Senegalese rappers spin world news on TV program

By Krista Larson, AP

DAKAR, Senegal–The war in Syria isn’t the easiest topic to break down in a brief newscast. But that’s exactly what Senegalese rapper Makhtar “Xuman” Fall does — and throws it down in rhyme no less.

“All eyes are turned to the powder keg of the world;

To the Middle East where Syria is sitting on a bomb.

Dialogue, discussions and negotiations;

To legitimize a war you need a coalition.”

Fall raps these lines in French from behind a newscaster’s desk, sporting reading glasses and a blazer with his long dreadlocks tied back behind his head.

Next he turns to a “guest commentator,” Senegalese rap icon Didier Awadi who adds a few words of his own: “The bastards are getting organized and they want blood … One more time they want to make us swallow their lies. And even without the proof, they’ll bring out the heavy artillery.”

In the span of a program just five minutes long, Fall and his co-host Cheikh “Keyti” Sene tackle everything from the Middle East to local woes like the flooding that disproportionately hits poor suburbs of Senegal’s capital. They even interview people on the street — all of whom can conveniently rap as well.

The program “Journal Rappe” is now aired twice a week on a Senegalese television network after it went viral on YouTube earlier this year. In an effort to reach even more fans, Fall raps his portion in French while Sene’s contributions are in the other national language, Wolof. It’s not an identical translation but the two try to offer up rhymes along the same lines.

Over the last several years, many rap artists in Senegal were active in anti-government protests that helped lead to the ouster of longtime President Abdoulaye Wade. Their timely and politically tinged lyrics, though, haven’t easily translated into real-time sales.

“Unfortunately in Senegal it takes six months to a year to make an album. By that time, the songs are no longer news when they come out,” says Fall, a towering and lanky 40-year-old long active on the Dakar hip-hop scene.

Night clubs and neighborhood hangouts radiate rap music in this West African country although most of what is played comes from the United States or France. Hip-hop is wildly popular, and artists here are seen in many ways as modern-day griots, traditional West Africa musical storytellers who pass on history through their songs.