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
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before