Excuse my Wolof

My last article discussed Youssoupha’s album NGRTD. While reading the lyrics of his song entourage, I realized Youssoupha discussed many of the same themes MC Solaar touches on in his early albums produced some 20 years ago. While you could write a novel on the thematic similarities of African hip hop produced two decades apart, there was one distinguishing factor of Youssoupha’s newer music that, hopefully, is indicative of improvements in African communities at home and abroad: the in-your-face nature of NGRTD across a top-5 album in the French music charts.

Another Senegalese artist is pioneering the industry in a similar fashion. Meet Nix, the Dakar native who unapologetically touts his country’s native language in his 2015 album, “EMW – Excuse my Wolof”.

While not a new face in Senegal’s rap scene, EMW was a step into the unknown for the well-established Dakar rapper. The vast majority of Nix’s previous work was done in French. This is far from uncommon for Senegalese rappers. The country existed as a French colony for over 300 years before finally gaining independence in 1960. French governance and colonial remnants, namely the Francais autre mere policies, keep the French language as an integral part of Senegalese society. While providing opportunities for the country’s wealthy youth population segments to pursue their education in France, the policies have simultaneously  restrained Wolof from gaining traction in mainstream Senegalese hip hop.

Wolof is a Senegambian language spoken by 80 percent of Senegal’s population; of which, over 40 percent use Wolof as their primary language at home. The language carries weight with Senegalese populations abroad, and can be haphazardly understood by certain Creole dialects in the Western Hemisphere. Despite the wide audience, the French language’s position as Senegal’s official language and taboo nature of Wolof rap have marginalized the language’s use in hip hop.

Nix set out to change this precedent. In the music video for the song “Boca”, rotating images of Senegalese men and women’s lips appear doing different actions as Wolof rap bumps in the background. The images range from familiar to absurd. Some are smoking cigarettes, some feature teeth with golds, while others show a tongue wrapped in aluminum foil.

Perhaps learning Wolof might explain to me why one image is of a woman eating a butterfly. Regardless, Nix takes Wolof mainstream and challenges systemic linguistic marginalization in the post-colonial world. That is something we can all understand.

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