Hip-hop gets serious

Sister Fa turned to music to protest at injustices towards women in her home country of Senegal. She explains to Matilda Egere-Cooper why she was born to be a rebel

Sister Fa remembers the time she returned home late from one of her early hip-hop shows in Senegal. She was living with her uncle, who, like many men in her culture, took a dim view of her chosen career path. "They called me the worst woman in the house who wouldn't do anything and would go outside and dress like a man," she frowns. "It was quite hard.

In Senegal, the woman's place is in the kitchen, to stay at home, to cook food, to wash clothes. Promoters don't take female rappers seriously because they don't want to invest in their careers. They say that after they're married they'll have children and just stay at home. Then the families - they always complain."

This whiff of sexism only helped to motivate the 27-year-old, who embodies the effortless sass of B-girl with revolutionary ambitions - and she admits that her decision to join hip-hop's mannish culture was a radical one. "I was born a rebel because there's so much injustice in my country," says the budding star, born Fatou Mandiang Diatta, and who now lives in Germany.



"I wanted to talk about the conditions of the women in Senegal - they work a lot and they suffer, just to give something to their children to eat. But no one was really interested in talking about these things. For me, hip-hop was the music I could use to complain and bring out all of this energy I had inside and to talk about all of these injustices so people can be aware of what's happening in this country. It was only hip-hop that I could use to educate and to talk about all of these problems."



The music on her debut Sarabah: Tales from the Flipside of Paradise is concerned with the Senegalese social experience,"I talk about the hard stuff I see everyday - no electricity, problems with the government". However, her music videos show she clearly loves a bit of hip-hop cliche - from the head bandannas (a nod to the US West Coast) to the oversized T-shirts which were all the rage in the 90s. And when she raps, the attractive star rocks a mean poker-face to rival Ice Cube's infamous mug.



However, it fits, especially when you consider she's tackling the weighty topics of female genital mutilation and arranged marriages in an album which embraces hip-hop's grass roots, but eschews the traditional trend of sampling and rhythmic verbosity for the occasional acoustic folk-singing.



But she fully expresses her love for the genre on the song "Hip-Hop Yaw La Fal", where her raw flow is coupled with traditional, native melodies. The title was inspired by a folk tale about a paradise where unhappy people go to hide. "I wanted to go to Sarabah after my mum died in 2001," she admits. "That was quite hard. I talk about her on the songs "Milyamba" and "Sarabah". Maybe Sarabah could be a refuge for all of these people who lose hope."



She's a lot less solemn off record, and overly apologetic about her English. But it's merely masked by a heavy accent, a reminder that most of her album is offered in Senegalese dialects and French. For a project being re-released for an international market to raise awareness, this could arguably be a major faux pas.



"People don't understand a lot of what I'm talking about in my songs," she agrees. "But the language barrier is not a big problem. When I was starting to write, it was for the people from my country. They talk the language I'm talking. The problem in Senegal is that we don't speak English at all."



Born in Dakar, Fa grew up in a middle-class household, which included her uncle, his two wives, and their many children. "There were at least 17 people living in the same house," she smiles. "Three or four of us would share the same room. But I liked my life in Senegal - whenever there was a problem, there was always someone who can help you. There were a lot of children around, so you would not get that much attention. But it helped you to become macho."



Hip-hop came to Senegal in 1982 and, as it soon became a movement for political expression amongst the youth, it caught the attention of Fa. "It was music that could reach young people who have something to say but don't have an opportunity to say it," she says. "For me, hip-hop is a bridge between the poor population and the world."



By the age of 18, she had decided to become a rapper and produced a demo, before being invited to perform at the Senegalese Hip-Hop Awards. In 2002, she became the subject of a documentary about the hip-hop scene in Senegal, and, in 2005, she released Sarabah and was named the best newcomer at the fifth Hip-Hop Awards ceremony that happened there.



A year later, she moved to Berlin to live with her husband, an Austrian ethnologist and documentary film-maker. However, she says, it was difficult crossing over to the German hip-hop scene. "I couldn't reach the same public as in Senegal. The kind of hip-hop I'm doing, they automatically put me in the World Music category because it's not like American hip-hop which uses strong beats and talks about money."



Had she ever considered Americanising her sound to fit in, as has been the option for many African hip-hop artists? "I think if you want a long career, you need to have your own style," she says, admitting she now plays with a live band rather than a DJ. "I like to show more African stuff in my music."



Last January, she organised a free tour in Senegal called Education Sans Mutilation, to raise awareness of female genital mutilation, supported by the Goethe Institute in Dakar.



While she's resigned to the fact that African female rappers are few and far between, she's happy that attitudes are changing. "Now the women have more of a place in society and people's minds have changed about hip-hop. They have started to see the positive stuff it is doing,"



'Sarabah: Tales from the Flipside of Paradise' is on Piranha Germany

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border