open studio. Then, in the third week, they tried out materials in the studio, experimented with them. The difficult thing here was departing from habitual strategies and developing new strategies for this new place – for a site-specific intervention that examines Dakar’s urban sound phenomena.