Have you ever tried crime fiction from Senegal? If not, the crime show Sakho & Mangane should be worth your while, shedding light on detective work in a cultural setting that’s new to most crime fiction lovers. The first series will be available to stream on Walter Presents from 4 September.
Using a similar formula to Lethal Weapon, Sakho & Mangane pairs the reckless young vice detective Lieutenant Basile Mangane (Yann Gael) with by-the-book stalwart Captain Sakho (Issaka Sawadogo). However, into the mix we also have the first woman to head a Dakar police precinct, Rayma ‘Mama’ Ba (Christian Dumont). She’s young and ambitious, and wants to put an end to the era of lone wolf detectives. Different though their methods may be, Sakho and Mangane both fall into that category.
In fact, Sakho has just arrested Mangane with six kilos of cocaine following a stakeout at a Dakar market. Sakho wants to nail the drugs magnate Bukki, but has ended up apprehending an undercover colleague. Meanwhile, on the nearby island of Lebous, the body of Belgian ethnologist Pauline Mertens has been found on the beach by a local crab catcher. The trouble is, the island is sacred and only a man born into the Lébu is allowed to walk on the beach where the body was found. The unpredictable Mangane comes from that culture, so Mama Ba decides to pair him with Sakho.
When they arrive to collect the body, they discover that two crimes have been committed. Firstly, the woman didn’t drown. Secondly, a sacred thiath – a dried puffer fish – has been removed from its position overlooking the shoreline. Superstition takes over and the local community is sent into turmoil. Without the thiath, the village deems it unsafe to go fishing – which means no income for everyone living there.
But let’s not forget Bukki and the gang. They want their money and their cocaine back. Having seen Mangane talking to a pretty young reporter about the Belgian’s murder, they decide to kidnap the woman. Of course, Mangane can’t return the drugs to them as the parcel is in the evidence locker back at the police station.
The cases develop quickly, with tight-in camera work used to emphasise the sense of motion the show generates. There is plenty of local flavour here to enjoy and quite an interesting atmosphere too, with the music, the shots of Dakar life and culture. Sacred knives, ritual dances and animal skulls mix alongside digital cameras, smartphones and GPS trackers. Was the Belgian killed while trying to steal and traffic the thiath relic, is it a case of a jealous fisherman’s wife, or are other forces at work?
While at times Mangane’s gonzo style of policing is too much to sustain the mysterious atmosphere, the programme does well to tell a rich and complete story. As well as the themes of superstition, modernity and the pillage of Senegalese artefacts, Sakho & Mangane also looks at people trafficking and post-colonial attitudes. A Belgian official keeps threatening to bring in some ‘proper’ detectives but Sakho wants to solve the case methodically, which takes time – a commodity that Mama Ba and Mangane don’t have. Gradually, it’s revealed that Sakho has his own demons to deal with. As the series continues, black magic plays an increasing role in the storyline.
Made in 2018 by Keewu Production and Canal+ Afrique, the first series of Sakho & Mangane consists of eight hour-long episodes. The dialogue is in French with English subtitles.