Accepted Paper:

The ghetto and the world: young rappers in Dakar between local identities and global languages  

Author:

Cristiano Lanzano (The Nordic Africa Institute (Uppsala, Sweden))

Paper short abstract:

Young rappers in Dakar are viewed as agents of cultural globalisation: while adopting a 'foreign' musical language, whose main references are the USA and France, they express local worries about politics, moral issues and religion. Their work is a contradictory assessment of identity at multiple levels.

Paper long abstract:

Senegal is told to be the third country in the whole world for the diffusion of rap music and the success of hip hop movement. In fact, starting from the early 90s, this kind of music has received more and more appreciation from local youth, especially in urban areas. Despite the lack of strong financial support, groups have multiplied (they are supposed to be at least three thousands today) and Dakar has become a centre of production and exhibition for rap singers from all West Africa.

But while a few artists gain fame and international renown, and consequently the opportunity to have their albums distributed abroad and even to perform in international arenas, most rappers and groups remain tied to local, often small-scale, audiences. Nevertheless, the relatively low cost of the initial investment (if compared with other local musical genres, e.g. mbalax) contributes to make rap music not only a popular form of entertainment among the younger generations, but even an instrument of self-realisation and expression worth trying.

The adoption of a "foreign" musical language, whose main model is the United States (and sometimes the French) scene, is coupled with an adaptation to local themes and sensibilities: thus, for example, in their texts Senegalese rappers often denounce the corruption of local politicians and the poverty of African ghettoes, talk about migrants' life and difficulties, sing their love for their families, invoke the moral redemption of women, and sing the praises of religious and spiritual leaders. Plus, the origins of rap (like of other musical genres as blues, jazz and reggae) are often claimed to be found in African rhythms and instruments, or even in local forms of ritual singing like tassu and bakku.

Somehow, this complex circulation of meanings and languages make out of the thousands rappers in Dakar a multitude of bottom-up agents of cultural globalisation, with all its specificities and contradictions. By means of some months of participant observation and several qualitative interviews with rappers, radio DJs and promoters, my research was aimed to investigate how these young rappers deal with their identity, assessed at multiple levels (their ghetto or their city area, their nationality, their African identity, sometimes their blackness), and at the same time with a globalised media network, which offers new means of expression and new senses of transnational belonging.

Panel W066
Different manifestations of identities and space in a global context