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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Senegal's Queen of Hip-Hop Speaks Against Injustice with Sarabah

Sister Fa is Senegal's Queen of hip-hop. But getting to the top wasn't an easy road - for a woman to break through in an almost exclusively male field within a male-dominated society, it was a long, hard journey. Struggle breeds compassion, and Sister Fa uses her international album debut "Sarabah - Tales from the Flipside of Paradise" to speak out against the injustices rampant in her native country. Warm, groovy and unmistakably African, her raps, in Wolof, Manding, Jola and French, roll elegantly over beats as well as traditional sounds (kora and djembe), delivering tracks far removed from rap clich├ęs, and more influenced by 80s Old School hip-hop than current Western forms of hip-hop. From the very beginning of her career, Sister Fa has dedicated herself to fight the wide-spread practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in her country: "It's an operation that can kill - I've seen dead babies with my own eyes. We need to fight against this practice at all costs and get rid of it forever. But it is quite a complex problem. It's a practice that has been around for some 3000 years - I myself am a victim." It is a major taboo for a Senegal woman to raise her voice against this tradition, one which usually only foreign celebrities openly condemn, but during her "Education without Mutilation" tour in 2008, funded by Germany's cultural institution, the Goethe Institute, Sister Fa took her fight to the front lines: the Senegal cities and villages where FGM is most firmly established, hoping to sensitize the population of her homeland. For Sister Fa hip-hop is about raising awareness and denouncing the wrongs of life: "When you're a musician, you're an ambassador - you are here to defend and help people, not just to make music for money." FGM isn't the only issue she addresses on "Sarabah": there is the real story of a young girl in an arranged marriage ("Bou Souba Si Ngone"), AIDS messages aimed at women ("Life Am"), songs dealing with the plight of Senegal soldiers ("Soldat") and the hard-working lives of women in Senegal's countryside ("Milyamba"). "Hip Hop Yaw La Fal" is about the power of hip-hop, while in "Selebou Yoon" Sister Fa argues that hip-hop is in harmony with Islam. The latter was featured on the "Many Lessons - Hip Hop Islam West Africa" compilation (Piranha Musik, 2008).