The People You Meet in Amsterdam Coffeeshops is a series of candid conversations with coffeeshop patrons about life, cannabis, and everything in between. In our sixth installment, Pape Dioum shares stories of his years spent as a musician meeting celebrities around the world.
(Karina Hof for Leafly)
Leafly: You’re from Senegal and your tablemates are from Morocco and Algeria. Is Bluebird where you first met?
Pape Dioum: Yeah. We connected because our countries are similar. And never has something gone wrong between us.
I’m not a fan of coffeeshops. Why do I come here? Because when I come here, I see lots of different nationalities. And I’m used to seeing all these nationalities, so I don’t get bored. I speak French, I speak Italian, I speak English, I speak Dutch.
What do you do?
I’m a musician. If you look on YouTube, you can see my music. I play guitar, I sing. My old band, Senemali, was the top band from Africa in Holland. We played all the festivals.
When did you come here?
In 1971, and when I came to Europe, I didn’t come by plane. I went alone from Senegal to Mali; Mali to Ivory Coast; Ivory Coast to Burkina Faso; Burkina Faso to Niger—Agadez. From Agadez I went to Tamanrasset, which is between Niamey and Algeria. I crossed the desert 10,000 kilometers, through to Tunisia. There I took a car between Tunis and Tripoli. Then I went to Libya in 1972, three years into the time of Nixon. I went to work in Benghazi, for five months, in the desert. It was like military work. At that time, I was 19.
Do you like life in the Netherlands?
Yeah, I mean, I like it everywhere. Anywhere I go, I can be with the people because when I look at people, I don’t look at their religion. I don’t look for religion, I look only at the person. That’s all. As long as you respect me, you can be any religion, you can be any color. People are people.
But now I’m going back home. I live 10% in the Netherlands, 90% in Senegal. I’ve lived here, so I know the mentality. Europe is selfishness, individualism, paranoia. Europe is like a jail, to us. You are so onto yourself: your Frigidaire, your pindakass [“peanut butter”], your Coca-Cola. Nobody can come between. So when you are a buitenlander [“foreigner”] and you live here for a long time, you leave Papa, you leave Mama, you leave country, you leave land—especially land. It’s something you cannot explain to a person who is not a buitenlander.
I have three sons. They were born here, but when they were young, I would bring them to Senegal every two years. I’ve spoken to them in Wolof, my language, ever since they were born because I wouldn’t want them to feel like strangers in my country tomorrow.
Americans are more open than Europeans. They are more friendly. Americans say: “Hey, hi! Hey, how you doing, man?” You say: “Oh, fine.” To a European, you say: “Hi.” Oooh, the reaction is like a crocodile—they look at you like this. America is different. I know because I lived there. I was a DJ in a discotheque. It was the time of disco, of Donna Summer, Eddie Pendergrast. I was there living in New York. Every night, I’d go to the club until 6 o’clock in the morning, high [laughs]. Completely high. All the stars I met in Studio 54: Michael Jackson, OJ Simpson, all these people.
Who was the biggest celebrity you crossed paths with?
I have all these pictures in my house documenting what I’m telling you because I’m a man who collects memories from all my journeys. From St. Tropez I know all these people because I lived there as a DJ, the first black man in St. Tropez who worked all the clubs, where Brigitte Bardot would come, Alain Delon would come. Michel Polnareff. Michel Sardou. Charles Aznavour. All these people, I would see them comme ça—like that. Every night they’d come where I work, they’d sit, they’d dance.
Johnny Hallyday is the first guy who gave me a joint because he was in the club where I was playing. He comes and he says—they called me “Jackson” because they didn’t know me as “Pape” in St. Tropez—“Hey, Jackson, let’s go outside.” So we go outside. Je fume [“I smoke”; laughs]. Everybody remembers the first time they smoked a joint. Everybody.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Lead image: Karina Hof for Leafly.