In Senegal, hip-hop comes with a kick. It carries enough social significance to bring real political change. In 2000, rappers led the youth to go out and vote, consequently bringing the first political shift in government in four decades, embodied at the time by Abdoulaye Wade. Twelve years later, as it became perfectly clear that Wade was oblivious to the needs of the Senegalese population, rappers once again stepped into the political arena, this time against Wade.
And they succeeded. On February 27th 2012, Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade lost his bid for a third term. With his defeat, the rappers’ fight also came to an end: ousting Wade had become the driving force behind Senegal’s hip-hop movement, so with Macky Sall now in office, the rappers are forced to look for different angles, in and out of music and politics.
Clash was fortunate to discuss this situation with seasoned Senegalese rapper Keyti, an artist who’s been at the forefront of Senegal’s hip-hop scene for well over a decade, and who has also been at the helm of the hip-hop movement’s engagement in the protests against the government.
Keyti first helped us take a step back, to better understand what happened in his country: at the end of Wade’s last term, discontent was at an all-time high in Senegal, an otherwise proudly peaceful country. The population suffered repeat, extended and unexplained power cuts. People couldn’t properly work for months, and without any answers or justifications, there was no hope for improvement. Meanwhile the president was busy erecting a $27 million statue on Dakar’s Corniche – it’s larger in size than the Statue of Liberty, and well worth a Google image search.
Wade also tried to bring his son to the political table, Karim Wade, making him his de facto heir. The president’s maneuvers were so blatant that father and son became known comically as Wade and Wade. But as Wade senior seemed to be obliviously provoking his country, rappers once again came together to mobilize the population: in 2011 they founded the Y’en a Marre movement (“enough is enough” in French) with a number of journalists and other activists.
Y’en a Marre was a powerful catalyst, turning the Senegalese’s frustration into action, by initiating protests all over the country. It also became a target: in June 2011 for instance, as Wade tried to pass a very controversial bill tampering yet again with the electoral process, Simon, one of the most influential rappers in Senegal, was beat up by the police. He was simply visiting a police station to meet with its commissioner, a routine visit to obtain information. He never met the commissioner. Instead, without any warning or justification, he was arbitrarily beaten. The next day, thousands took to the streets, and that same night, the bill was defeated.
This is an excerpt from the January 2013 issue of Clash magazine. Find out more about the issue.
Words: Benjamin Lebrave
Photography: Jasper Clarke