Meet the Former Investment Banker Bringing West African Cuisine to Dubai

An entrepreneur, cultural aficionado, and forward-thinking visionary, Saran Sow Barry embodies the essence of global fusion. With a rich career arc, she effortlessly intertwines her eclectic background into her business ventures, creating a unique narrative.


Born in Paris but raised in the dynamic streets of Conakry, Guinea, Saran's journey is a fusion of global influences. Her academic endeavors led her from London to Paris, where she honed her skills in Change Management at Georgetown University. As a proud descendant of the Fula tribe, Saran's upbringing was steeped in the rich traditions of Fulani culture, from its culinary delights to its captivating music. Her wanderlust-filled childhood traversing Europe bestowed upon her a deep appreciation for both her African heritage and the myriad cultures of the Western world.


Saran's professional odyssey commenced in the realm of finance, where she garnered expertise in investment banking and credit insurance. However, it was her relocation to the UAE in 2016 that catalyzed her entrepreneurial spirit. Faced with the absence of her beloved West African cuisine in Dubai, Saran embarked on a culinary journey that would ultimately birth Afro Baobab Events, her brainchild.


Fuelled by a passion for her roots and a thirst for cultural exploration, Saran envisioned a company that not only tantalized taste buds but also transported guests on a transcendent journey through West African hospitality, music, and art. Thus, Afro Baobab Events was born in 2022, heralding a new era of immersive cultural experiences in the heart of Dubai.


Today, Saran's vision has blossomed into a thriving enterprise, offering bespoke African-themed events tailored to diverse audiences. From private soirées adorned with authentic West African cuisine to team-building workshops infused with the rhythm of djembe drums, Saran's commitment to celebrating diversity knows no bounds.


Join TXP Talk in an in-depth interview with Saran about entrepreneurship, her love of bridging cultures and the magic of African drumming in bringing teams together…


What inspired you to start Afro Baobab Events, and how did your upbringing influence this decision?


The diverse and multicultural aspects of Dubai, and the easiness to set up and start a business made Dubai a perfect place for me to initiate a business like Afro Baobab Events. Additionally, I noticed the absence of authentic and traditional Francophone West African cuisine in Dubai. Most West African restaurants in Dubai are Nigerian restaurants, so there was a gap to be filled. Then, I imagined that it would be nice to have a whole experience to differentiate myself from restaurants. So that’s how the whole African experience came to life by not only offering food, but with the entertainment and African décor included. I wanted to make my guests feel like they have travelled to African lands by immersing them in the West African culture through West African cuisine, music, décor and entertainment. My upbringing definitely influenced the decision to start this journey because I’m very much attached to my roots and was missing it here in Dubai.


Can you share a specific moment or experience that solidified your determination to create a business focused on African culture and cuisine in Dubai?


My husband and I frequently host gatherings at our home, where I typically take charge of the cooking. As our guests enjoy the food, they often inquire about its uniqueness and that’s how the idea sparked in my mind. However, instead of immediately pursuing a restaurant venture, I decided that cultural exploration events that blend food, dance, music, and art would be more fun.


How do you navigate and incorporate the diverse cultural influences from your background into the events and experiences you create?


Incorporating diverse cultural influences from my background into the events and experiences I create is at the core of my mission with Afro Baobab Events. Drawing from my upbringing in both France and Guinea Conakry, my expatriation in countries such as the UK, the USA and the UAE, as well as my deep appreciation for African culture, I approach event curation with a multifaceted perspective.


First and foremost, I prioritize authenticity. Every aspect of the events I organize, from the themes to the decorations to the entertainment, is infused with genuine cultural elements. Whether it's traditional music, cuisine, fashion, or art, I strive to showcase the richness and diversity of African heritage in a respectful and immersive manner.

Collaboration is also key. I actively seek out partnerships with African artisans, performers and chefs to ensure that the experiences I create are authentic and inclusive. Furthermore, I constantly seek inspiration from my own experiences and travels. Whether it's a childhood memory, a traditional ritual, or a contemporary trend, I draw from a wide range of sources to infuse each event with creativity and originality. Ultimately, my goal is to create experiences that not only entertain and inspire but also educate and enlighten. By celebrating and sharing the beauty of African culture in all its diversity, I hope to foster greater understanding, appreciation, and connection among people from different backgrounds and walks of life.


