DAKAR YOUNG CREATIVE EXPLOSION IN
They are young, creative and manage their own businesses. Fashion, photography, art, music has made Dakar one of the most explosive cities in Africa. And with the Internet, they don´t have to leave Africa to show and sell their products.
iThe taxi stops in the sand outside a gray house. "This is it," the driver tells us. It´s not. "Not one person from Dakar would say; I don´t know. They rather take a chance, just to be helpful". Aissatou Sene laughs when we tell her how many times we were "helped" to find different addresses. After an extra taxi ride we have finally found her new store, Bélya, near the old airport. She is one of many young designers in Dakar who started her own business and became successful very fast. "I started as a model, when I was tinier, and was curious how to design clothes. By showing some things I've done on the Internet, everything took off quickly", says Aissatou Sene. Today she has specialised in shoes and bags. When we meet, she has just sold part of the company to an American investor
In recent years, chaotic Dakar, with Cape Town, have become symbols of something new. African designers rooted in tradition but creating something new - on their own terms. A growing middle class also creates an African market. Young proud designers stay and create in their own countries.
and can now invest heavily worldwide. "I like to use the amazing prints we have in Senegal. But in a new way. I felt that slim shoes could work for a larger audience," she says. From the outset, she wanted everything produced locally. But it turned out difficult, the local shoemakers could not deliver. "If I were to grow, I had to go outside Senegal. Here you could make 100 pairs of shoes in six months. I found a very professional manufacturer in Fes, Morocco, who can make 1000 pairs in a month", she says. All fabrics and production of bags take place in Dakar. The interest in stores in New York, Paris and other European countries means she is constantly on the road. When we meet she is on her way to Indonesia. "The Internet has changed the lives of many Africans and especially if you are an entrepreneur and want to sell clothes, photos, art or music. I see it as a revolution", says Aissatou Sene. In recent years, chaotic Dakar, with Cape Town, have become symbols of something new. African designers rooted in tradition but creating something new on their own terms. A growing middle class also creates an African market. Young proud designers stay and create in their own countries. As rapper Didier Awadi says: "Cultural activists affect more than political activists." New taxi ride takes us to a new neighbourhood and yet another wrong address. But there is always somebody who walks with us the last bit. In a villa area in Ouakam, one of the most famous faces of new African design, Selly Rabe Kane, has her showroom, slash home, slash venue, slash workplace. She took the world by storm with her colourful surrealistic clothes. Famous artists Beyonce and Rihanna loved it. In 2019, new products she has created with furniture giant IKEA will be launched. She sees no difference between fashion design, art, film or other cultural expressions. "To me, fashion became a way of expressing. But I'm interested in all kinds of media, right now I'm working with virtual reality," says Selly Rabe Kane. Meeting her in her showroom is also very Dakarish. We have booked time for interview and photography, but when we get there, the entire place fills with a CNN team. The team is making a feature about world-famous Dakar hip-hop group DaaraJ Family, aka Faada Fr eddy and Ndongo D. People come and go and of course, you have talk to everyone. A clear picture of how the creative revolution evolved in Dakar. Most people know each other and help each other to individual success. "Absolutely. We have all worked together in art collectives, I joined one called Les Petites Pierres, we helped each other to move on. To me, the most interesting is young people in Dakar now express themselves from their deep roots in Africa.They do not need to move to a Western country to be accepted as designers and artists," says Selly Rabe Kane. She moved to Paris to become a lawyer. But she neither liked France nor the professional choice. "France was heavy for me. Most people I met were so predictable and I wanted to develop, so I had to come home again. Here in Dakar, everything happens by accident and that's how I want to live," she says. New scary taxi ride home to young photographer Sidy Mohamed Kandji. Or actually, he works as an AD at an advertising agency and has photography as a hobby. "My dream is to be able to live on photography, but I also love my work. We'll see what happens,” he says. Everything began when he started taking pictures of hip-hop artists. The artists loved his pictures and ordered covers for CDs and made him a sort of head photographer at concerts. But Sidy wanted to develop and started with fashion photo and landed in documentary photo. During violent political unrest in 2012, he was amid the masses. "I was pretty scared. I´m not a press photographer and ran among the protesters and it was sometimes violent," he says. The pictures later ended in a book and allowed him to continue with the documentary photo. He travelled to Ethiopia and followed a religious group and for four years he was involved in a photo book project about a Sufi group in rasta hair called Baye Fall. "They live simple lives and differ a lot from other Muslim groups. It has been as exciting to follow them as to hear everyone else's comments about them," he says. He has also taken many close-ups portraits of friends and completely unknown people in Dakar. "It can be difficult to take pictures of ordinary people. Most people think anyone taking pictures would sell them for big money abroad," says Sidy Mohamed Kandji. Next stop, we negotiate with taxi drivers who are not so excited about driving to the district of Hann Maristes. We meet young artist and world-citizen Papi, alias Mamadou Wane. He grew up in Mali, Ethiopia, Rwanda
and New York. Dad is from Dakar and mother from Mauritania. "We always came to Senegal on vacation when I was young. But after my art education in the United States, I just landed in Dakar before deciding where to have my base. After a few days and many cool meetings, I decided to stay here," he says. He saw something big and creative was emerging among young people in Dakar. "There is a big generation gap here in Senegal. But there is definitely something bubbling right now. Young creative people everywhere founding their market on social media, says Papi. During the recent Dakar Biennale 2016 he did Wax-Off with rappers and Djs from different parts of Africa. "I did a live painting and there were photographers everywhere documenting what happened. I'll do something similar this year," he says. In addition, he has also begun designing clothes. "I have always seen myself as an entrepreneur. I want to paint, but I also want to create clothes people like to wear. There is no contradiction to me," he says. Last stop on our designer trip through Dakar is with Milcos Badji. His whole family are police and military, but he chose IT and became a computer programmer. For fun, he designed a T-shirt with the text; Nio Far, "We're Together" in local language Wolof. "I put it on Facebook and got many orders. It gave me a kick to continue with other ideas I had," he says. He created the brand Nio Far by Milcos and today he has great success with his shoes, all in special patterns from a small community in Mali. "I liked the quality and patterns, but it has been a long journey to get them to deliver to me." It started with a bag and today he has several collections of sneakers that have become popular online. "Today I have a good team and the best so far was the King of Morocco recently bought a whole collection from me," says Milcos Badji. Next step is launching shoes and bags in a special blue colour from the same area in Mali. To him, sharing and cooperation are the key to the creative explosion in Dakar. "There are many doers here in Dakar, young people who make wonderful things in fashion, music, art and photography. It is a traditional society where not much happens so we say; we cannot wait for others to do something for us," says Milcos Badji.
Above: Papi, alias Mamadou Wane with his paintings and designed clothes. Far Left: One of Selly’s Designs. Left: Aissatous’ shoe designs. She specializes in shoes and bags. Aissatous sold part of her company to an American investor and can now invest heavily worldwide.