Cool, urban and offbeat are all words we can aptly use to describe the artisans and creations of Soweto Village in Dakar, Senegal. To get a feel for Soweto village, imagine yourself weaving through a maze of crowded streets in noisy Dakar, trying your best to employ the spotty French you wish you’d brushed up on before landing. After you finally admit to yourself that you’re completely lost, you unexpectedly come face-to-face with a hip young Senegalese man wearing patchwork pants, his beautifully manicured dreadlocks descending from under his matching tam. He smiles in welcome, and as you eyeball a melee of funky little recycled metal Volkswagen Beetles on a table behind him, you relax. Soweto Village has found you.
The artisans’ medium of choice are bottle caps and recycled aluminum and tin from boldly printed coffee, tomato, sardine, pop and beer cans, the discards of daily life that are always in ready supply in this frenetic West African destination. Vivid colors seem central to West African advertising, and the Arabic, French, English and even Wolof phrases decorating the metal cans add even more eye appeal and cultural distinction.
When Swahili Imports first sampled the creative vision of Mbeye and Jacque, the small workshop’s artisans were focusing mainly on sporty bicycle and motorbike sculptures, constructed to include realistic details and moving parts. Since the motorbikes instantly sold like hot cakes, we branched out together to create some more bestsellers. So far, so good.