Fouta Tooro represent
Plant a tree
Grow a tree
Development is not for free
Plant a tree
Grow a tree
Forests don’t come easily
Change isn’t cheap
Positive change, forward change
We are here to learn and teach
Gandal fof, hay gotto jay No one owns all the knowledge
Wachtu yoni do for freedom Time is now here for freedom
The time is now for choice,
Sukkabe Fouta, heddo! Children of the Fouta, listen up!
It’s time to use your voice
Speak up, speak out: this is the New Africa
The new Senegal, the new place for all
Place for all ideas, place for all discoveries
Acceptance of joni, kono memories of rawane Acceptance of now, but memories of last year
Knowledge is the base of development. If hip-hop is to be a force of change here in the Fouta or elsewhere in the world, it must also be based in knowledge. In responsible speech, in respectable/respectful speech. Words of encouragement, of hope and cause for change. As catchy as lyrics can be to sing of fights and gangs and disrespecting women, where does that bring the youth of today? Where does that put their priorities?
John Kelley (my site-mate) and I showed up in Lougue (nearby village) and entered a house. The house was blue, the floors pristine. They showed us into the blue sitting room and introduced us to Maxi Krezy, real name Amadou Aw. Sitting on the bright pink mats with a serene calm and long dreads, we proceeded to green him in Pulaar, sitting with him on his mat. We casually chatted with him and his friends in the room in our broken Pulaar until he began speaking to us in perfect English. English, being one of the 9 languages he speaks fluently and occasionally performs/writes songs in. These languages include Swedish, Greek, Spanish, Latin, French, and Wolof (national language of Senegal).
Maxi Krezy, internationally known rapper, hip hop artist, youth activist. This man has passion, timing, and just straight rhythm.
Maxi and all the others in the room, mostly artists and some others involved in the concert event that day, all proceeded outside where the Eaux et Foret (governmental official in charge of trees and tree activities in each specific region) had arrived with a rice sack full of baby trees. We acquired shovels and picks from various locations, aware of the scene we must have made: a group of rappers and two Toubobs (Westerners) carrying shovels and trees, the women across the street selling veggies chatted and laughed at the spectacle.
We planted about 20 trees; mostly eucalyptus and neem, by the road and inside the fence of an NGO-sponsored feed storage building. The whole time Obi, big black Tshirt, dorag on his head, sunglasses, lookin’ G, but holding his two baby eucalyptus tree sacks so tenderly, as if it were his one mission in life to keep these delicate living beings comfortable and safe.
Previously not intending on even staying for lunch, John and I were enjoying the company much too much to leave now. It was now apparent that we would be staying for the show that evening, so we made ourselves comfortable, and really, this was a crew I could feel completely comfortable and safe being myself with. We discussed issues of development and issues in Africa: wars, race issues, political unrest, poverty, women’s roles in society, switching between Pulaar, English, Wolof and French to include everyone in the room in the discussion or to make clarifications. It was so invigorating to have my passions and viewpoints affirmed and reflected by this population, so very different in background and lifestyle. I voiced my frustration with women in the country being content with getting married during high school and dropping out because they ‘don’t need it’ or are now ‘more necessary at home’. Hadi Niang, elementary school teacher in Thilambol (John Kelley’s village) who organized most of the event that day, agreed wholeheartedly about the issue and became energetic in discussing creating an upcoming event or project that could address this issue. Maxi Krezy and his boys were on board as well. We now may have a future performance in the Fouta featuring female rap artists and the voices and testimonies of women who are married or with children but have succeeded in continuing their education at the University or trade schools, coming soon Insh’Allah.
Hadi Niang, lounging while discussing girls staying in school, photo by John Kelley
Evening approaching, we made our way to the event. The stage had been set up using a collection of blue metal or plastic barrels placed side-by-side and covered by a plastic sheet of what looked like linoleum, a black tarp hanging behind as backdrop. Lights and sound system set up on either side, and a shade structure had been mounted over a table. The table was long, with about 7 chairs. We walked through a sea of children, each insisting on shaking our hands as many times as possible, as we made our way to the Cherno’s (Koraanic teacher) house to present him with gifts: a brand new Koraan and 20 wooden tablets for the boys to transcribe the Koraan onto in black ink. The rappers sat with the Cherno and discussed the gifts and who knows what else for an extended amount of time, then they prayed and everyone in attendance held their hands out as if asking for an offering and whispered ‘Amin’ at key points in the dialogue. Prayer finished, everyone put their two hands to their face as if washing it with water and a final ‘Amin’ was echoed throughout the crowd.
Now getting dark, we returned to the stage area. We were instructed to sit at the long table, which was then covered in a hand-embroidered white cloth and adorned with bouquets of glittery, colorful plastic flowers. We sat, two rappers, the Village Chief, Maxi Krezy, Sousprefier (regional mayor) then me and John. Hadi stood behind us and gave the warmest welcome I could have imagined. He spoke about the people who had come far for this event, from neighboring villages or as far away as Dakar. Then he gestured to John and I and said, “…but these two, these two came from America. They came all the way from America for you, all of you, for the Fouta. They came here, not asking or requiring anything. They just came.” He described the role of Peace Corps volunteers and highlighted the work that we have been doing in our communities. He was so complimentary and generous in his description it made me blush, worried how I would ever live up to his expectations in my two years here, but honored by his hope and trust in me, inspired to work up to it. The Sousprefier spoke, mostly in French so I’m not really sure what he talked about, but I know there were references to us and to Peace Corps and our work here. Maxi spoke about hip-hop and its role in development and positive focus on education and knowledge. Then John Kelley made a speech in Pulaar, describing the three goals of Peace Corps: working with host country nationals learning and teaching with them, the sharing of American culture with Senegalese, and the sharing of Senegalese culture with friends and family back home. He ended it with, “Jungo e jungo, ennen mbowi yahde yesso.” Hand in hand, together we will go forward. The crowd erupted for the first time with that amount of enthusiasm. The conference then continued with a question and answer session with Maxi about the history and background of hip-hop in America and now Senegal, and about how they, too can become rappers with the affect and influence that Maxi has achieved. He discussed the meaning of ‘gangster’ and his focus on bringing hip-hop out of the violence-ridden streets of the Bronx and into a new light and purpose by using knowledge and education to create lyrics with meaning and action.
And so began the 48 hours of Hip-Hop in the Fouta. The next day much the same as the first, except this time incorporating sensitization and education about health, sanitation and malaria in the village of Thilogne during the day, as well as a community-wide trash clean up. This conference became more focused on hip-hop and it’s history and role in society today as the crowd was made up of many hopeful future rap artists.
Moving away from drugs, from violence, from hatred, hip-hop can be an act of change; an act of the New Africa. The Africa hungry for development, hungry for the culture of change, hungry for knowledge and success. Ready with the open arms of a performer on stage, the light of hope shining on his face, eyes closed imagining the possibilities.
The youth of the Fouta are the hope for the Fouta.
Joni ko jonie, hanki woni hanki Now is now, yesterday was yesterday
Jungo e jungo, ennen mbowi yahde yesso Hand in hand, together we can go forward