/ 16 January 2023

Dakar, Africa’s cultural capital

Métiers D'art Chanel 2022
Métiers d'Art Chanel 2022. Senegal boasts an array of fashion, culture and heritage platforms that are drawing international interest

On 6 December last year, Chanel, one of the world’s leading luxury brands, organised a three-day cultural programme in Senegal, the Chanel Métiers d’Art show. This was the inaugural runway show for the haute couture brand on African soil.

The show has previously been held in New York, Paris, Shanghai, Tokyo and Rome, and Chanel chose Dakar for its African debut.

“By choosing Dakar, the house wishes to make the savoir-faire of its Métiers d’Art resonate with the artistic and cultural energy of the city,” the brand said in a statement.

Of the 62 models in the show, 19 were African, with 12 being Senegalese. 

The Métiers d’Art show attracted more than 800 guests, including Pharrell Williams, Naomi Campbell, Nile Rodgers and Princess Caroline of Monaco.

“I am not surprised that Chanel came to Dakar. Other big names with reputable creative facilities are already established here,” said Oumy Régina Sambou, president of the Senegalese Association of Cultural Press Publishers and director of the Africultural agency. 

The country’s domestic fashion industry has produced world-renowned labels such as Tongoro, Selly Raby Kane, Diarrablu and Adama Paris and attracted foreign brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss and Levi’s, which have their stores in the capital. 

Chanel’s Métiers d’Art followed on the heels of Dakar Fashion Week, Africa’s longest-running fashion event, which took place from 2 to 4 December at the historic island of Gorée.

The 20th anniversary edition presented the collections of 20 designers from around Africa, including names such as Mantsho (South Africa), Oumou Sy (Senegal), Karim Tassi (Morocco), Awa Meite (Mali), Tina Lobondi (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Emmy Kasbit (Nigeria). 

Métiers d’Art Chanel 2022

Barely a week before the event, the third edition of the Dakar Carnival took place from 25 to 27 November at the Blaise Senghor Cultural Centre.

The event, which aims to rival the great carnival of Rio in Brazil, was organised in partnership with the Senegalese ministry of culture and the city of Dakar. Hundreds of artists paraded through the streets to show and promote cultural diversity.

The presence of Africans from Cape Verde, Nigeria, Gambia and Côte d’Ivoire, among others, at the carnival cemented the city’s identity as a melting pot of peoples.

“During events like the Dakar Carnival, foreigners are welcomed with open arms and are given support and facilities to participate in the programme. On the political level, different mechanisms are put in place to encourage local artists and event promoters,” said Sambou.

The ministry of culture and heritage rewarded at least 10 contributors at the Dakar Carnival with 10 million CFA francs ($16 000) for their contribution to developing Senegalese culture. 

Public investment into local human capital, including in the arts and sport (the city is host to brand new basketball facilities, some of the best on the continent, and a state-of-the-art 50 000-seat football stadium) has been a critical pillar for successive postcolonial governments.

“There was an excellent cultural policy developed by President Léopold Senghor. Troupes and artistic companies accompanied him on almost all his economic tours. This is how Senegal, especially its capital, established its reputation as a cultural hub,” said Sambou.

Dakar’s roots as a cultural capital go deeper. The city is one of 22 on five continents recognised as Unesco Creative Cities of Media Arts. 

“Dakar has always been a place of culture, even way before independence. This is why it has many cultural infrastructures and has hosted major events such as the first World Festival of Black Arts in 1966,” Sambou said.

“Big names such as Michael Jackson with the Jackson Five, jazz pianist Randy Weston and actor Danny Glover, among others, have made their way here to experience the city. Great artistic houses such as the Dapper museum have also set up projects in Dakar,” she added.

Apart from fashion and culture, art has also added to the city’s vibrancy. 

In June last year, the 14th edition of the Biennale of Contemporary African Art, dubbed Dak’Art, the continent’s largest contemporary art event, returned to the city after a Covid-induced hiatus. Funded principally by Senegal’s government, the programme featured 59 artists from 28 countries — 16 African nations and 12 from the diaspora. 

And hundreds of artists from around the world showed their works in more than 400 other venues in Dakar and throughout Senegal.

“Kehinde Wiley, the Nigerian-American visual artist and [Barack] Obama’s portraitist, funded the refurbishment of a cultural centre in the Medina neighbourhood. Here, he held an exhibition of 40 artists who had made an artistic retreat at Black Rock, the residency he founded in 2019,” said Sambou.

Dak’Art has played a big role in increasing the visibility of African artists because they display their work to an unprecedented number of audiences. 

Artists such as Nnenna Okore (Nigeria), Abdoulaye Konaté (Mali) and Aïda Muluneh (Ethiopia) are among the hundreds who have had exposure from the event and gone on to major acclaim.

Abdou Diouf, the technical director of Dakar Biennale, told Africanews the biennale had received about 450 000 visitors, with more than 180 000 at the main expo site. At the same time, The New York Times said that the city itself was the biennale’s “most colourful canvas”.

Dakar is also a growing tourist attraction, with a booming beach resort scene.

In November, European holiday company Tui launched the first direct flights from the United Kingdom to Dakar in more than 10 years. Spanish hotel chain Riu also dipped a toe into Senegal with its recently opened five-star Riu Baobab. The European river cruise company, Nicko, launched the first African expedition ship, sailing from Tenerife in April 2023 to Cape Verde and Dakar.

Sambou said that “all these initiatives contribute to the influence of Dakar as a major hub”. But she is quick to add that it’s not all smooth sailing for the country:

“Senegal is struggling to develop cultural projects from the North to the South, you find that almost all events are concentrated within the capital.”

Despite this hurdle, she says the country has made great strides: “Our artists are now highly coveted internationally.”

In January, Chanel will return to Dakar for a 19M programme (19M is the name for the headquarters of the speciality ateliers) and will focus on collaborations with local artisans. 

Additionally, the eighth edition of the All-Africa Music Awards will take place at the Grand Theatre in Dakar from 12 to 15 January. 

YouTube has announced a partnership in the awards, also called the Teranga Edition, to provide artist-focused educational sessions and live streaming to music lovers and stakeholders in more than 84 countries. 

“Senegalese media has also played a huge role. Journalists and bloggers report on this dynamism, and their productions are seen worldwide,” said Sambou.

Moreover, agencies such as Niyel, one of Africa’s leading advocacy, campaigns and public affairs firms, is headquartered in Dakar and helps organisations and countries amplify their work on media channels.

“Thanks to social networks, Senegalese creativity is even more magnified,” said Sambou. — bird story agency