HHAP Episode 22: Thiat of Keur Gui on Hip Hop and Activism Beyond Senegal

In a time when hip hop culture has been under heavy criticism for the lack of political content in commercial hip hop, Keur Gui reminds us of what hip hop culture is capable of, in terms of both social commentary and political action. As founding members of the social and political movement Y’en A Marre (Enough is Enough), Keur Gui has provided heavy social commentary in their music for over 20 years. Coming out of Senegal, which is perhaps one of the most political hip hop scenes in the world, Keur Gui has used hip hop culture to engage with their audiences and to confront the state. Y’en A Marre is one of the only social movements deeply rooted in hip hop culture to effect political change. In Senegal, Y’en A Marre was involvement in mass mobilization campaigns, helped register voters, engaged in social protest, and promoted an ideology known as New Type of Senegalese (NTS). The idea behind NTS is that calls for social change go beyond requests for government action, but also rests in responsible citizenship. While the people may call for government-led development, the people also need to take responsibility for their contributions to environmental and social problems.Y’en A Marre is an ongoing movement, which has focused on Senegalese helping Senegalese. One of the projects Keur Gui is currently working on is a fundraiser to build a recording studio in their hometown Kaolack. The fundraiser can be found at http://projects.keurgui.net.
Follow Up with Keur Gui
Facebook: /KEUR-GUI-53925096450/
SoundCloud: /keurguicrewofficiel
Keur Gui on iTunes: /keur-gui/275586170
In this interview we speak with Thiat, one of the MCs in Keur Gui. Thiat discusses Keur Gui’s involvement in Y’en A Marre, the spread of the movement outside of Senegal, revised perspectives on Pan Africanism, the role of MCs in civil society, and more.
Episode Breakdown
6:33: “Nothing to Prove”, f/Kokayi (https://twitter.com/kokayi)
9:50: History of Keur Gui & their involvement in politics
20:49: Hip hop in Senegal
23:46: The rise of Y’en a Marre
27:57: New Type of Senegalese (NTS)
31:10: The spread of activism outside of Senegal
36:28: A new type of Pan Africanism
41:22: Hip Hop in East Africa
43:33: MCs as politicians and MCs as part of civil society
45:13: Upcoming music projects
47:28: Their fundraiser for the Kaolack studio
49:43: “Marginaux”
Scholarship on Y’en A Marre and Keur Gui
Berktay, Aligul. (2014). Pikine’s Hip Hop Youth Say “Enough is Enough” and Pave the Way for Continuous Social Change. Hip Hop and Social Change in Africa: Ni Wakati.
Fredericks, Rosalind. (2014). “The old man is dead”: hip hop and the arts of citizenship of Senegalese youth. Antipode, 46(1), 130-148.
Gueye, Marame. (2013). Urban guerrilla poetry: The movement Y’en a Marre and the socio-political influences of hip hop in Senegal. Journal of Pan African Studies, 8 (3), 22-42.
Lo, Sheba. (2014). Building our nation: Hip hop artists as agents of social and political change. Hip Hop and Social Change in Africa: Ni Wakati.
Prause, Lousia. (2013). Mit Rap zur Revolte: Die Bewegung Y’en a marre. Prokla, 43(1), 23-41.
Senghor, Fatou Kande. (2015). Wala Bok: Une histoire orale du hip hop au Senegal. Amalion Publishing.

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Senegalese and Ghanaian Hip Hop Artists

Keur Gui Senegal and Kokayi “Nothing to Prove” is an example of the social reform in Senegal, and how Hip Hop artists used their platforms to bring attention to this reform. In the first verse of the song he says ” Straight out the ghetto, our raps are nor for the sons of the upper class instead we spit medicine for those in real need. I think that this verse speaks directly to this theme of social reform, and specifies a group of people that they are hoping to resonate with. In terms of the visuals I think that the video is an example of “Doing it for the culture” which to me means putting on for where your from. Rather than an overly commercialized video with fancy clothes, and cars, and women it is kept simple and features them in all Black can represent strength, and solidarity as well as what looks to be excerpts from a concert, or some type of celebration that bought everyone together. The lack of extreme commercialization speaks to the authenticity of the message and the video combined, as well as the authenticity of hip hop in Senegal which may have been inspired by the progression of social reform their. The delivery was very raw, and the beat was simple so it did not drown out the actual lyrics. The fact that they are rapping in their native language also speaks to the idea of “doing it for the culture” and developing in your craft while staying true to your culture.

