After months of electoral tumult, former Senegalese Prime Minister Macky Sall now holds the office of the President. The 50-year-old veteran politician defeated two-term-seeking-third-term incumbent Abdoulaye Wade — in no small part thanks the most vocal of the country’s protesters: musicians.
“We are the ones who started the movement,” Senegalese rapper Malal Talla stated matter-of-factly to the New York Times last September. Known in the music world as Fou Malade, Talla is one of many singers who wasn’t afraid to tell it like it is. Forget long-winded political rhetoric — Senegal’s singers, like many who rose to prominence during the Arab Spring, don’t beat around the bush: “Those with knowledge or wealth have the responsibility to help and share with others,” Talla’s colleague Keyti rapped from the streets of Dakar. “Invest in youth. Employ them. Give them their pride and dignity back. Otherwise, this country is going to hell.”
Another rapper, Thiat, and his group Keur Gui Crew, echoed Keyti’s ultimatum in “Coup 2 Geule,” a 2010 song that saw second life during the election season. “We are the victims of the crisis and true discrimination,” the translation from a mixture of Wolof and French reads. “I am fed up.”
Their stinging lyrics may not be diplomatic, but musicians became quite a force on the political scene. The refrain — against rising unemployment, increasing poverty, lack of opportunity, and disparity of wealth — became the foundation of the Y’En A Marre campaign, a youth movement aptly titled “fed up.” Led by none other than the country’s biggest new music stars, Y’En A Marre galvanized the youth vote — a massive demographic in a country where the median age is only 18.
“It’s not participating in politics; it’s just writing songs and talking about reality,” singer Baaba Maal told BBC Africa’s Hassan Arouni in a recent interview. But the reality in a Senegal is a politicized one, and when Y’En A Marre threw its collective support behind Sall, it became clear that Wade’s days were numbered.
When Wade finally conceded defeat, voters gathered in the capital’s iconic Obelisque Square to celebrate at what was once the ground zero of protests. Leaders of Y’En A Marre crowded the stage to declare their victory. A tweet from @Moi_Sidy sums up the scene: “Instead of saying ‘we’ve had enough’ the Senegalese people are saying ‘we want it.’”
— Sidy ℳ (@Moi_Sidy) March 26, 2012
And these musicians aren’t going anywhere. “This happened in the past in the times of the griots,” Maal explains. “There is a new generation of musicians speaking in their languages, being more involved in the future of the continent.” These new “pray singers, storytellers and educators” will continue to do what they do best: amplifying the people’s voice and holding leaders accountable.
Now it’s Sall’s turn. Here’s to hoping he’s listening to what they have to say.