Urban Guerrilla Poetry: the movement Y' en a Marre and the socio-political influences of hip hop in Senegal.

Author:Gueye, Marame


In 2012, the Senegalese hip hop community garnered international media attention when the grassroots movement Y'en a Marre ("Fed Up!" or "Enough is Enough!"), defiantly stood up against incumbent octogenarian Abdoulaye Wade as he ran for a widely contested third presidential term. This politically unaffiliated coalition of rap musicians and journalists engaged in a war of both words and activism against Wade and his government. However, the movement's musical releases during the period are marginalized in accounts of the role rap music played in Senegal's socio-political landscape. An example of such oversight is Baye Makebe Sarr and Vieux Savane's book Y' en a Marre: Radioscopie d'une jeunesse insurgee au Senegal [Y' en a Marre: Radioscopy of a Rebelled Youth in Senegal] (2012), which focuses primarily on the genesis of the movement and its lead role during the demonstrations that unfolded in the wake of the elections. Though this activism is significant, the movement is grounded in verbal art where texts were used to create tangible change. The three songs being examined; Faux! Pas Force! (1) ("Don't push!"), Daas Fanaanal ("Sharpening one's weapon the night before"), and Doggali ("Finishing up a killing"), are manifestos that employ a culturally grounded oral narrative, in order to wage a war against President Abdoulaye Wade and reclaim the nation. Adam Nossiter writes in the New York Times:

It is not that Senegal lacks established politicians, political parties or even newspapers opposing Mr. Wade, often with torrents of incendiary if not wide-of-the-mark verbiage, a Senegalese tradition. The rappers, however, have struck a nerve because they cut to the chase. Their language is direct, sometimes crude and quite unambiguous. Although rap artists have been extremely vocal in Senegal, Y'en a Marre took their activism beyond words, especially after the events of June 23, 2011 during which several of their members were arrested. Although these events were a major turning point in Y'en a Marre's physical activism, they also sparked the start of a verbal war against Wade's government. Situating the songs within the movement's goals and strategies, this essay will demonstrate that African hip hop can create social change beyond the aesthetic space of enunciation. To that effect, I follow Karin Barber (2007) and Mwenda Ntarangwi's (2009) approaches to texts as sites of social changes, to show that within the context of contemporary Senegalese politics, these three songs allowed rap artists to use language in order to frame and ground their socio-political fight. In The Anthropology of Texts, Persons and Public (2007), Karin Barber reminds us that "Texts are social facts. Texts are used to do things: they are forms of actions" (3) and that "As well as being social facts, however, texts are commentaries upon, and interpretations of, social facts" (5).

Texts are also products of specific socio-political contexts, and as such, are responses to larger debates. In East African Hip Hop (2009), Ntarangwi focuses primarily on lyrics to document the ways in which rap artists from Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya, position themselves within local and transnational debates. As suggested by Barber, "Words are not the only form of representation or expression. People establish and convey meaning through clothing, dance, music, gesture, and though complex rituals which often defy verbal exegesis" (3). Y' en a Marre's three songs and the widely distributed video of the first one, were "used to do things." As "actions," they were war weapons against President Abdoulaye Wade. These songs fostered socio-political change in the country as well as within individual citizens. Y'en a Marre's unique style of activism shows the potency of texts, not just as reactions to specific events, but also as agents of social change. The movement used what its members call "Urban Guerrilla Poetry," revolutionary rap music performed in public spaces, to bring down Wade and achieve their ultimate goal of creating a New Type of Senegalese (NTS), which according to Fou Malade, is a citizen who claims his/her rights and is aware of his/her civic responsibilities. All three songs were released at different stages of the election period and constitute responses as well as strategies within the general fight to oust Wade and reclaim the nation. Faux! Pas Force! is a reaction to the events of June 23, 2011. It frames Wade as the nation's common enemy and exhibits the youth's resolve to get rid of him. As propaganda, Daas Fanaanal exhorts masses to vote against Wade after he was declared eligible for a third term, and Dooggali turns him into an agonizing enemy who must be finally eliminated during the run-off. Y' en a Marre's non-violent motto pertained only to their physical activism. Their songs used a violent narrative to undo Wade and to delineate the movement's aggressive action plan.

