Sabar Solo in Pikine, Dakar, Senegal
While I was in Senegal, I solo-ed during three sabar parties and danced at concerts and clubs, but my all time BIG MOMENT was at a sabar in Pikine. My young male friends had taken me to a huge soccer match at the stadium the day before to see their team from Pikine play in the championship. Pikine is a poor area of Dakar, so it was a big deal that their team had made it so far. We stood in the drum section where they played their behinds off and lead the crowd behind us in soccer anthems. When their team won 5 – 0, the whole crowd, dressed in their team's green and yellow, just went crazy.
Two days later, they took me to a big sabar party to celebrate their team's victory. Since we got there relatively early, I got to watch the whole evening unfold, from putting up the stage to setting up the sound sytem. For the first 90 minutes, a sea of children danced to a string of Senegalese pop hits, which was wonderful to watch. They already had the dances DOWN!
Most sabars are family / neighborhood affairs with about 60 people in attendance, but this one was massive. They'd cordoned off an entire block and both sidewalks were thick with onlookers. When the sabar drumming got started, my friend Abdullai, said, "You're going to dance, right?" Looking around at the thousands of people, I thought, "Me? Dance? Here? NOW?" When I told him I hadn't brought a lappa (skirt) to wear, he promptly brought his aunt over with a skirt which she wrapped around my waist.
The drumming was really firey now and my heart was pounding, but I just jumped out into the open space. The minute I appeared, the crowd started screaming (there was not a single other white person there). I ran down to the drummers and did a blazing solo, powered by joy and adrenaline, before running back into the crowd. However, the minute I'd finished, it was pandemonium. The drummers left their drums and were pumping their fists in the air, the space in the middle collapsed and people were shrieking. Abdullai found me and grabbed me by the wrist, saying, "The people up at the other end want to see you! They couldn't see you because you were down by the drummers! Come with me!"
(This sabar in Pikine was 2 nights later and small by comparison!)
When the crowd reformed and the drummers took their places again, Abdullai dragged me out to the middle of the block, where I took a stand with my legs wide apart, just bouncing on my toes like a boxer. The crowd screamed again, as this is a classic Senegalese sabar posture … just taking my time and letting the anticipation build. A woman from the mobile company called Orange came over and ceremoniously crowned me by putting a big promo T-shirt with Orange on it over my head. The drummers were waving the dancers out of the way as if to say, "Move! We want to drum for the Toubab!"
I did a huge move as if to start something big, but just stopped. More screaming. Then did small funny step on my toes, which everyone loved, before launching into solo 2. During my solo, the lead drummer left his drum and came running up the block toward me. When he reached me, I did a big kick to the left and then right move before doing a classic chebu djen back that everyone knew. It ended with both of our hips meeting in the middle … as Fatou NDiaye would say, a combo of sex and comedy … and the crowd went completely wild.
When the sabar section ended, I spent the balance of the evening dancing with everyone, kids, old ladies, young men, everyone. I didn't sleep that night, just reliving how amazing it had all been. But one thing I remembered really clearly was how I felt in that moment of waiting on my toes to do solo 2. Everything was in slow motion and I thought, "Wow, for 10 years, I have dreamed of this moment … that one day I would be in Senegal at a sabar and I'd do a great solo." It was a palpable feeling of manifestation … that such dreams really do come true … and made me feel like I can do anything!