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'Democracy in Dakar' Film Shows Power of Hip-Hop Among Senegalese Youth


A film on the role of hip-hop in shaping the political discourse in Senegal is getting rave reviews. The documentary Democracy in Dakar is the brainchild of filmmaker and producer Ben Herson, who visited Senegal’s capital, Dakar, in 2003.

Herson first got interested in Senegalese music a couple of years ago, when he was working on his university thesis about Senegalese music. He was amazed at the vibrant music scene in Dakar, given the small resources and financial rewards available to young musicians there. He says he was intrigued by their passion and devotion to music and decided to expand his project into a full-length movie. Herson’s next visit came during Senegal’s presidential election campaign held earlier this year. He witnessed the power of young, politically conscious rappers – and the enthusiasm of their fans.

Democracy in Dakar shows the influence that hip-hop music has among young Senegalese. Herson says it’s a tool that has been used by the youth to voice their frustration with the political establishment. The documentary features rising stars in the Senegalese entertainment industry and plenty of unknown MCs, whose storytelling abilities are much like those of the traditional Senegalese griots.

“The young rappers perform traditional Senegalese rap songs “that tell stories about society, much like ancient griots narrated the lives of ancient societies,” he said.

Young Senegalese musicians, like those in other parts of Africa, have fused traditional music and messages with western styles popular among their fans. Young film director McGee Mcilvan says he saw more than a than a dozen Senegalese rap groups in Dakar which have created unique and distinct sounds.

Many tracks on the video feature what the Senegalese call "ego tripping," a mode of hip-hop that includes bragging. The movie also sheds light on the personalities of the rappers and their inspirations.

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