People like to think that global society provides equal opportunity to all citizens of the world. People also like to give themselves a pat on the back for how far society has come in this fight, citing the end of slavery, the elimination of Jim Crow laws, and the defeat of other discriminatory regulations. As much as these individuals like to tell the story of liberation and democratization, they fail to grasp how far they still must come to their goal of ‘complete equality’. The disparity that results from the colonial legacy in Africa as a whole, and West Africa specifically has left deep scars of racial discrimination and inequality.
Since its birth in Senegal in the 1980s, hip-hop has been a tool for people to express their social and political views that are otherwise stifled. This legacy has continued through the beginning of the 21stcentury, with artists such as Sexion d’Assaut. Using its influence, engaging lyrics, and unapologetic swag, Sexion d’Assaut uses their platform as one of the most prominent hip-hop groups in the country to speak to the inequality that persists in the current day. With their song titled “Africain” on their platinum album L’Apogée, Sexion d’Assaut addresses one of the most frustrating stereotypes that not only the Senegalese face, but the larger African population as a whole.
Repetition of the phrase “je ne suis qu’un Africain,” or “I am only African,” is constant throughout the versus of the song. An individual who wants respect, who wants power, and who wants equality ends each phrase with “I am only African”. Being “only African” presents a barrier to their greatest aspirations.
While the lyrics commence with a pessimistic outlook for the future, the progression of the song parallels a progression of self-realization. Beginning with failed ambitions to “walk on the moon,” or even “have property,” the amelioration of consciousness to the feasibility of equality is inspiring, and speaks to the greater desire and movement for change in Senegal. It speaks to the realization of the value and respect that is deserved, and demonstrates the refusal to see themselves and Africa “on [their] knees anymore”.
While offering an optimistic mood as the song progresses, it is noteworthy that it closes with the repetition of “I wanted to walk on the moon but I’m only an African// Enjoy having property but I am only an African”. While progress towards equality has been made, these lyrics offer a stark reminder of how far there still is to go.
Listen to Africain by Sexion d’Assaut here.