Whiskey, fast cars, underground rap, and battling MCs versus a moralizing ‘conscious rap’ group and the rage of the state: Mali’s youth music scene erupted into a full moral panic in recent weeks, after one rap crew denounced the rest of Bamako’s rappers as a cesspool of moral corruption. In the West, Mali is known for Blues-infused traditional melodies, but on the streets of Bamako, it is Tupac vs. Biggie, violence and all.
The group Sofas of the Republic on Monday organized a press conference to denounce the depraved excesses of Malian rap. The conference at the Bamako youth center brought together representatives of the state, the judiciary, and religious leaders. Its triple objective, according to the spokesman for the Sofas, Mohammed Bathily, who calls himself Ras Bath: enlighten the public on the atmosphere of moral deviance among Malian rappers, call on various actors to respond quickly to this growing social ill, and finally, to sign and deliver a written demand that these criminal practices cease.
There was a time when things were different: think back to Tata Pound on the stage during the inauguration of President Amadou Toumani Toure. A crowning moment for these young people after their work in raising awareness among youth. But less than ten years later, Malian rap has fallen far indeed; very few are still making a positive contribution these days. Prison is what most of them deserve, for their public behavior and for their dangerous influence over their fans.
Gaspi’s Ke Wale (‘The Victorious’). Bamako’s emcees rap in Bambara, mixed with a little French and the occasional English ‘motherfucker’
The knife attack on Sniper last week was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Sofas. “How have we gotten to the point that we’ve got groups of rappers going into each others’ houses with knives and machetes, to do murder?” asks Ras Bath. “And all of this over songs?” The rapper says it is high time that the public at large finds out what is going on in the country’s homes, schools and streets, and above all in Mali’s rap concerts.
Threats, physical aggression, insults, abuse of drugs and alcohol, incitement to hatred, satanic chants: the distressing state of affairs among those whom the grand majority of Malian youth look up to these days. “Something has to be done, or our youth are headed for ruin,” says the Sofa emcee. “We are fighting to reconquer Kidal [northern desert town in hands of rebels]right now, and these are kids who would have sold it to pay for alcohol.”
The state has to take the bull by the horns: first by banning anyone who has committed a criminal offense performing in concert halls and stadiums. And we know who they are. Ras Bath can list the names: Gaspi, Tal-B, Sidiki Diabate, Sniper, Iba One. He calls on the public to denounce anyone else who behaves like the five rappers he calls out, who go around “insulting their mothers, promoting the consumption of drugs and alcohol, encouraging their fans to indulge in dangerous religious practices.” And all of this happily on display in their music videos.
A playful rap battle video featuring Sniper. Some of Sniper’s more serious insults led to his stabbing last month.
One of the problems with this whole issue is that the audio and video recordings in question are distributed underground, via mobile phone or CD, completely out of the control of parents and authorities.”We are doing this so that nobody can say they were not aware of what is going on,” says Ras Bath. “We want them to know what is going on with their children.
Among attendees at the conference, there was stupefaction and an outcry at the depths to which the phenomenon goes. “I could not even have imagined this,” groaned the deputy vice president of the National Assembly, Amadou Thiam, after watching a recording of the most recent concert by Gaspi, in which the rapper promoted a particular brand of beer which is reputed to be highly alcoholic and even dangerous to young people. Another video showed him smoking marijuana in front of a platter filled with drugs. Other excerpts showing the rapper using insulting language were also shown. “And these are people whom our youth look up to,” Ras Bath lamented. “We have really fallen far. Our children cannot even learn geography, but they can chant, word for word, a rhyme of a rapper insulting his friend’s mother.”
Malian rappers like to film what they call ‘Interviews,’ in which they and their crews sit around exchanging jokes, gossip and insults. Here, Sniper and his friends end an interview by engaging in a mocking group prayer session, an image which would not endear them to the country’s religious figures, or the virtuous Sofas de la Republique.
Officials at the conference representing the police, gendarmes and judiciary promised that measures would be taken. But the Sofas undertook to make the first move, hoping to force the authorities to take concrete action. They distributed a petition in the hall, calling on all present to sign it before April 1st. At that point, they said it will be deposited alongside an official complaint with the judicial authorities. “In France,” he said, “the Ministry of the Interior took the lead in dealing with the racist outbursts of the comic, Dieudonne. But here, the state still needs to carry out its responsibilities to protect our young people. They are vulnerable, and those whom they look up to are bringing them to ruin.” He points out that the Malian penal code bans the use of alcohol or drugs in stadiums and music halls, along with hate speech during public performances; infractions are punishable by two years in prison and a fine of 200,000 CFA francs [$420]. A penalty which has not been carried out in five years. The Sofas, he said, hope that their appeal will be heard, because “this is a battle we all must fight, since it concerns all of us.”
HIP HOP HISTORY IN FAST-FORWARD: FROM CONSCIOUS RAP TO MOTHER’S RUINED MODESTY IN SEVEN YEARS OR LESS
In this prescient and absorbing blog post from earlier in the year, Malian writer Boubacar Sangare laid out the history of rap in Mali, and suggested that the crude violence of recent battle rap battles was offending public morals.