Keur Gui

I was first introduced to Keur Gui in Chapter two of Dr. Clark’s book, Hip Hop and Social Change in Africa: Ni Wakati. Dr. Clark discussed the youth-led protest movement, Y’en a Marre, which was spearheaded by hip hop artists journalists, and other civic organizations whose mission was to register young people to vote and oppose the reelection of president Wade. Keur Gui, a Hip Hop duo, helped lead the resistance campaign. To the government, their music epitomizes rebellion. To the people, their lyrics are an urgent battle cry for freedom.

“Diogoufi,” a  Keur Gui single, challenges the assertion that economic progress has been made in Senegal since the election of its new president. Translated from Wolof, Diogoufi means “nothing has changed.” It is a sober portrayal of poverty and oppression.

The music video opens with a scene from a local market. The falling cords of a somber piano is heard in the background. A member of Keur Gui is seen in front of the store, passionately reading the news paper, and narrating in a French/Wolof blend. He begins by saying, “Même chat yi, Même chien yi. . .Même promesse électorale” which, from French, translates to: “Same cats, same dogs. . . Same electoral promises.” I don’t understand the rest of what was said (I also couldn’t find an English translation of the lyrics). However, by examining how the the music video utilized cut scenes from a village, the market place, and the Keur Gui member reading the news paper, I can assume the narrator is listing the broken promises made to the people by their government. At 1:30 the narration stops and another man sings the chorus Wolof which was briefly interrupted by a rap.

As structure, cadence, tone, melody, and rhyme-scheme is concerned, this song appears to stretch our understanding of Hip Hop. Most of Diogoufi is dialogue and melody. However, it still carries certain elements of Hip Hop culture which was masterfully blended with Wolof.

I wish I spoke Wolof and French so that I could understand what appears to be a powerfully crafted message. Diogoufi is a work of art. The singing is beautiful and the message seems poignant and timely.



Rebel Music

Rebel Music is described as music used by the youth activist  in Senegal to express their feeling and views on society, mostly politically. The beginning of “Rebel Music” was in the late 1980s when their economy collapsed and when the government invalidated the 1988 school year, due to the youths’ protest of the government officials tasked with making sure stuff like this doesn’t happen. After all of this the youth found their voice though Hip-Hop. From there on Rebel Music would grow more then those students in the late 1980s ever expected.After listening to a couple of “Rebel Music” songs and watching the music videos one in particular stood out the most to me,”Nothing to prove” by Keur Gui. Keur Gui is a hip hop group that was formed in 1996 in the middle of a student strike in Senegal. Most of the song was in their native Language but the chorus was in english but the video did have subtitles. The video started off with footage of a Keur Gui concert then when the rappers were actually rapping the camera would be a close up on the artist, but though out the music video they would go back and forward to the concert and the artist. The style of the video was very familiar to me, or pretty much anyone else who’s seen a Hip Hop music video in the past ten years. I like the way they incorporated both a concert vibe and a in your face personal type vibe  in one video. The concert scenes  showed the large fan base and all the love their fans have for them. In both scenes you could see the passion in the artist whether it was in the concert scene, when the crowd is going crazy and they’re moving around with high energy on the stage or in the close ups when they seemed to be very close to the camera talking with their hands. I think that the overall message of the sing was that their gout has been there for the people, they been was trying to change things in there country and they have nothing to prove about there loyalty to them.Because of musical groups like Keur Gui the peoples’ voices have been heard and of changes have been made for the bettering of the country.


Keur Gui “Nothing to Prove’

Trinity Hip Hop Festival

Las Krudas
Las Krudas

Images taken during performances at the Trinity International Hip Hop Festival 2013. The festival was held in April and the images includes photos of Cuban hip hop group Las Krudas, Kenyan emcee Kama of Kalamashaka, Senegalese hip hop group KEUR-GUI, and Dead Prez.


Conscious Senegalese rap is not dead

Under President Wade, the political and economical situation has continued to deteriorate in Senegal for the past ten years. While many have suffered under the rule, rappers, Thiat and Kilifeu from the central Senegalese town of Kaolack stood up and denounced acts of corruption and served jail time as a result. Now they are back with a gem of a video, directed by Senegalese new school crew Gelongal, the video “Coup 2 Gueule” (Let’s act on our Words). The video becomes even more relevant in the current state of crisis.