It makes sense that this hip-hop collaboration and celebration of cultures and styles took place where it did. The Senegalese hip-hop movement is renowned for its prevalence amongst the youth and its attention to political activity and social commentary. It’s been widely attributed as one of the main avenues for young people to gain an interest in, and express their views on, social and political ills.
Rising in the 1980s in the country, many Senegalese hip-hop elements may have been borrowed from, or influenced by, hip-hop’s early sounds coming out of the Bronx, but it certainly maintained its unique blend of language, culture, and content. This sound was created by using traditional drums and instruments and rapping largely in Wolof (the most widely spoken language in northern Senegal), sometimes in French, and every now and then in English.
Senegal has a rich history and presence in music with revered ambassadors — vocalists and songwriters like Baaba Maal and Youssou N’Dour — who both embrace and exhibit their musical heritage globally.
With that as the setting, our own Zimbabwean ambassador, NTM aka “Tha Homie,” traveled across the African continent with his unflappable, staggering flow packed tightly in his backpack. The nomadic rapper performed at Festa 2H, a hip-hop festival in Dakar, Senegal. He took to the stage with lyricists and soldiers of urban culture and during his stay collaborated with emcees and vocalists from Senegal, Belgium, and the UK. This is the outcome, a video to a track with a bipolar beat, as bouncy and industrial as an inflatable hammer and overlaid with dexterous lyricism in various tongues.
Hip-hop for me is at its finest the world over when there is a social commentary and purpose to the script and a unified cause, something that international collaborations of this nature often foster. The setting is so fitting because the notion of a debt to society and cultural preservation is a thread that runs through many of the genres in Senegal, not just hip-hop.
In this breath one needs to mention the griots — storytellers, speakers, singers, and entertainers in Senegalese culture tasked with, among other things, being gatekeepers of cultural and historical knowledge. In the past they were regarded by their communities as a personification of cultural heritage, and were often referred to as “praise singers.” Griots, who still live in many parts of West Africa, were historically members of a low class but were paid by nobles and granted a certain respect for their status and importance in society.
A country crawling with such musical and lyrical history sets the prime backdrop for an underground meeting of modern-day storytellers, griots, and entertainers. I’ve had it coming through my headphones on and off for the last week — international, underground collaborations never cease to inspire me when they click together this well.