Who is Astou Gaye, and how did she set the contemporary precedent for aspiring female rappers in the banlieus surrounding Dakar?
Better known by her stage name Toussa Senerap, Astou began her career calling out a highly-patriarchal Senegalese culture that withholds respect for women in both marriage and the hip-hop industry. There is no questioning Astou’s commitment to overturning society’s status-quo: her first experience with rap was in 50 Cent’s international banger, “In da Club” – a testament to selling drugs and pimping women that Astou transformed into a struggle for women’s emancipation.
Sporting her seemingly go-to Ray Bans in every video and interview, Astou goes against the patriarchal grain while paying homage to Senegal’s griot tradition and characteristics of west-African linguistic methods of communication. The reverence for tradition is seen Astou’s music video for her song Stay in the Game. The video opens with a close-up of Astou making a Velar Click synchronized with the beat. The sound becomes the main harmony line throughout the song. A Velar Click is a linguistic articulation unique to the Wolof language and a few other local languages in West Africa, and is distinct from the more commonly-known Khoisan clicks of South Africa. More information can be found here.
Since her rise to popularity in the Dakar metropolitan area, Astou completed Senegalese nationwide tours and a tour on the eastern United States. Making it to American stages is an accomplishment for any Senegalese rapper, as most American rap fans would be hard-pressed identifying Senegal’s golden boy of hip hop, MC Solaar. Perhaps Astou’s most progressive activities are her all female hip hop collective GOTAL and her record label RockTeam Musik. Astou uses these outlets to not only create opportunities for aspiring female Senegalese rappers, but as a tool to use hip hop as an outlet for youth in the banlieues around Dakar. Her label brought publicity and exposure to artists like Yaya Boye and Cherifou & Job Sa Brain.
“Toussa” means everything. A better English translation would be “all-inclusive.” To that end, Astou is changing Senegalese hip hop at its core.