“IT’S LIKE ALL Africa in one shop,” says Adama Ba, the owner of Gorée Shop in Kenwood.
He established his storefront, named after an island in Senegal, in 2002. “It’s great to be in a place where I can see Africans, Indians, Chinese, cultures from all over the world,” he says. The 41-year-old studied arts and design for eight years at Senegal’s Cheikh Anta Diop University and makes many of the traditional garments he sells. “Over there we don’t use patterns, so everything you do you have to memorize.” His clients often have outfits custom-made for special occasions, a service that costs between $150 and $200. Customers can choose from a wide array of colorful fabrics—mudcloth, asoke, bazin, and 100 percent cotton wax print textile—imported from nations like Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, and the Ivory Coast, and stacked in piles in the store.
Ba has dressed American Idol contestant Naima Adedapo, as well as dancers from the Najwa Dance Corps of Malcolm X College and Maryland’s KanKouran West African Dance Company; the latter sported his creations during a White House performance for George W. Bush. Gorée Shop also sells musical instruments like the kora, a West African harp, and cosmetics such as raw black soap and whipped shea butters with names like Black Woman, Pure Seduction, and I Am King.
Ba says he wants Chicago to find joy in Senegalese culture, which is why he also runs the restaurant Gorée Cuisine next door. The Reader‘s Mike Sula wrote that the Senegalese soul food on offer “might seem unfamiliar on paper, but it bridged the Atlantic hundreds of years ago with the arrival of the first African-Americans.”
With the help of three siblings and his wife, Ba runs his business in keeping with Senegal’s family-centered ethos. “People coming from different tribes and religions enjoy each other’s traditions. There’s no tension,” he says. “The whole point of having the shop and the restaurant is to let the community know there are other cultures in their neighborhood. You don’t need to go to Senegal to eat Senegalese food or to get African garments. You can just come to 47th Street.” v