Hip-Hop Generates Hope in the Ghetto of Dakar

Af Mona Munck-Lindblom

The poverty, unemployment and crime rate is huge in the ghetto area Pikine outside the Senegalese capital Dakar. Once, hanging in the street corner, was the only thing to do. But since 2006 street-art schools have allotted alternatives which have produced dreams about a better life as a hip-hop artist. And dreams generate hope.

”It is not easy to live here in Senegal” is what every rapper and street-art artist tells me during my trip to Senegal. The cause of my travel is to get an inside view of the Senegalese hip-hop community as it is in Pikine.

Pikine is a suburb 30 minutes drive outside the capital Dakar. The locals call it the ‘ghetto’. Around two million people live in the area, and approximately sixty percent are between 16-35 years old. And as in the rest of the country the rate of unemployment is about sixty percent, which accumulates problems with alcohol and drug abuse and a rising crime rate.

It was a combination of frustration of how the local society was dying and a wish to bring the hip-hop environment back to life, that made the local and international known rapper Matador open the street-art school Africulturban in Pikine in 2006. Today the street-art school has about 1,000 members and it also functions as a cultural center. Besides providing training in the disciplines of street-art and give opponunities to use the recording studio at the center, the members can get lessons in French, English and IT or just come and hang-out in the atrium. Since the beginning of Africulturban similar initiatives have opened their doors for the local youth.

Members of the center tell me that life is difficult, so their positive attitude and spark of life surprises me. It seems like they are driven by a dream and hope for the future and as long as they live in their music, one day they will get better lives as international hip-hop artists. They will use the money they make to improve the life in the ghetto. Their enthusiasm is admirable even though not every dream is the most realistic one. And it is my perception that the dreams are important and a way to get through when life is tough.

Number one rapper in the world

Balvada is one of the young rappers who dream about an international music career. At our first meeting he introduces himself as ‘the best rapper in town’. In spite of a shy sparkle in his eye and a slender appearance, is it with a devil-may-care attitude he enters the room.

Balvada is thirty years old. He grew up in the ghetto area called Thairoye outside Pikine with his parents and six siblings. He skipped school when he was eighteen years old because his father said to him that he needed to work and help support the family.  Since that he has worked as a shoemaker.  But only when there is no a hip-hop show to go to. Since he was a teenager hiphop has been his highest priority:

Hip-hop has been my life as long as I remember and since I was really young I have spent all my spare time  listening to hiphop and go to the concert

At first, he was only a fan of the music, but in 2000 he and a friend started their own group called Letters. They split up after two years and Balvada started to make music by himself. His lyrics are about everyday life in the ghetto and in Senegal. But also about his own supremacy. And both his strong self believe and his ambitious goal in life shows when he raps that he is “the number one rapper in the world”.