Forget New York, Dakar is the hot new contender for the moniker of “the city that never sleeps.” Regular club-goers head out for drinks and dinner here on weekend nights, before heading home for disco naps and to get sequined up before heading out on the town. A good Dakar party never gets going before midnight, and there’s no shortage of great places to get down to hip mbalax music, West African blues, or the latest DJs from this buzzing corner of West Africa. Here we run through five of the most famous places to dance the night away, because going out dancing in Dakar is a requirement for any visitor.
On the first Saturday of every month, Dakar comes together for one big outdoor party in the grounds of the Hotel Sunugal up in the beachside neighborhood of Les Almadies. What originally began as an expat party at a diving school has turned into a diverse night out that’s popular with everyone from university students to construction workers and entrepreneurs. Koulgraoul — which translates as “relax, nothing’s that bad” — is a hedonistic dance party that includes everything from live reggae performances to swatting away clouds of mosquitoes on humid nights. The music is loud and the crowd is fun, but sweaty. Watch out for pickpockets; most Koulgraoul regulars don’t bring anything valuable to the party. Entry costs 3000 cfa and includes a bottle of beer or water.Hotel Sunugal, Les Almadies, Dakar, Senegal (No telephone)
On the main Almadies strip (otherwise known as the Route de Ngor), Nirvana is a big sleek club that wouldn’t be out of place in London or Beirut. Doors open at 11 p.m. every night except Tuesday, although the two dance floors — each with distinctly different sounds and vibes — rarely get going until the wee small hours of the morning. Friday is the big club night, with dance and house tunes served up to a dressy crowd of miniskirted ladies and sharply-dressed guys. On Saturdays, expect a similar deal, while Mondays and Tuesdays host local big name DJs Salam Diallo and Pape Diouf respectively. Nirvana has hosted crowd pleasing acts like Magic System, Viviane, Daara J Family, and Youssou N’Dour in the past. It’s located right in the middle of the club strip, so within easy walking distance to a range of bars and drinking dens. Cabs are plentiful at all hours.Route de Ngor, Les Almadies, Dakar, Senegal Tel: +221 77 546 46 36, www.nirvanadakar.com
Just 4 U
One of the city’s best live music venues, Just 4 U is practically a Senegalese institution. Everyone loves this outdoor terrace bar/restaurant/club, from hip young Dakar artists to ageing politicians; it’s a real crowd-pleaser. The decor is smart but stylish, the drinks are reasonably priced, and the long stage is slung across the width of the outdoor premises, so everyone gets a good view. As the crowd grows, the bar area gets full too, although one of the things we love about Just 4 U is that it never gets rowdy. We dare you to make it to the dance floor without being thrown a smile from that charming elderly dancer next to you, or being beckoned to dance by a girl in an elegant gown. Wear what you want and dance however you like: it’ll be a magic night regardless.
Musicians with regular slots here include Dakar’s crooning salsa king Pape Fall and the 1970s Afro-Caribbean-Cuban superband Orchestra Baobab, which partly grew out of megastar Youssou N’dour’s original Star Band. Both acts tend to draw a nostalgic crowd, but look out for concerts from the feel-good hip-hop group Daara J, as well as newer, more alternative musicians.Avenue Cheikh Ante Diop, Point E, Dakar (No telephone)
If you want to throw yourself into an authentic Dakar club night, you can’t do better than head to Thiossane (pronounced “Cho San”) the club belonging to the Dakar-born, Grammy-winning megastar Youssou N’Dour: the man that Rolling Stone magazine once famously described as having a voice so rich that it sounds “as if it has the entire history of Africa locked inside it.” N’Dour took a break from music to take a short-lived post as Senegal’s Minister of Culture and Tourism when current President Macky Sall was elected in 2012, but he’s now back in business and you can see him play live at Thiossane from time to time. N’Dour historically performed here every Saturday at 2 a.m., but his appearances are more staggered. Call ahead to find out times. Regardless of N’Dour’s schedule, Thiossane makes for a fun night out. The club is dark, edgy and exquisitely Senegalese; prepare to mingle with a group of lively partygoers, and to emerge in time for sunset over the sandy streets of Amitie 2, the quiet residential neighborhood that plays host to the club.Rue 10, Amitie 2, Dakar, Senegal, Tel: +221 33 824 6046
The French Cultural Centre doesn’t sound like the most happening night spot, but some of the best nights out in Dakar start here. On Rue Joseph Gomis in the downtown Plateau district, the colonial-era grounds are covered in low-hanging bougainvillea and shaded areas. At night, the restaurant is lit by atmospheric fairy lights, but it’s the outdoor auditorium that really steals the show. Concerts here start very early for Dakar, at 8 p.m. or at 9 p.m., leaving plenty of time to hit the city’s clubs afterwards. Recent gigs have included Daara J Family, Orchestre Baobab, the vintage Guinean supergroup Bembeya Jazz, and many more. Although the venue feels a little sterile compared to places such as Just 4 U, the dancing gets moving pretty quick. By the end of each concert, the aisles are kicking with a diverse crowd shaking and grinding their hips to the beats on-stage.Rue Joseph Gomis, Dakar Plateau, Senegal Tel: +221 33 823 03 20, www.institutfrancaisdakar.sn