Tag Archives: #hiphop

Fété Coumba

Upon joining Peace Corps, I set a goal for myself.  If I change one person’s life in my two years in Senegal, my time here has been worth it.  What a surprise I got at my going-away party, when hundreds of people showed up to speak about what I have meant to them.  It’s not every day our expectations are exceeded hundreds of times over.  Machallah I am blessed.

This was not a work event.  This was not a training.  This was just my way of saying goodbye to my friends and family.

This day, from beginning, to end, and the days surrounding the event… this was the best experience in my whole Peace Corps career. This was a culmination of all the ‘work’ I had done throughout my life in Senegal.  It was my final program, my last ‘hurrah’ and the amount of people who attended proved to me that my two years in this village had been more than worth it!  It reaffirmed everything I had done and showed me exactly how many people cared and appreciated me and my work – hundreds.  It also made it easier to break the truth to people about my inevitable depart because, instead of telling people, ‘I am leaving soon, my contract is over,’ I would then add onto that the fact that I was to have a party in order to say goodbye to everyone. The reactions were classic: “I am going home soon”…”No!” (disappointment)…”But I’m having a goodbye party”…”Oh! Wonderful, we will be there, inshallah!” (No longer disappointed). It also kept me quite busy in the days leading up to the party because, it turns out, there’s a lot that goes into these events. I wanted to have dancing, theater, and thiossane (culture exposition). my impression, in attending previous celebrations was that these were activities that the kids already had together and they could just pull out of their pockets, but it turned out to be something we had to start from scratch.

“If you want to do theater or dance at all, Coumba, you need my help,” said Moussa Coumba. “And you should know that there’s a lot of preparation that needs to go into this, so I hope you’re prepared. You also should have really thought about this ahead of time, there may not be enough time to put it all together,” he warned.  I had myself a right-hand man. We began practices every afternoon with the kids for the dance performance and for the theater skit, with intermittent interruptions due to weddings and people traveling to farm in the wallo (see previous post).

This whole idea started off humble and small. I thought maybe I would have a nice party with my family and friends in our house. I purchased a sheep from my mother months ago and she had helped me raise it and take care of it.  It was now going to be our lunch.  When I began thinking of who I wanted at the party and which of them would be upset if I did not include them, and all of that, I realized that I actually had a lot of friends. And I actually wanted all of them to be there in order to see them before I left. Most of these friends had become more than just acquaintances… they were true friends. Many of them, I had spent the night at their house, or had gone to their wedding, or had been there for the birth of their child or death of their mother. These are many things I cannot say about most of my American friends.



Thillo, my sister-in-law and I

The scale of the event changed dramatically with some news from abroad: Maxi Krezy was returning to Senegal (or so he said, casually via Facebook Messenger) I had been in touch with my friend Maxi Krezy on and off since he had left for the U.S. to work on his new album and memoire. He was supposed to have come to the Pete English Day back in April (or was it May?), but was unable to when the date coincided with the date he was slated to leave for the states. He had been there ever since, but said he would be home before I left for the U.S. I didn’t buy it though. As time got closer to my Close of Service date, I really began to doubt the validity of this claim. I didn’t doubt his intentions though. He asked me about the details of my party; at that point still in the small in-my-house stages, but when he said he would be taking part in it, that would change everything. If Maxi Krezy, world-renouned Senegalese rapper, one of the spearheads of African rap in the world today, says he is coming to a party, you can bet he’s going to step things up. I was now preparing for a concert with a discussion panel prior to the show discussing my chosen topic: female education, as we had discussed back in April.

Now time to step it up…

  • Rent speakers
  • Find DJ – luckily a friend of Maxi Krezy is a nearby DJ and immediately showed up to help, bringing all his equipment with him.
  • Procure shade structure
  • Procure chairs – from both the mayor’s office and the Qur’anic students
  • Approval by Mayor of both Galoya and Mbolo Birane
  • Clearance by Police
  • Invite everyone who’s phone numbers I had
  • Hold a Radio show

Sure enough, as promised, the day before the fété, Maxi Krezy showed up. Having had electrical difficulties that prior Monday at the radio station, we decided to go back to the radio that day. Better late than never. We (me, Maxi, DJ Fada, and Mr. Niang- an amazing counterpart in Thilambol) went to the radio station to announce the event. We announced to the world that Coumba Demba will be leaving. I was able to inform everyone about the event and express my gratitude towards everyone who has taken me into their family, as their friend, under their wing; taught me everything from, how to eat, how to milk a cow, to how to predict sand storms.

The day of the fete was perfect. I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off, of course, but so was everyone else. They all really stepped it up, running to the neighbors to enlist more help with the cooking. My sisters made begniets and popcorn outside my room while my brothers took the sheep out back and slaughtered him, butchering him and bringing the meat to the group of mothers/neighbors/and friends who were working on the job of cooking the lunch. Alicia, my sitemate/sister/twin/best friend (pictured above) was my saving grace of the day as well, as she helped me keep my head on straight and even helped serve lunch! She was also the photographer.

