When in Rome… Do as the Senegalese Do.

by Luke Archer

Though not Roman in the ancient sense, there is a thriving Senegalese community in Rome. And they know how to spend their Fridays.

It started with some ceebu jën (cheb-o-djin) a one-pot stew of rice and fish, which we ate in the typical fashion – from one big platter, with just a spoon. I am not sure I am a convert to the spoon method (there was one anonymous vegetable that defied my best efforts to spoon-slice it) but there is something weirdly nice about sharing the same plate. The meal itself seemed to be entirely comprised of ingredients that I recognised, but could not quite identify; so it proved both delicious and stubbornly enigmatic.

Eventually, after a long period of post-dinner relaxation (a requirement the Italians and the Senegalese seem to have in common) we went into San Lorenzo. It is cheap, cheerful and somewhere between a down-trodden Paris and a cobbled Berlin. On entry to a club there, I was greeted by a victim of Rome’s pressures: he had his own headphones in, drank sherry from a schooner clumsily due to his thick leather gloves, and had no sense of spacial awareness. He informed me that the club was his house, and that we had met the night before. Neither were true, of course. Why is that the insane abroad can always speak English? He was politely (then non-politely) asked to leave not long after, and I was free from his awkward goggle-eyed conversation.

A semi-traditional band was playing who mixed their Senegalese vocals and instruments with a not-so traditional bass guitar and drum kit. The music and the atmosphere were great, but it proved too funky for one woman, who proceeded to flail non-stop for three hours; fanning herself questioningly, as if it was the temperature of the club and not the heat from her bizarre dislocated movements that was making her sweat.

Fair play to her though, I definitely had not had enough to drink for the amount of audience participation going on, and she was dancing hard enough for everybody.

I didn’t take a camera out with me, so here’s a video of some guy going for it on the kora (traditional Senegalese lute):