As a founder, how do you balance maintaining authenticity in your cultural representation while also appealing to a diverse audience in Dubai?


This requires a thoughtful and a creative navigation. At Afro Baobab Events, we embrace the rich and diverse cultures within Dubai while staying true to our traditions and core values. We offer authentic experiences that celebrate the West African culture while being inclusive and adaptable to the diverse tastes and preferences of the audience in Dubai.


Could you share a memorable success story or moment that highlights the impact Afro Baobab Events has had on fostering cross-cultural understanding and appreciation?


Our last event with a F&B company anniversary. The feedback was amazing and they told us that they really felt like they travelled to African lands, which is our main goal! Most of the feedback we receive is great. People love the concept, they find it unique, authentic and detailed as we are in charge of every aspect of the events. Our guests feel welcomed, humanized,  appreciated and cared for.  This is the message we want to convey. We are not only here to organize events, but to make our guests feel special and foster a deep appreciation of the African culture. This is African hospitality, making our guests feel at home even though they are in an estranged place.


In what ways do you collaborate with local communities, artists, and vendors to enhance the authenticity and inclusivity of your events?

We collaborate with African artists, musicians, dancers, and performers to incorporate authentic cultural entertainment into our events. By showcasing the talents of African artists, we not only support their livelihoods but also enrich the cultural experience for event attendees.


In what ways does collective drumming contribute to fostering unity, collaboration, and effective communication within corporate teams undergoing organizational change?


Collective drumming can contribute to fostering unity, collaboration and effective communication within corporate teams in numerous ways. Here are few of them:


Shared Experience: Drumming together creates a powerful shared experience that transcends individual differences. Regardless of job titles, roles, or backgrounds, team members come together to create music as equals. This shared experience fosters a sense of unity and common purpose among team members, helping to break down silos and build stronger connections within the team.


Collaboration and Synchronization: Drumming in a group requires coordination, timing, and collaboration. Team members must listen to each other, synchronize their rhythms, and work together to maintain the beat. This collaborative effort promotes teamwork and encourages individuals to communicate effectively, both verbally and non-verbally, as they adjust their playing to fit with the group.


Building Trust and Confidence: Engaging in collective drumming requires trust in oneself and trust in others. As team members collaborate to create music, they learn to trust their ownabilities and the abilities of their teammates. This trust-building experience helps to strengthen relationships within the team and encourage confidence in individuals' ability to work together effectively, even amidst uncertainty and change.


Stress Reduction and Resilience: Drumming has been shown to have therapeutic effects, reducing stress levels and promoting feelings of well-being. During times of organizational change, when stress levels may be elevated, collective drumming can provide a valuable outlet for team members to release tension, relax, and recharge. This promotes resilience and helps team members cope more effectively with the challenges of change.


Celebration of Diversity: Drumming is a universal language that transcends cultural and linguistic barriers. By engaging in collective drumming, team members celebrate diversity and appreciate each other's unique contributions to the rhythm.


There are so many ways of how collective drumming can contribute to fostering unity and effective communication that I could write a whole page about it!


How does your background in investment banking and change management inform the development of Afro Baobab Events' new training program?


My experiences in investment banking and change management has enhanced my project management skills, including planning, organizing, executing, and monitoring complex initiatives. This enables me to effectively oversee the development and implementation of the training program, ensuring that it stays on track, meets deadlines, and achieves its objectives.


How do the experiential learning methods, such as African djembe drumming and art sessions address the challenges of uncertainty and disruption associated with organizational change?


First of all, experiential learning methods actively engage participants in the change process, it allows them to experience the change first-hand in a supportive and interactive environment. Our collective drumming and art sessions provide hands-on experiences that encourage active participation and involvement, helping to overcome resistance and fear towards change. Additionally, change often triggers a range of emotions, including anxiety, fear, and frustration. Experiential learning methods like drumming and art sessions provide outlets for emotional expression and processing, allowing participants to channel their feelings into creative activities. This can help individuals cope with uncertainty and disruption more effectively and develop emotional resilience in the face of change.


Photos: Afro Baobab Events, Blue Eye Picture (for Saran's profile images)

April 29, 2024