2015-11-11 08.57.52
The kids took the charett (horse-drawn cart) to Mbolo Birane to get the chairs and another group arrived at the house to get the shade structure and set it up. Ropes were procured to make crowd barriers. The village bustled with excitement. (And this was all happening on a Thursday, not even a weekend). Guests arrived from Ndioum, Aire Lao, and neighboring villages and spent the day.

After the DELICIOUS meat-filled lunch, we began our procession to the school.  Guests began to arrive from as far as Boke Diawe, Thilogne.  Important people arrived from the mayor’s office.

The Eaux et foret (forestry officer) Abou Ly, pictured above, right, showed up, (among countless other important people). He was one of the people I have worked with in all of my agroforestry-related projects and is integral in much of our work here. I was honored that he came, as well as Madame l’mayor, Nafi Kane, who was even so kind as to bring me a gift of beautiful fabric!

Slowly, in ‘African time’, the music began to play and the village trickled in. After multiple suggestions and coaxing, I finally had to get decisive and say: “njehen! Puddorden joni joni!” Let’s go! We are starting right now! And it began!

I started it off with a speech to explain why I had brought everyone together on this day: “Today is for you. In these last two years, you have given me everything. I have gained a mother, a father, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, even children and grandparents. Today, I give to you in appreciation for all you have done for me and given to me and taught me. I arrived here as Dana: shy, unaware, unable to speak or tie my own head wrap. But today, I leave as Coumba Demba Thiam: strong, confident, and able to accomplish even the most difficult busumbura stitch in Senegalese needlepoint. Now I must leave so that I can return, successfully employed, so that I can make you all proud…”

When finished, I ducked inside the classroom to change into my next outfit, having promised myself that I wouldn’t get emotional in front of people. Speeches followed while I was in the classroom working to organize the people dressed in traditional wear and the theater performers. The speeches were an opportunity for everyone to talk about how they know me, our relationships, how we have worked together, reflecting on things I’ve done, things I’ve said, things I stand for, etc. Then we began the conference where Maxi Krezy spoke about women’s education and the importance of keeping girls in school, an issue of which I have dedicated much of my service towards, as many of you know after donating to my Michelle Sylvester Scholarships (THANK YOU). This is an issue that I had previously discussed with him, an issue of which I feel quite passionately. I knew, coming from him, it would hold that much more weight.

After many others had voiced their aggreance on the subject, it was time for the cultural display, or, thiossane (pronounced ‘cho san’) where all of us dressed in traditional wear paraded onto the stage.  I had not informed anyone of the fact that I would be participating in this core event. I insisted on coming out last. The reaction was unparalleled. The crowd lost it. Even Alicia and my guests had had no idea of my plan.



As we, the thiossane participants, danced to one Baaba Mal song after the other, my host mother Kadja broke through the crowd and danced towards me! I was beaming, and my joy was reflected on her face.

We danced for what seemed like hours, many people coming up and joining in to show their excitement and shared happiness.  Then came the theater performance.  I played the mother with two children who she hopes to enroll in elementary school that year.  Another family is in the same situation but decides, only after persistent begging, to enroll one child in school.  That child, due to pressures at home, drops out before taking her exams, and the family struggles to make ends meet.  Our children, however, succeed in their exams and get scholarships to study in America, showing how hard work and studying pays off.  Of course there are a lot of jokes (I play an illiterate woman with no idea what the words ‘surprise’ or ‘double-lined’ mean) and an obscene amount of scene changes.  It was all very funny.

Then for the rap!  Every aspiring rapper had a chance to take the stage.  Each was allowed one song.  The thing about rap in this country is that it didn’t really start to take hold until after American rap had been big for years.  American rap kind of tends to focus on topics such as sex, drugs, partying, drinking… you know what I mean.  The movement here, however, has had a chance to watch, from an outsider’s perspective, the effect that kind of music has on the youth of America and the kind of image it portrays for African Americans.  The rap and hip hop movement in Senegal (and I can see the trends expanding to many other African countries through popular music videos and songs passed around via bluetooth’ing) has taken a stand by using rap and hip hop for positive, developmental purposes.  This has been mobilized by those like Maxi Krezy and many of the other major musical artists and development agents.  Lyrics are now generally focused on topics of social mobilization towards development and aiming the energy of the youth towards building a better nation.  I never used to like rap and hip hop music, but since I have met Maxi Krezy and begun to listen to (and be able to understand) the lyrics of many of the local artists, I have found a new respect for the genre and for the musicians of this country as well.  Music has such a powerful influence over the youth of today.  It’s so inspiring to have musicians who really care about the culture of today and are working to improve the society of tomorrow, through youth and music.


About 7 local rappers performed their songs.  Then Maxi took the stage and did what he does best.  It was fantastic.  By the end of the night, the entire schoolyard was packed with people all the way to the walls.  People were arriving by charrett even after we had ended the show (we ended relatively early so as not to disturb those in the village) and many of the out-of-town guests spent the night at friends’ houses in the village.  It was an amazing day/night.  One of those moments that make you feel alive and remind you that all the difficulties getting to this point were all worth it.  No event is perfect, but from my view, this one was.  It was everything I could have asked for.  That goes for the entire two years I spent here.  My time spent in Mbolo Aly Sidy was perfect.  The ups and downs made it real.  This place and the people have changed my life forever and will forever be a part of it.



All Rapped Up in the Fouta

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