Hip-hop started gaining ground in Senegal in the 1980's. Photo: Sister LB  

By Awa Cheikh Faye

Hip-hop is fifty years old, a venerable age for a genre generally associated with youth. Born 50 years ago in the Bronx, Hip-hop embodies a culture, lifestyle, music, dance, graffiti, movement and many more elements.

The beat to which generations of young people around the world have danced to was created on 11 August 1973 by a Jamaican-born DJ, Clive Campbell, aka DJ Kool Herc.

When he appeared in New York, he offered young people a platform to denounce the poverty and discrimination they faced.

Hip-hop went on to conquer America and the world in music, sport and fashion. And Africa was no exception.

Hip-hop localisation

In Senegal, hip-hop took the cultural scene by storm in 1988. It began with dance groups formed by young people trying to reproduce the break dance steps of their idols of the moment, whom they had seen on television.

Concerts are being held to mark the 50th anniversary of the birth of hip-hop. Photo: AFP

"So these small groups started dancing and trying to see how they could reproduce what was being done in the United States, until they thought it might be possible to sing in Wolof,'' says Professor Mamadou Dramé, Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Education and Training Sciences and Technologies at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar (Fastef).

''They felt it was necessary to have a discourse and to speak to the people you had to speak to them in the language they understood, and from that moment on they started rapping in Wolof," he adds.

This was followed by the first rap song in Wolof (Senegal's dominant language) sung by the group Positive Black Soul in 1989.

The rap groups paved the way for a whole generation to make this means of expression their own, turning it into an instrument of political and social movement, as well as a tool for information and civic education, particularly from the 1990s onwards.

Political movement

"It's true that there used to be a political discourse, but it wasn't the most important one. From that point onwards, the political discourse was going to be demanded by rappers, particularly with the group Rapadio and their hard core rap. From that point on, rappers stopped talking about feelings or love, and instead had to adopt a politically committed stance", says Professor Dramé.

Galsen rap has had its share of legendary groups such as Positive Black Soul, Rapadio, Daara J and Wa BMG 44, to name but a few, who paved the way for today's generation, which includes Sister LB.

According to Sister LB, civic engagement is still alive and well today, and artists are taking on a wider range of subjects.

Citizen involvement is still alive and well today, according to Sister LB, who notes a diversification of subjects and causes promoted by artists.

Positive Black Soul is among groups that have promoted hip-hop. Photo: AFP

The Senegalese rapper, who is proud to belong to a movement that is half a century old, says that the 50 years of the hip-hop inspires her to be more resilient.

"Even if it's difficult because Senegalese hip hop has been through a lot, but the precepts haven't changed. The enthusiasm is still there, and that's what allows us to be here and celebrate the movement that has given us so much," she says.

Sélbé, whose real first name is Sélbé, got into hip-hop to find a platform for expression. The rapper uses her art to share her problems and hopes with society, just as her predecessors did.

State of mind

"In Senegal, young people, especially women, are not allowed to take part in public debate. That's why I decided to take the microphone, to carry my voice and the voice of all women who suffer injustice", she says with conviction.

Born 50 years ago in the Bronx, Hip-hop embodies a culture and lifestyle that spread across the world. Photo: AFP

The influence of Hip Hop Today, names such as Dip Doundou Guiss, Samba Peuzzi, Sister LB, Akhlou Brick, Ngaka Blindé, Omzo Dollar etc. carry the torch of Galsen hip-hop and exert a definite influence on young people.

Professor Dramé says hip-hop is an "art of living" and a "state of mind" which is reflected in the way young people express themselves in the street, in their mode of dress, but also in their attitudes and behaviour.

It can be seen in gigantic frescoes on the walls lining the roads and motorways of the Senegalese capital. It can also be seen on the catwalks of local designers such as rapper and stylist Baay Souley.

Hip-hop has influenced lifestyle and art in Africa. Photo: AP

"The spirit of hip-hop was one of resourcefulness, positivity and citizenship. The new type of Senegalese, responsible and involved in the community, was inspired by hip hop, especially for the 80s and 90s generation, but the inspiration came from galsen hip hop (verlan referring to Senegalese)," explains Professor Dramé.

"Hip hop first influenced sport when you see wrestlers like Tyson who made 'Boul falé' (editor's note: 'don't worry') their philosophy," he adds.

Far from the political demands that made it so popular in the 90s, and despite competition from Afrobeat and Mbalax, Galsen hip-hop is constantly renewing itself, bringing out new talent season after season, much to the delight of music lovers.

TRT Afrika