Sarah Diouf is the founder of a Senegalese media company called Ifren — housing 2 publications : (1) Ghubar, a digital magazine crossing African & Arabic influences through fashion, arts & culture, and (2) NOIR, a digital + print lifestyle magazine for black women — and an affordable Ready-To-Wear brand called Tongoro. She stand for african creativity in fashion.
Tell us a bit about yourself ?
I was born in Paris from a half Senegalese-Congolese father and a Central African Mother, and raised in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire until I was 12 years old. Because it was what I knew best, I used to consider Cote d’Ivoire as my homeland until not so long ago when I started questioning my identity as an African. I often felt lost at times facing all the cultures running through my (Central Africa, Congo-Brazzaville, Senegal, Sierra Leone) and the challenging perception of people given my Ivorian slang mixed to my typically Senegalese name and appearance versus my then limited knowledge about Senegal. Both of my grandfathers were Senegalese, but passed away when my parents were both young, so I didn’t get the chance to know them neither properly receive this important part of my cultural identity. So I started looking for ways to fill in the blanks and get closer to something I felt was part of me and that was slowly taking over. One of my best friends, who happens to be Senegalese, invited me to stay with her in Dakar three years ago, this is when I connected the missing pieces of my puzzle. Ever since then, and as cheesy as it might sounds, Dakar is where I feel the most complete, happy and at peace. It is where I belong. I opened my business there, I have a home and this is where I plan to spend the rest of my life.
How would you describe Dakar, Senegal?
Dakar could be described as a crossroad in Western Africa. It’s a living and very open city, with high touristic, economic and cultural potential. Half of the city is built on a ledge which creates a very pleasant environment, there’s a boom of creative and digital activities giving birth to a new economy, and everything about the Senegalese culture is a fundamental pillar of the lifestyle. I believe in the next 5 to 10 years, Dakar will be one of the main players in the African Culture and Arts scene.
What should we pack when coming to Dakar?
A bathing suit, flip flops, a light shirt, a pair of fluid pants, a cabas (shopping bag), and a pair of sunglasses. It can get a little breezy at night so a sweater is not a bad idea. As paradoxical it might seems, it’s a very modern, but still religious environment, so just make sure you’re not wearing anything indecent during the day.
How is the art scene in Dakar?
Dakar is a living art city. Everything – from the people, the energy and the atmosphere screams art. Senegalese are very good at crafting and visual arts. Note that it’s the only city in Western Africa holding an international contemporary art event : the Dak’art, which takes place every 2 years. I think you can feel there’s a will from our generation to spread our know-how into the world, by all means possible. With a little bit more structure, pretty soon, we won’t have anything to envy about Art Basel or Paris Photo. It’s good to visit the Ifan Museum (Black Africa Fundamental Institute), it’s mainly dedicated to arts and traditions of Western Africa, and also one of the official sites welcoming the pieces exhibited during the Dak’Art.
What are your favorite spots?
Every sunday, I take my grandmother to La pointe des Almadies. It’s very low-key and the food is amazing. You can enjoy great fish and seafood, the best frozen ‘bissap’ and relax while watching the sunset. Also, believe it or not, but the best sushi I have ever had is in Dakar ; beyond their exquisite decor, Fuji is a great place for a ‘Sex & the City moment’ with the girls on a Friday night. Last but not least, NoFlaye beach is the week-end spot to chill and get your feet in the water during low tide. I also love to wander at Sandaga Market, I can spend hours there bargaining fabrics. If it’s your first time it’s mandatory to visit Gorée Island (the ferry leaves from Dakar multiple times a day) and the Pink Lake which is a 1 hour drive from the city. From Dakar, you can also ride a boat and spend the day on the Madeleine Islands which is probably the closest thing to heaven on earth. Last but not least, 5 hours drive from the city, there is a piece of Paradise in Toubacouta (Sine Saloum), a boutique hotel called Les Paletuviers, that must be on your list if you visit Senegal for more than a week.
What hotel do you recommend for friends and newcomers visiting Dakar?
The Sokhamon is one of my favorite places to have a drink and watch the sunset (they have an infinity pool facing the sea and the view is insane). The staff is charming! It’s also perfectly located : Dakar Plateau which is at the centre of the city, if you like to explore; you can access everything, restaurants, markets, banks, by walking distance. If you book there, tell Ibrahima (the manager) I have sent you. I also love La Demeure in Les Almadies ; it’s a charming guest-house near the beach, that has nothing to envy to other 5 stars hotels, and the owners are an amazing couple !