Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Urban Guerrilla Poetry: The Movement Y' En a Marre and the Socio-Political Influences of Hip Hop in Senegal

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Urban Guerrilla Poetry: The Movement Y' En a Marre and the Socio-Political Influences of Hip Hop in Senegal

Article excerpt

Introduction

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. …

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