Today I am really wishing that I were one of those super-talented writers who can convey colour, rhythm, movement and passion just through words. Or that I could have taken some video to attach to describe yesterday evening.
I was walking home from a visit to my tailor, and could hear drumming. Extremely fast, staccato, poly-rhythmic drumming (done using sticks rather than with the hands), galloping to a crescendo at the end of each ‘song’ when all the drummers came together for the final “krak kraks”. I’ve heard this type of drumming before, but never tracked down the source as it echoes off the buildings, seemingly coming from one direction and then another depending on where you stand – and always, certainly, from some hidden private courtyard.
But this time I walked right past the source. The gate was slightly open and two women were peering through. I looked too – and it wasn’t more than a minute before a woman inside spotted the white face and so invited me in.
There was a group of four men drumming and a semi-circle of some forty women, dressed as only women from this part of the world can: long, floating layers of chiffon and satin in vibrant red, gold, purple, turquoise… They were seated, but every now and then one or two would stand up and go to the centre to dance. I knew I had been invited so that I could ‘perform’ for the women at some stage but also that it would be worth the embarrassment in order to watch the spectacle.
I’d heard of these women-only get-togethers where the women dance in a very sexy way, but could not have imagined the reality. The dancing is very vigorous, with some jumping and throwing the arms about, but mostly based around exaggerated shaking of the bottom and thrusting of the hips, whilst one hand holds up the fabric of the dress/skirts at the front – in many cases right up to crotch level. It was amazing to watch. There was even one veiled woman there, who kept her scarf covering her hair whilst she lifted her skirts above her knees and shook her stuff.
There was also call and response between the chief drummer and his troupe, clearly the drummed ‘songs’ had stories to them, but unfortunately all in Wolof so as usual I had not a clue about what was going on. Except that the evening was clearly about the women being able to display their sexuality to the full in the safe environment of a group of like-minded women.
I’m sure I looked very unsexy when I was dragged into the centre to dance – and I certainly didn’t lift up the front of my skirt (although I was glad to be wearing a bright yellow and black flowery skirt rather than my usual drab beige trousers)! Whilst up there a woman who’d done plenty of dancing quietly explained to me that she was the griotte and (traditional history and praise singer) and the drummers were her griots. I therefore had to make a financial offering to them – but CFA1,000 ($2) was enough, the same amount that I noticed other dancers were giving.
Eventually I made my quiet escape. I had hoped to find out more about the dance from colleagues, but all I could get is that it is called ‘taneuber’ – and is a version of the much better-known sabar dance that is performed in public by both men and women.
Indeed in the course of my week in the forest I saw only a troop of de Brazza's monkeys, a few balck-and-white colobus, and two solitary putty-nosed; apparently a couple of decades ago there would have been monkeys everywhere.