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“People no longer listen to hiphop, but now they see it.” This is how Emile Thiaw, a veteran of Senegal’s urban culture scene, explains the transformation the country’s rap scene is undergoing. Hand in hand with YouTube, the new generation of Senegalese rappers has unleashed a radical change. Musiba, the penultimate video of Dip Doundou Guiss, reached the two million views on the video platform in just nine days. In less than three months, King Baba, the song of Ngaaka Blindé, reached the three million views, or rather of listening because it was only an audio. The album Senegalboy from Samba Peuzzi got almost 15 million views in just over 100 days on the different platforms of streaming in which it is hosted. They are three of the golden boys of the new generation of Senegalese hip-hop who have taken over social networks and have consolidated a new way of spreading their music.
Behind many of these projects of musical landing in social networks is the hand and planning of Idy Sow, director of Rep’tyle Music, the hallmark of several of these media artists. “The public is increasingly oriented towards the services of streaming“Says Sow,” and it is a great asset for Senegalese artists to export their music and reach a wider audience. ” For this music entrepreneur, the new scenario increases the autonomy of creators “although not 100%” because record companies can also control digital exploitation, but in any case, it opens a new path. “Now they can distribute their music themselves and use social media to promote it.” The change of scheme is clear. “I cannot assure you that this new form of distribution will improve the conditions of the musicians, but considering that the physical sales system is practically dead, it is the only option”, comments Idy Sow.
Emile thiaw matches the traditional recording industry death diagnosis. Thiaw knows the Senegalese rap scene well. He is Secretary General of one of the most dynamic urban cultures promotion associations in the Dakar area, Dalifort Hip Hop; as well as representative of the group Fuk’n’Kuk and promoter of various initiatives in the cultural economy. “From the US to anywhere in Africa,” says Thiaw, “people are much closer to the streaming [retransmisión en directo] to downloads, through legal platforms. Consumption occurs from YouTube, not even through CDs or USB keys that are sold with music. Now the measure of success is how many downloads have been made to you on Deezer or how many millions of views you have had ”.
“These channels offer an opportunity to Senegalese artists”, Thiaw comments, “above all, to the new generation that dominates the digital environment and is making money through YouTube, it gives them more financial autonomy and allows them to position themselves, even in the international market ”. What for Thiaw is a way of “showing the world that there are young Senegalese who have the ability to make good music videos and that they have an audience, and even that they have the ability to get the money to finance their projects.” This is a situation evidenced during the pandemic: “The restrictions have forced the cancellation of concerts and meetings and artists have turned to YouTube or the digital environment, in general, to remember that they exist and to maintain their position in Senegalese music, but also to continue providing a cultural offer ”.
For his part, Keyti, one of the veteran Senegalese rappers who has not stopped exploring new formats, recognizes the change of scenery that this landing in the digital environment implies and interprets the role of social networks. “I think YouTube is helping to spread Senegalese cultural products, music, and in particular Senegalese rap, to a wider audience. But I don’t think it’s just a matter of this platform ”, warns this singer. “There is much more interaction between the artists and the public”, continues the rapper, “in other networks where users can speak directly with the musicians and these other networks allow us to capture and retain an audience. YouTube makes it possible to quantify, in a single place, the number of views of the videos, but there is very little chance of having a certain number of views, if the work of attracting and retaining the public is not done in other networks ”.
Actually, this new generation of Senegalese rappers has proven to move comfortably on the networks, a space that they have made their own without problems. The names mentioned at the beginning represent, perhaps, the greatest exponents of this phenomenon. Dip Doundou Guiss He is the champion of Instagram, with more than 1.3 million followers, one of the most followed accounts in the country; Samba Peuzzi exceeds 900,000; Y Ngaaka Blindé it has more than 625,000. Despite that broader digital activity, YouTube delivers the magic of music videos and provides the ultimate hook. “Right now, most of the videos are made by young Senegalese who do all the production. It is a generation that has been formed and is moving the audiovisual industry forward ”, comments Emile Thiaw.
The head of Rep’tyle Music, one of the labels with which some of the most successful video artists work, applauds the merit of these audiovisual producers. “It must be taken into account”, says Idy Sow, “that they do not have the necessary equipment for the best production and, nevertheless, we find in their productions a quality and creativity that can compete with those of developed countries”. “The fact that these videos are made exclusively by Senegalese contributes to the development of the local audiovisual sector,” says this cultural entrepreneur with satisfaction. While Keyti assures: “The success of Senegalese audiovisual products, be it music or other creative forms distributed on YouTube, is already boosting the sector and we see that many more young people are involved in audiovisual production, making clips, etc. . This has an impact on the cultural and audiovisual industry in Senegal ”.
Weeflag It is the artistic name behind which one of the members of that generation that is pushing audiovisual production hides. He is the director of music videos that accumulate million views on YouTube. “Senegal had a certain delay”, laments this creator, “with respect to other countries in Africa. The video was not privileged. The artists released songs and very rarely made videos, which also did not have much quality ”. However, now “there are new filmmakers who have arrived and have taken up the challenge,” says the director who looks to Nigeria, for example, “which was much more advanced, where they made high-quality videos and that gave the artists international reach. ”. Weeflag doesn’t hide a certain satisfaction: “I think that now, partly thanks to the filmmakers, the videos are much more anticipated. It’s strange for an artist to release a song without also releasing a video clip. The song will not make as much noise as the ones behind one of those videos that impact, that attract attention ”.
Senegalese hiphop has a long history of social and political engagement. Not only has it been the voice of neighborhoods and young people, but it has also functioned as a mobilization tool
This director regrets, in any case, that despite the evidence, some recognition is still lacking: “We video makers do everything we can, but it is difficult, because it is not very well paid either. Even if you have a big production company or if you are well known, it doesn’t pay too much, compared to the US or Europe. ” He acknowledges a certain bite among filmmakers: “Before there was no competition, people watched a video without wondering if there was a creator behind it. Now they begin to lend them and wonder who the director is, is it Weeflag or someone else? ” And he believes that these challenges are helping them improve. “The new generation of audiovisual creators are more creative and more technically competent, although the schools do not have enough level to teach us the trade and we have had to be self-taught to compete with the outside world. We are striving to learn new tools and to contribute things to our country, to be able to export Senegalese music and Senegalese talent, ”says Weeflag.
Industry does not displace commitment
Senegalese hiphop has a long history of social and political engagement. Not only has it been the voice of the neighborhoods and young people, but it has also functioned as a mobilization tool in the most critical moments of recent decades and as an instrument for community building to fight for better living conditions. Perhaps the new dynamics of the music industry convey a sense of greater commodification. “I think that at this moment there is a much more commercial vision,” says veteran Keyti, “but it is incompatible with commitment”. Emile Thiaw is even more forceful: “The change is cheaper. New generations have arrived that have shown that there is a mutation in the music industry and have adapted to detect what are the mechanisms to earn money.
But in Senegal hiphop has always been socially and politically compromised and continues to stand up ”. While Keyti assures that “the social commitment that existed in Senegalese rap a few years ago, should be able to be done today on social media such as YouTube, Tik Tok, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter because the public, the youth it is addressed to are very present on these platforms and you have to find them there ”. Thiaw remembers the mobilization of the hiphop scene against the covid-19 pandemic. More recently, in the wave of protests from #FreeSenegal, which was unleashed in the country in March to demand respect for democratic principles, most rappers made their contribution in the form of a song. Dip Doundou Guiss’s one reached a million views in one week.