Shutting up rappers in Senegal

In 2000, Didier Awadi and other Senegalese rap artists appealed to their fan base to vote for the presidential candidate Abdoulaye Wade, in order to end the decades of socialist rule. These days however, the Senegalese hiphop community remains strikingly silent in the public arena.
The average Senegalese spends the year 2008 in exhaustive conditions. Since the rise of food prices, buying rice or gas has become a perilous endeavour. One would expect the rapper Awadi to make his voice heard now that life is so tough. Expectation denied.
Freemuse, a Danish NGO fighting for musical freedom, is blaming the increasingly passive behaviour of many Senegalese rappers on the growing intimidation and censorship since the Wade’s presidency. “Old tax declarations, physical attacks and threats against individuals and properties have split up the once so tight rap community,” says Rose Skelton. “Presenters for television and radio are often ‘handpicked’ by programme directors”, Blandine Martin confirms, a researcher  studying Senegalese rap.
These directors in turn are befriended with politicians, or are one themselves, which results in politically involved songs never being played and thus remaining in fact inexistent. This is what happened to the song “Dou Ma Rame” from WaBMG44. Group member Manu, now living in Belgium: “The title of this song means as much as “son of a whore”. This was an incontestable message to the Wade government. Our tape may have been nominated to best album of 2004, but the track “Dou Ma Rame” has never been played, except on the free radio Walf Fajri.”
We are left with the impression that Senegal, the frontline of the African rap music, has shut up its music artists for once and for all. “Not really”, Martin qualifies. “There is still great freedom of speech. It is no coincidence that the African rap originates from here. But westerners are exaggerating the political character of the Senegalese rap music, which has always been more cheerful, festive and diverse than American rap.
The majority of about three thousand Dakar rappers is singing for their fan base in their neighbourhood, and is indeed taking up the role of a grand frère (older brother). But we overestimate the rappers’ role as creators of public opinion and subversive political elements. Politically involved lyrics such as those from WaBMG44 have always been more of an exception than the rule. I also observe that many Senegalese rappers are taking the example of Xuman, Daara J or Dread Maxim, and are switching to reggae. Not because being they are intimated by the establishment, but because reggae is more popular in commercial terms. At the end of the day, a musician wants to be seen, sold and recognised.” (sa)

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