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Mauritania Rappers Fight Against Clandestine Migration

Mauritanian rap group, Diam Men Teky, has been rapping in Mauritania's poorest neighborhoods for 15 years. Their songs about state corruption and neglect have not won them many fans in the government, but thousands of youths continue to line up for the mostly underground concerts. These three young rappers now 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, about a government that has forgotten its youths, and recently, about clandestine migration.

The rappers say local police still try to shut down their concerts and raid music vendors selling their latest CD, called Gongoo, which means "truth" in Pulaar.

Local officials deny harassing the group.

Mar Ba, the group's leader, says despite the many problems faced during the 15 years the group has been performing music, it is still trying to get its rap songs to its fans.

He says the group will stop performing when there is no longer anything to denounce. But until then, he adds, they will keep speaking out.

They live, work and perform in the roughest neighborhoods in the country, shunning grand concert halls for youth community centers and backyards like their own.

Places with no electricity, where water deliveries by donkey carts are infrequent, and jobs are few.

The rappers say their concerts thinned out last year as the mostly male crowd started leaving on illegal boat trips to Spain.

The rappers fought back. They recruited concert-goers to star in a video about a topic touching more and more African youth - clandestine migration.

Unemployed men volunteered to be in the rappers' video about the reasons youth sold jewelry and everything their family could spare to buy a space on a boat destined for Europe.

In the video for the song Clandestine Migration, rapper Ba tries to convince his fellow rapper, Lamine, to not make the deadly 1000-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 according to the Koran.

His friend replies that Ba does not understand his situation. Pointing to a broken down shack, the friend sings he cannot provide for his family and cannot even think about marriage at 25.

The group's third rapper, Ousmane, jumps in, telling Lamine that he must accept God's will rather than give his money to Mafia-like boat organizers who profit from his misery.

Anti-trafficking officials say it is mostly organized crime networks that purchase the boats, often used fishing canoes. A space on the boat can cost up to $3,000.

The song has caught on at concerts. The fans sing along, swaying their hands in the air at the all-too familiar song topic.

The rappers say they hope people in the crowd do more than sing along. They hope people really listen to the message.

Even if it is just one person, the rap group says, it believes its song will have been a success.

The rappers end the song with a plea to parents not to compare their children to those with more money, which they say forces their children to risk their lives to defend family honor.

Officials in the Spanish Canary Islands, a popular destination for West Africa's illegal migrants, reported about 30,000 mostly male youths reaching their shores last year; 12,000 were caught and returned to Africa.

Officials are unclear how many died during the rocky Atlantic crossing.

Mauritania's fishing town, Nouadhibou, has become a popular departure port for West Africans hoping to migrate.

Officials with the International Office for Migration say more Mauritanians are joining the West African migrants leaving from their shore, turning the country into a growing source of illegal migration.