“How can you sleep?” was just one of the many jabs Senegalese rapper Eyewitness took at then president Abdoulaye Wade in his 2012 track “Message au President” or “Message to the President.”
One half of the Senegalese rap duo known as Wagëblë (Wolof for “from the ghetto”), Eyewitness and his counterpart Waterflow began their careers from the suburb of Thiraroye, a place where music and storytelling offer youth an escape from the harsh realities of everyday life in an impoverished community. Wagëblë has embraced this notion and it comes as no surprise that the group is locally and internationally known for representing the youth of their community and bringing light to some of Senegal’s most pressing social, political, and economic issues. While absent the lyrical contributions of Waterflow, Eyewitness’s solo venture on “Message au President” does not disappoint in its commentary on the problems facing contemporary Senegalese society.
Written at a time when popular support for President Wade was at an all time low and the desire to enact social and political change was at an all time high, Eyewitness explores the tragic depth of his nation’s issues with biting disdain for the inaction and corruption of his government. Offering example after example of the failures of the administration, Eyewitness speaks thoughtfully yet passionately about the poor condition of health, the pervasive issue of child begging, the suffering of women, and the migration crisis, just to name a few. His intelligent comparison of the average Senegalese citizen to the president displays the gross and undeniable disparity between the administration and the people it governs, and therefore Eyewitness rightfully accuses President Wade of using the powers of the presidency to effectively rule as a dictator.
Clearly breaking from dry activism, Eyewitness achieves a much more emotional approach to political dissent in his questioning of the President’s morality. “When you look in the mirror, are you proud of yourself?” he asks in one line, “What are you thinking when you look in the faces of the women and children who are suffering?” he asks in another. In this way Eyewitness accomplishes a masterfully delivered verbal denunciation of the president and his administration, and as a result the voice of Thiraroye’s disenfranchised youth made his contribution in the historical and symbolic defeat of President Wade in 2012.
Here’s the video:
Here’s another of Eyewitness and Waterflow as Wagëblë performing at my home institution of the George Washington University:
(This writer is just a little jealous of the students in the video.)