Background of Senegalese Hip Hop

Senegal has one of the most vibrant hip hop communities in Africa. One of its first and most notable rap collectives, Positive Black Soul (PBS), was formed in 1989 by Didier Sourou Awadi aka Dj Awadi and Amadou Barry aka Duggy-Tee and has since gained international acclaim. Like most early African rap music of the 1980s and early 1990s, PBS's first recordings were in European languages such as French and English, with mixes that imitated American rap music. Following PBS's lead several hip hop groups formed in Dakar and around the country. By 2000, Senegal had over 3000 collectives (2). Earlier groups were youth from the upper middle class whose families could afford subscriptions to overseas music channels, as Senegal had only one television station. From the mid-1990s, the Senegalese hip hop landscape shifted when youth from the suburbs of Dakar and the rest of the country entered the scene.

In the beginning, rap music had negative connotations in Senegalese popular culture. Rap musicians were not taken seriously and were humorously likened to madmen because in Wolof, especially among the sub-group of the Lebou, the term rap means a spirit that inhabits someone's body and makes the person sick or mentally ill.

Rap music was understood as an escapist form for idle youth who were overly fascinated with the West. Despite this inauspicious beginning, rap music gained a positive image when the emcees began to culturally ground the art form by rapping in Wolof and other local languages (3) and addressing the everyday concerns of the masses.

Scholars have established that African youth have overwhelmingly utilized rap music to advocate for social change is their various communities (Perullo 2005). They have embraced the genre as a medium for identity formation as well as a way to participate in "local and global debates " (Ntarangwi, 2009). In Senegal, rap music has allowed a vocally marginalized youth to gain visibility and representation. The documentary African Underground: Democracy in Dakar (2007), chronicles how rap artists unsuccessfully tried to use their music to prevent Wade's reelection for a second term in 2007. But at the start of the 2012 election season, rap musicians moved beyond musical denunciation to become physically involved in the re-shaping of the nation by creating the grassroots movement Y'en a marre, a French expression which denotes that a person has had it with a specific situation, in this case, Abdoulaye Wade's twelve year presidency.

Y'en a Marre

The movement Y'en a Marre was co-founded in January 2011 by Cheikh Omar Cyrille Toure aka Thiat [the last born] (4) and Mbessane Seck aka Kilifeu [the authority/elder] (5) from the rap group Keur Gui [The House] of Kaolack, and activist journalists Fadel Barro and Alioune Sane. They were later joined by Malal Tall aka Fou Malade [Crazy Sick] (6) from the group Bat'haillons Blin-D [Armored Beaten Rags or Armored Batallion], and many other rap artists. According to Fadel Barro, the creation of the movement was a cathartic idea, which emerged as they sat in his living room waiting for electricity to return after a twenty hour blackout.

We were tired of criticizing without being physically involved. We wanted to do something that would show that we were fed up, but also, we wanted to let the Senegalese people understand that it was time to end this fatalism, this habit of keeping one's hands folded and doing nothing. It was time to be involved in the running of the country. (TotasproD)

The movement can also be taken as a materialization of Keur Gui's single coup 2 gueule [Shouting Session] released in 2010, in which they called for rap musicians to act on their words.

We must act on our shouting session! Us and them like Hitler and De Gaulle! The comparison implied that like World War II, a physical confrontation between the Senegalese people and the government was inevitable because the masses were fed up and needed to take action. Djily Baghdad, a rapper who joined the movement, expressed this general sentiment: "The Y'en a Marre thing, everybody was Y'en a Marre inside their chest. Everybody had that Y' en a Marre feeling. Everybody was fed up" (NPR). Because the term Y' en a Marre is a state of mind, the movement established Esprits [States of minds], neighborhood units with the goals of finding solutions to local problems. As its first order of business, Y' en a Marre drafted a document entitled Les Mille Plaintes Contre le Gouvernement du Senegal [One Thousand Complaints against the Senegalese Government] in which they enumerated the people's major frustrations. They held their first press conference on the symbolic date of March 19, paralleling the annual celebration of The Day of the Alternation, the date Abdoulaye Wade was sworn in as president after opposition parties rallied behind him and facilitated his victory over Diouf in 2000. This celebration was traditionally a...

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