Beats, rhymes and elections: Rap and politics in Senegal

Those who followed the campaigns leading up to Senegal‘s presidential election late last month would have been struck by one of the defining features of Senegalese politics – hip-hop artists and the pivotal roles they can play in elections.

A major reason for that: demographics. The average age of citizens there is exceptionally low – just 19. Rappers were among the founders of the country’s largest social movement, credited with swaying the previous election back in 2012. This year, all the leading candidates hit the campaign trail with at least one rapper in their corner.

The influence of Senegalese rappers in West Africa and beyond has been pretty extraordinary; one of the most interesting political phenomena I’ve seen. They were actually able to foment popular movements in multiple West African countries. And so hip-hop artists have really sort of recognised that they can play this role in mobilising the youth. It is a tremendous credit to … the activism of Senegalese rappers in particular.

Zachariah Mampilly, Professor of Political Science, Vassar College

“Many young people turn to hip-hop artists as being kind of the voice of the streets and providing them [with] a way to think about politics. Especially in the most recent presidential election, the use of rappers was a remarkably cynical attempt by these politicians to gain popularity with youth,” says Zachariah Mampilly, professor of Political Science at Vassar College.

But the power of hip-hop as a gateway to Senegal’s youth goes beyond politics.

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