Senegalese hip-hop has historically been on the front line of the civil society of the country’s political struggle against government corruption and repression. These artists have the capability to mobilize masses of people into action and to become icons for political movements; they are a key piece of the cultural landscape of Dakar, and of Senegal as a whole.
The hip-hop artist Matador, from the Dakar banlieue of Thiaroye, is one of the most famous MCs to emerge from the local scene into international fame. His first album, Def Ci Yaw, was produced in 1998 and was a deft critique of Abdou Diouf’s government and its corrupt practices. Using both French and Wolof, the album gave a voice to the young people of Matador’s hometown of Thiaroye, who struggled (and still struggle) with a lack of economic opportunity and a government which could not or would not respond to their needs and demands. Matador’s newest album, Vox Populi (La Voix du Peuple), released in 2012, continues this trend, with nods to a more positive future in songs like “United,” performed in English and Wolof; the hook “United, we should be / stronger, we will be / it’s more than a dream now / we can make it together / reach for the better / we don’t have to suffer,” is, in essence, hopeful for the future of Africa, and for Africans. He does not simply criticize the establishment, but calls for the people to rise up and unite — a call to action.
Matador’s group, Wa BMG 44, shares his politics. The name of the group itself references a watershed moment in Senegalese history, when the French colonial military massacred a group of 44 heroic Senegalese tirailleurs for striking for the wages they were owed after their service in World War 2. This group has collaborated on many of Matador’s songs through the years.
In essence Matador is a towering figure in the Senegalese hip-hop scene — not only has he effectively contributed to the social consciousness of the people of his country, but he has paved a way into the international scene for other young artists. Today, in addition to making music, he is active in the Plan International NGO and the Brussels-based Observatory for Migration.