November 3rd, 2014. Washington, DC. - Written by Kokayi
“It took me a while to write this. Due partially to life, the circumstances surrounding the exchange, and the impact received; it all left me in a very specific place in my personal development, and I needed a bit of time to process it all. I left DC for Senegal in June 2013, a full year ago.
The project was part of the DCCAH Sister Cities grant that I won with full support from my friends at Nomadic Wax and their connections within the continent and especially in Senegal. I looked forward to meeting with all of the musicians we were set to collaborate with but logistical delays cut the exchange much shorter then anticipated. As an emcee that adheres to the foundation of hip hop culture – innovation- I did just that. I innovated and improvised, leaving the stress behind me in DC and opening myself up completely to the project and experiences that awaited me.
Our team was made up of myself, NYC-based cinematographer Alfonso Bui, Italian emcee/producer/Dj Nio of the legendary Italian underground hip hop crew Zero Plastica, and our local fixer Daouda Fall. Upon landing in Dakar, the capitol city of Senegal, we settled in and met up with our hosts and local Senegalese team and partners. We went straight to work, post jet lag of course.
My primary mission was to bring and share the culture of DC, my home, with my Senegalese collaborators, and to learn from the Senegalese arts scene in turn. Having been exposed to the proliferation of Americanized hip hop in France in the late 90′s, I was particularly interested in the social affects that Hip hop culture, in all of its forms, was having on the Senegalese youth.
With help from Nomadic Wax, I had already developed a long term friendship and collaborative relationship with revolutionary Senegalese hip hop crew Keur Gui, who had spent time in Washington DC the previous year. In meeting with Thiat and Kilifeu from Keur Gui in DC, I had already been exposed to the political power that positive messaging had in current Senegalese scene. Now in Dakar on their turf, I re-linked with Keur Gui via my sponsoring organization Africulturban which was formed by Amadou Fall Ba. Africulturban is an amazing hip hop community center that also produces Senegal’s largest hip hop festival, Festa2HH.
Amadou works in coalition with the US State Department as well as the French Cultural Center, bringing international acts to expose them to the Senegalese scene. We were gonna be rocking Festa2HH, and it was exciting to see such a stellar lineup of international talent. But back to Keur Gui – they were scheduled to perform in Burkina Faso that week, so I only had a day to link with them. The hang was an eye opener to say the least.
President Obama was scheduled to be in Senegal during my stay and you could feel and experience the increase in security in the streets throughout Dakar. As we toured the city, Keur Gui gave me the insider’s guide to what was going on. They showed me how the streets never had as many police as there were at the time of night, we spoke of the infrastructure or rather the lack thereof in regard to municipal services, paved roads, etc that were being ignored from both the former and current governments.
Selective service improvements were the name of the game and often times those services were provided to “friends” and family of those in power.
I understood completely especially being from DC. Everywhere we went, I sought out the similarities between DC and Dakar, from the music scene, clubs, the frustrated youth, etc. It is all the same in some respects, c’est comme tous le monde.
I also linked with PPS, an up and coming turned famous emcee from Rufisque, at the bed and breakfast that was our team’s homebase. I first encountered PPS in DC as part of a State Department sponsored program that Magee, my Nomadic Wax partner, linked me with. As part of that program, PPS was excited to experience American hip hop culture in person and came away from that experienced inspired to continue to create his own voice and audience. He truly succeeded in doing so.
We stayed in touch, and it was amazing to reconnect in Dakar. Since I had last seen him in DC, he had already been featured on one of the most famous TV shows in Senegal, earned two music awards, and started his own hip hop based cultural center in his neigborhood of Rufisque.
Back at the B&B, we chopped it up, discussing the current musical landscape for someone like himself who though aware of the political climate, tends to concentrate on writing prolific verse to educate and stimulate the audience with life lessons. We set up the ill B&B studio, and created a track from scratch. The song is quite cinematic, lyrically exploring our experiences growing up in both Senegal and DC and how, in fact, both cities have similar backgrounds, from the social ills to the political landscape.
From there, our team travelled back to the Africulturban HQ in Pikine for an additional concert. Pikine is definitely not Dakar. It further exhibited the lack of infrastructure needed in addition provided a complete understanding as to why a cultural center was needed. Africulturban is a haven for the creative mind. You can learn a number of legal hustles; from management to stage production, just from your affiliation and proximity, as Amadou rarely lets anyone do nothing.
The concert was exceptional; given that when we arrived there was a stage only and little to no sound available for sound check as it was being built… literally built as we mingled about. However, in the truest spirit of innovation and ingenuity, the concert started and was dope. Once again I was exposed to emcees from all over the continent, from France, England, Belgium, all of whom rhymed in their own respective languages.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to my team members Zo, Nio, and Daouda. Zo ran the streets unassisted at several points, feeling truly comfortable enough to get the necessary footage for the film we were making. He DP’d and managed his shots and our limited amount of time like a true professional.
Nio, or rather DJ Nio, is to me the most gracious human being on the planet. Our language barrier did not limit our communication. He took everything in stride and provided his mic skills as well. I left feeling as if I had made a friend for life in Nio. And needless to say, without Daouda, we would have got nothing done. Many thanks to Ben and Magee of Nomadic Wax, without whom the project as a whole may not have been possible.
All in all, I have a longing for Dakar. It is truly a sister city to DC. I’ve always felt that things are far easier to see clearly when you let go of your preconceived ideas and put your trust and faith in the cathartic process of pure collaboration. Herein lies the magic, and magical it was”.
Watch the video HERE.
Listen to the mixtape HERE.
Photography by: Alfonso Bui
Cover by: Dj Nio