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Mauritanian Rappers Fight Against Clandestine Migration

Thousands of youths line up in Mauritania's poorest neighborhoods to see the mostly underground concerts of a homegrown rap group. Diam Men Teky does not win many fans in the government for their songs about corruption and neglect. A phenomenon for 15 years, the young rappers have a new cause: fighting clandestine migration.

Phuong Tran met with the rappers in Nouakchott, Mauritania and has this report for VOA.

They rap in their native ethnic Pulaar language about police taking bribes, a government that has forgotten its youths, and recently, about clandestine migration.

Local officials deny harassing the group. But the rappers say police still shut down their concerts and raid music stalls that sell their latest CD -- called "Gongoo," which means "truth" in Pulaar. The group's leader Mar Ba says the three musicians are still reaching fans. "We will stop performing when there is no longer anything to denounce. But until then, we will keep speaking out. "

They live, work and perform in the roughest neighborhoods in the country. They shun concert halls for youth community centers and backyards like their own. These places have no electricity. Water deliveries by donkey carts are infrequent. Jobs are scarce.

The rappers saw their crowds thin out last year as men began leaving Mauritania illegally on boats, headed for Spain. The rappers fought back. They recruited concertgoers for a video about clandestine migration, a topic touching more and more African youth.

Unemployed fans volunteered to be in the video, which tells a story about friends who disagree on whether or not to risk the trip.

Rapper Mar tries to convince his friend Lamine not to make the 1,000 kilometer sea crossing in a used fishing boat. Ba asks his friend how he can make the deadly trip as a Muslim, since suicide is considered a sin in the Koran.

Lamine answers that Ba does not know his life. He raps about his shame of not providing for his family and not being able to marry. The group's third rapper, Ousmane, advises Lamine to accept God's will rather than give his money to Mafia-like boat organizers who profit from misery.

The video ends with a plea to parents to not compare their children to others who have more money, which shames them into making a deadly journey to defend family honor.

"Concertgoers really like our song and are touched by it, but they are still leaving for Europe because life is so hard here," says Mar Ba.

But even if they just touch one person, they say their song will have been a success.