Hip-Hop is Street Journalism in Senegal

Af Mona Munck-Lindblom

Senegalese hip-hop is not about guns, bitches and drugs. It is the voice of activists against the system. But it is also about love for the country and its potentials, where everybody agrees that ’Africa is the Future’.

I spend the beginning of the Summer in Senegal close to the capital Dakar. During my trip I got a glimpse of the heart of the Senegalese hip-hop movement.

The stronghold for my trip was the street art school and culture center Africulturban in the ghetto area Pikine a short ride outside Dakar. Here young rappers, DJs, video artists, photographers and street art painters can get training in the disciplines of street art, record their stuff at the studio and get lessons in French, English and IT. Since the center opened in 2006 the organization has been hosting the annual hip-hop, urban music and street art festival Festa2H (Festival Africain de Hip-Hop) which has both local and international rappers, dancers etc. on the program.

In the beginning, both Africulturban and the festival was most of all an initiative with the purpose of gathering the local hip-hop movement. But today it is more about collecting knowledge about urban living and exchange ideas and inspiration in the encounters between artists from the whole world, says the director Amadou Fall Ba:

The youth is the future and it is the youth there is going to make changes in Senegal and Africa. Our wish is to make an international outline and a more cosmopolitan state of mind. That is why Festa2H is as much about the cultural encounters between the crowd and the artists from the whole world, then it is about African hip-hop

“UNI-VERSE”, track was written, recorded and shooted in one day during the FESTA2H 2013.

No bitches but lots of baggy pants and attitude

Festa2H was one of my main goals for the trip. Before the official opening in the center of Dakar I spend my days at Africulturban where there were warm up concerts before the real festival. I had just only put my foot on the Senegal ground when I was standing between hundreds of Senegalese guys dressed with caps and baggy pants –  a clear sign that the hip-hop culture and its fashion is global.

In that way, there are not many differences between the hip-hop movemet in Pikine and the one I know the from the subculture in Copenhagen or the US. And it did not take me long to find out that many of the young rappers get their inspiration from the underground hip-hop community in the US. Their beats are heavy and even though most of them do their rap in wolof (the traditional language), I did miss a more local and original sound. I was told that there has been a generational shift which did not necessarily do any good for the movement. DJ Ozz said:

The lyrics by the old school rappers were about their world and a revolt against the government and the social habitus. The new generation does not have the same social awareness, they are more self-centred

DJ Ozz is hosting a show at the local radio station where he twice a week takes the pulse on the Senegalese hip-hop scene. DJ Ozz is not the only one who has complaints about the generational change. Matador, one of the first Senegalese rappers, tells me that it is a problem that many of the new young rappers drop out of school to put all their odds on a music career:

To put it briefly do they not have enough knowledge about the society and the political situation without a properly education

At the concerts, it is the MCs who have social statements who are the most popular. And it makes the crowd go crazy when the artists on stage shout out that ‘Africa is the future’.

Goodbye smokes and booz

Though the scene is inspired from the US and that it is a dream about an international hip-hop career which engages the young rappers in the movement, the hip-hop culture is heavy planted in the Senegalese ground. 95 percent of all Senegaleses are Muslims. And even though their approach to the religion seemst to be the one of ‘every man does as he feels like’, there is the dominating interpretation that you should not drink or smoke if you want good things in life. Compared to the movement in Copenhagen and rest of the western world, I found this attitude very fascinating. I asked a rapper from Zimbabwe – Synik – who was performing at Festa2H, if the same kind of abstinent is to be found in the hiphop scene in Zimbabwe. The answer was no:

The hip-hop in Zimbabwe is not based on drugs or being wasted, but drinking is part of being young. I think it is cool that the culture here is so clean, and I almost wish it was the same back home. It breaks the idea that hip-hop is equal to abuse and leads the focus to the music and the social movements the hip-hop really is about

Hip-hop is the voice of the people

G Hiphop is another street art school based in an area in Pikine which has problems with high crime rates. Like Africulturban, G Hiphop makes opportunities for the youth to get training in the disciplines of street art. Madala says:

We give youth an opportunity to make use of their potential instead of hanging around the street corner where there is a big risk to get a life with lots of violence and alcohol or drug abuse

The social work both centers do extends from the local streets to the prisons where they offer schooling for the inmates. And after their release they invite them to continue the training in Pikine. At the presidential election in 2012, Malada was one of the initiators of a movement called Y’en a Mara (Fed Up). Through recordings and rallies the movement invoked the turnout.

The youth account for sixty percent of the population in Dakar. According to Malada, the hip-hop movement has had a strong impact because it speaks the language of the street where the youth lives. Madala ends the interview by saying:

Hip-hop makes it possible for the youth to get their voice noticed, and the message of hip-hop is easier to grasp than the journalism you see in the newspaper. Hip-hop is the journalism of the streets and we are all part of the street

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Author: Mona Munck-Lindblom.Mona traveled to Senegal in the beginning of june 2014 to attend to the international hiphop and urban culture festival Festa2H in Dakar. During her trip Mona got a inside view of the Senegalese hip-hop environment which is known for its political activism and its social work in the ghetto. Mona is cand. mag in Literature and Culture Encounters and she is a cultural writer at U-landsnyt.dk.