July 9, 2006
Don’t go, Senegal rappers urge would-be migrants
By Rose Skelton
DAKAR (Reuters) - At the top of a tower block in one of
Dakar's densely packed neighborhoods, Xuman sits in the studio
of Ocean FM radio and addresses the young people of the
(2-meter) tall, dreadlocked rap artist shouts into the
"For all our friends who believe that the solution lies in
Barcelona, or on the other side of the sea," he continues.
"This is for you."
From the speakers comes the sound of rappers declaiming
lyrics in Wolof -- the most widely spoken language in the poor
West African country -- and the haunting voice of a rapper
singing "bul dem," part of a song lyric meaning "don't go."
The song tackles one of the main issues affecting Senegal:
It talks about the young Africans who set sail in rickety
boats from Senegal's coast seeking a better life in Europe.
While scores die, more than 9,500 migrants have arrived in the
Canary Islands this year, double last year's total.
The song was written to give young people the chance to
debate the issue and find a solution, Xuman said.
"Only the rappers are still fighting, are believing that
this music is fight music. Only rappers are making this music
to open people's eyes," the rapper said.
Senegal is supposed to be one of Africa's success stories:
one of the continent's most stable democracies, religiously
tolerant and a major recipient of foreign aid as a result.
Far from the downtown tower blocks, the dusty suburbs
seethe with discontent as young men pass languid days
contemplating a jobless future, often with the radio as their
main source of entertainment. More than half of Senegal's
population is under 18 and unemployment stands at more than 40
MICROPHONE OF THE STREETS
Xuman is just one of 17 artists who feature in the song,
titled "Barca mba Barzaak" ("Barcelona or the after-life"),
which was the brainchild of Moussa Deyman, a rapper-producer
Deyman's collection of artists is called "Micro Mbedd,"
which means "microphone of the streets" in Wolof. He hopes it
can express political or social issues worrying the nation.
Last year, the collective organised a 34-artist protest
after the government closed a private radio station that had
broadcast an interview with the head of a rebel group from the
troubled south of the country.
"We don't have the system of releasing singles in Senegal
and if we wait for the album to come out, maybe that event will
have passed," says Xuman.
"So what we can do is write something about what we think
and put it on the radio," said Xuman, who makes up one third of
the hip-hop crew Pee Froiss, which tours Europe this summer.
Music has traditionally tackled the most pertinent topics
in West African society. It stems from an oral culture where
"griots," musicians turned political and social commentators,
have acted as journalists, reporting important events for the
Many rap artists consider themselves as modern-day griots
and American-style rap, with its sexually-explicit and violent
lyrics, is frowned upon by both socially conscious rappers and
the conservative older generation.
Xuman, whose real name is Makhtar Fall, chose his stage
name at the age of 17 to hide from his family that he was
rapping instead of going to school.
The song has caused a debate among young people, many of
whom cannot find work in the country, ranked by the United
Nations as among the world's poorest.
"It's very important that rappers talk to people from their
neighborhood because they are well known and can take the
microphone to stand up for these people," says Boubacar
Bangoura, 22, a laborer in Dakar.
"People here don't want to hear the truth. But rap music
tells the truth. Maybe it's going to open people's eyes a
little, but it might not stop people from leaving."