Postcolonial Urbanisms in Senegal: Jan 15th – GHipHop

The lecture on postcolonial urban development this morning was very personally important to me. I have been involved in youth empowerment work for a couple of years now, and I believe very much in young people mobilizing themselves in order to achieve better outcomes: economic opportunities, political representation, and just visibility and respect in general. We read three articles, my favorite of which was AbdouMaliq Simone’s article “Reaching the New World: New Forms of Social Collaborations in Pikine, Senegal”. Apart from the fact that Simone presents a very deep introduction to the banlieue (suburb) of Pikine-Guédiawaye, I simply love the way that he writes. Most academics would not write an article’s introduction with questions in order not to undermine their own point or credibility, but Simone opened this particular paper with many questions about the role of youth in modern-day politics in Senegal and the politics of spatial organization and resource distribution in Dakar. Does the fact that youth will organize themselves in order to fight for certain political rights, improve social issues, and economic opportunities mean that the State has failed them and will continue to fail them? Is the State simply unable to provide everything to them?

In the afternoon, we went to visit GHipHop, a hip hop centre that the group Y’en a marre created in Guédiawaye. Y’en a marre is an extremely famous social movement/group of Senegalese rappers and journalists created in January 2011 that grew out of young people who bonded through hip hop and rap in Pikine-Guédiawaye. They used hip hop and rap to express their frustrations about social injustices and politics in Senegal. They were actually instrumental to the defeat of President Wade in 2000 – they held voter registration drives all over the country and encouraged young people to vote for a better future. This lead to Wade’s electoral defeat. Interestingly enough, Wade in his 2000 campaign prominently featured the support of Senegalese rappers at the time in order to show that he connected with young voters and had their support. Y’en a marre demonstrated that Senegal’s youth were not unquestioningly loyal to Wade and were searching for a leader that could credibly promise reform.

GHipHop is a beautiful centre, a spacious complex in the heart of Guédiawaye that is colorfully decorated with murals and street art. We had lunch in a shaded patio area in the middle, and then visited the complex and the neighborhood. I absolutely loved walking around Guédiawaye – I felt such love and openness in the neighborhood. There are lots of people walking all over Dakar, but in Guédiawaye the streets are positively packed with people, and particularly children. When you read the statistics that Senegal’s population is 50% youth and most of those youth under the age of 35, you can understand that on a theoretical level and then you will walk through the streets and see that there are just children EVERYWHERE. We visited the school that GHipHop is actually part of, another school, and just walked through different parts of the neighborhood. We had the honor of attending both a hip hop and also a dance concert though. I was struck by all of the people who were invited as well – the entire neighborhood! Kids were swarming around the center that was all but empty two hours prior. The most interesting part of the concert for me was when a woman started to rap. She was the only one who rapped during the entire concert and the crowd went crazy when they saw her. At the same time, I feel that that enthusiastic response must not be universal.

Questions: (First question in first paragraph)

2. How did Y’en a marre find the funds to build GHipHop and how long did it take? Does it operate as a real community center or is it mostly for the hip hop (and thus mostly male) community? There were classes for women to learn sewing etc but in the school part that is separate from GHipHop.

3. Are there any female rappers part of GHipHop? What are the barriers for a woman to start rapping? How is the dynamic between female rappers and male rappers in the crew – are they respected or are they immediately hit on etc? (During the performance of the female rapper, one guy started fake-humping a column in order to jokingly express how attracted he was to her).

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