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Guinea's Rappers Offer Voice of Dissent

  • Nico Colombant
  • Pauline Bax

In the West African nation, Guinea, which some economists fear could collapse amid bad governance, the musical style of rapping offers the only voice of popular dissent.

Music heard from the Guinean rap album called "Son Galanyi." One fan, purchasing the tape at a market stall, explains the meaning of the album's title.

"It means a sound of thunder, sound of thunder," he said. "That's why I like it, it's just about the struggle that is going on in the country. There is no job for the boys, for the youths. People are struggling. That's why I like it."

A market vendor fumbles through the many rap tapes he is selling. He is all out of Son Galanyi, because the album is so popular.

He refuses to be interviewed. Many Guineans, including opposition leaders, shy away from directly discussing anything critical of President Lansana Conte.

The former soldier has been in power since a coup in 1984. Recently, there has been growing unemployment, elections tainted by cheating, rumors of coup plots and riots against rising prices of rice.

The rappers behind Son Galanyi discuss all these problems.

Using a mixture of French, Soussou, Malinke and Fulani, they openly denounce what they view as Mr. Conte's misrule.

Another fan, a security guard refuses to be identified, but agrees to talk in French about why he likes the music.

He says the rappers understand the suffering of the common man. He says most people are afraid to criticize, so the rappers do it for them. He says they speak the truth.

On a beachfront of Conakry, with the sound of waves and traffic as backdrop, amateur rappers, inspired by the Son Galanyi album, gather for an impromptu freestyle session.

They sing "Mr. President wake up, because your people are being abandoned like stray dogs." They say shameful intellectuals are being manipulated, electricity no longer works, water does not run, girls are becoming prostitutes and schools are decaying. All they have to pass time, it seems, are their angry words.

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