Senegal: Self-censorship among rappers



Self-censorship among rappers

Rappers in Senegal are offered financial rewards if they agree to sing positive things about the political life in the country, but if they refuse to comply they are served backdated tax bills, reports Reuters’ Rose Skelton from Dakar. Harassment and death threats drives some artists to tone down their socially-conscious lyrics

“For me, things are getting worse,” said Didier Awadi, one of Senegal’s top-selling rappers, to Reuters’ Rose Skelton when she interviewed him in his roof-top studio in Dakar, the seaside capital of the country, in August 2006.

Senegalese hip-hop has long broached taboo topics, following in the footsteps of bards-turned-social commentators, known as griots, who for centuries used song to praise or criticize West Africa’s leaders. The Senegalese rappers are both courted and feared because of their influence among the youth – in a country where over 70 percent of the population is under 30.

But today the Senegalese musicians are concerned for their own safety, in particular after the beating in May 2006 of a reporter who questioned the political influence of a well-known Muslim leader, and other similar incidents. Fearing the back-dated tax bills which some artists say are sent to rappers who refuse to sing the government’s tune, the lyrics of the rappers become more subtle.

Rapper Bamba Diop knows all too well what criticising the wrong people can mean. He says he was subjected to months of harassment and death threats in 2000 by disciples of a marabout he criticised in one of his songs.“In that five months, I saw my life going down, and in that five months I saw that hip-hop had a big, big power,” the 27-year-old singer told Rose Skelton, his voice cracking with emotion. He gave up writing overtly political and religious lyrics and fled to England, only returning home last year.

Rose Skelton writes:
“In 2000, rappers encouraged young people to go out and vote in the presidential election. (…) But today, that confidence is tempered by fear, driving some artists to tone down their socially-conscious lyrics for fear of sparking conflict with politicians or other figures of authority in the mainly Muslim country.”


Reuters / Hip Hop Archive – 7 August 2006:
‘Senegal rappers aim to keep it real but fear censure’

Voice of America – 4 August 2006:

‘Senegal’s Rap Artists’ Despair Over 2007 Elections’ (audio report)

Go to top
Related reading