In the early hours of Monday morning, the rusting white buses usually used for transporting workers around Senegal’s Atlantic city peninsular, make turns around the town centre, the rapid-fire mbalax pop music blaring from the roof-mounted speakers.
Late at night, in one of Dakar’s hidden-away recording studios, Faada Freddy of the world-famous Senegalese rap group Daara J (‘School of Life’) tells the legendary tale of the 2000 residential elections, when President Wade pushed out the Socialist party who had ruled the country for 40 years.
Scroll forward seven years and the picture looks very different. Senegal has undergone seven years of economic growth and is hailed as a bastion of calm in a troubled region. However, almost half the population is unemployed and the country’s rappers – the voice of the youth – say that the government has become heavy handed.
During the last seven years, there has been a frightening rise in the number of censorship attempts on musicians, outspoken activists and journalists in Senegal. Local radio stations were closed down and foreign reporters expelled for apparently “biased” reporting on the rebellion in the south, and religious fanatics close to the president carried out attacks on journalists who criticised the cosy relationship between the country’s religious elite and the government.
At the high-rise office of Dakar’s Ocean FM radio station, Xuman sits at the desk from where he broadcasts his afternoon radio show. The seven-foot tall rapper is excited because he has in his hand the latest release by the rap collective, ‘Micro Mbedd,’ or ‘Microphone of the Streets’.
Rose Skelton is a freelance journalist based in Senegal, focusing on music, culture and politics in the West African region
Photo: Sandro Winkler / SeneRAP.org