Had everything gone to plan, the singer-songwriter Baaba Maal’s move to Senegal’s capital from the northern hinterlands would have ended up differently — specifically, with a law degree. “When I first came to Dakar, I was supposed to study at the university because that was the wish of my parents,” he said, while a pair of sculptures, as if on cue, eyed him sternly.
I met Mr. Maal — the “voice of Wakanda” to fans who know him from the soundtracks of “Black Panther” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” — at Dakar’s Museum of Black Civilizations. As we roamed the galleries, he explained that he loved this place for its efforts to repatriate plundered African treasures and its power “to make the young ones interested in arts.” Now 70, he recalled being an artsy young one himself. “What was really, deeply strong inside me — which is to be a singer, to be a performer — came out when I got to Dakar,” he said. “If I wanted to be an artist, I said, ‘This is where I’m going to start a career.’”
So there went his parents’ plan, but his own has worked out nicely. This year alone, he released his 14th studio album, “Being,” to critical acclaim, became a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification — a continuation of the work of his nonprofit Nann-K — and began preparations for his arts and culture Blues du Fleuve festival in early December. While he still travels often, he said, “I’ve always wanted Dakar to be where I start my work, get ready for my tours — and come back.”
The appeal was clear. Since he’d moved to Dakar, the city had instituted renowned biennales and fashion weeks. And just the small stretch of the thoroughfare where we stood featured not only the museum, but also the Grand Théâtre National and the restored Art Nouveau commuter rail station. “This is a new dynamic,” he said, pointing out a spot where hip-hop artists now draw thousands of young people to open-air performances. Reveling in the energy, he added, “I often pass by here, open the car window, look at the people coming out of the train and say to myself, ‘Yes, this is the kind of Senegal I want to see.’”
Here are five of his favorite places in and around Dakar.