It is March, 2006. The rap trio Tata Pound-Ramses, Dixon and Djo Dama-are getting ready to launch their new opus, “La Revolution“. But the album’s first single “Monsieur Le Maire“[‘Mister Mayor’] is already a hit on the streets of Bamako, in spite of being suppressed by the censor and banned on state radio. It is a troublesome track, and on it the trio unabashedly denounce the greed of politicians who, the moment they take office, start illegally selling off state land and throwing their worthless promises to voters onto the rubbish pile. In a similar vein, the album’s next track, “Yelema” (“Change”) talks about the selling off of state companies, the privatization of the railroads, the selling off of the country’s energy resources, the sorry state of soccer in the country, youth unemployment, public health… These two songs are being played on every street corner; there is general agreement that the lyrics are like a burning stick of dynamite. The power of the country’s president, Amadou Toumani Toure was already under pressure, and the group received constant threats. So the rappers decided to hold a press conference , even inviting Amnesty International. The regime accused them of being manipulated; they feared for their lives.
This album was something of a turning point in the little universe of Malian rap, with the civic engagement that breathes through its lyrics, and with its carefully worked rhymes. The young rappers of Tata Pound, then as now, sought a conscious rap, engaged, inspired by the living conditions of working people. They cited influences like [Marseille rappers] IAM and Tupac Shakur.
Since 2006, the universe of rap in Mali has grown like a mushroom, with numerous other rappers and groups springing out of the ground, seeming to give a new direction to the field of hip hop. Rap had been looked at with a jaundiced eye by society at large, the rapper seen as something of a loser, someone who would never amount to anything, who shamed his own family and everyone around him. After Tata Pound though, came Zion B, Lassi King Massassi, Yeli Fuzo, Kira Kono (Kati). The rap scene exploded with the arrival of Mylmo, Master Soumi, Fuken and Penzy, who went on to form the group Frere de la Rue, as well as groups like Ghetto K’fry and Generation RR…
The launch of La Revolution was a moment of glory for Tata Pound, and cemented the group’s influence among the disadvantaged, particularly among the young, demonstrating the growing power of rap, and improving the image of the genre. Youth interest in rap increased, to the great chagrin of a corrupted regime, unsteady and aloof. Then, for the last three years, a new rapper arose in the footsteps of Tata Pound: Mylmo.
More than at politicians, he takes aim at society. In his lyrics, he evokes the hard daily lives of the young men who, no longer able to take the complaints and admonitions of their parents, take the path of emigration, swearing to never return until their pockets are filled. Mylmo N Sahel, as he calls himself, speaks of all of this on his track Bandjougou[a personal name], on which he attacks the venality of parents who, violating the laws of primogeniture – on which our society is based – express their preference for a younger brother who has gotten richer than his brother.
Then, on Bidenw (Kids These Days), he criticizes the youth in a tone of bittersweet irony. He calls out these young people, whom he describes as misguided, as expert in little but drinking and debauchery, saying they are lost in a maze of mediocrity. For tracks like these, the widely respected Mylmo is seen as ‘the voice of the youth’ in a country where educational, sporting and cultural institutions are decaying, where families are falling apart, where society is adrift, where friends in high places are more important that merit. Mylmo then is one of those rappers who has kept alive the flame of conscious rap here, far removed from the pointless violence of artistic battles elsewhere.
Soon enough though the Malian rap scene would develop its own Tupac versus Biggie Smalls, its own Booba versus Sinik events. Le clash [the battle], that classic of rap, has made its own appearance and seized the public imagination, to the great delight of Malian showbiz. It was Ghetto Kafri and Generation RR who brought rap battles in Mali to their greatest heights. These two crews have even faced off in underground battles (live face-offs in which the rappers improvise as they go along). In a battle , one rapper takes on one or more of his opponents, who then respond in kind.
It is this phenomenon that we have suddenly been the shocked and horrified witnesses to in recent months. Battles which have dominated the Malian rap scene, in particular among the B-grade crews, with crude lyrics and vulgar verbiage. The insults frequently go beyond personal attacks, go right “under the skirts of their mothers” as it were, attacking the very women who brought them into the world. Suffice it to say that this is music that has lost its bearings, gone right off the rails.
A Gaspi ‘Interview’ featuring whiskey, weed, and a good deal of hilarity and invective.
The public was divided, enthralled by the oratory duel which was only beginning. As expected, Iba One broke his silence by offering Tal B and his mother a little tidbit on ‘Bon Fete de Tabaski‘ [Happy Hajj Holiday’]:
Iba One’s fans on Bamako’s streets. Photo: FB Iba One.
And as if that weren’t enough, Sniper (whose real name is Saibou Coulibaly) recorded his own track, “Bombe Nucleaire” on which he put the last bullet in Tal B:
Boubacar Sangaré Translated from French by International Boulevard
17 Apr 2014