Saturday night in Dakar and nothing sparkles as brightly as the sequined micro-dresses of the girls out on the town. Welcome to Dakar nightlife...
The Senegalese passion for fashion, music and close encounters with their favourite celebrities hits a combined high.
Live music happens everywhere. In heaving nightclubs, the capital’s sharply dressed stars of mbalax (a 1970s fusion of Cuban rhythm and fiery drumming made famous by Youssou N’Dour, below) beguile fans with dashing looks and frenzied beats. In gin-drenched salsa parlours, strangers may whirl you around a dusty floor, while ritzy restaurants resound with the clang of gold jewellery and subtle guitar chords.
Don’t count on getting much sleep – the party rarely starts before midnight, and you’re expected to dance all the way to the croissant café in the morning. Here are the clubs you should hit...
Route de l’Aeroport; +221 77 643 6879
This atmospheric garden restaurant is the best address for live music. There’s a concert on every night, sometimes even two: Souleymane Faye and Carlou D are among those who perform here weekly; and established greats, including hip-hop trio Daara J and Cuban-inspired Orchestra Baobab, have made this their Dakar stage of choice. If you catch a rumour that international stars such as Mali’s Salif Keita or Oumou Sangare are in town, act fast – it’s your best bet for seeing them perform intimate shows. Open 11pm-3am so perfect for a pre-nightclub warm-up.
Ave Cheikh Anta Diop, Point E; +221 33 824 3250;www.just4udakar.com
This is the flagship French cultural centre in West Africa. An atmospheric arts café by day, it hosts exhibitions and live events. It’s also one of the best-run stages in the country, delivering an impressive floorshow alongside the music. Plus they’ve got a great knack for discovering fresh talent, from hip-hop to folk. Concerts usually start at 9pm.
89 Rue Joseph Gomis; +221 33 823 0320;www.institutfr-dakar.org
Tucked away in a dusty side street, this tiny club is the best for old-school salsa. A visit here feels like a personal invitation: there’s the comfy house party ambience and everyone seems to be a vaguely remembered friend. Beer and gin flow, and on Saturdays and Sundays Pape Fall, doyen of Senegalese salsa, plays Cuban-inflected tunes to a middle-aged crowd.
Rue 10; +221 33 825 2488
Stepping in here is like entering an R&B video, complete with an indoor pool, blinging beauties and attitude. This is where international hip-hop star Akon and footballer El-Hadji Diouf splash out on champagne while at home. The DJ spins French, Senegalese and American hip-hop, and there are often live interludes by Dakar’s greatest urban talents. If you want to feel part of the Senegalese in-crowd, squeeze into your most shimmering gear, put on a superior air of indifference and mingle here with Dakar’s jet set.
Route des Almadies; +221 33 820 6467.
Katharina Lobeck, author of The Gambia and Senegal (Lonely Planet, 2006)