Politicians are often blamed if they try to wear more than one hat at a time, but Kane Limam, even though calling himself “president”, never faced such criticism.
Despite his self-imposed nickname, in fact, he does not hold any office and is better known as Monza: he is one of the most skilled rappers in Mauritania and also the creator of the Assalamalekoum Festival, which has now taken place in the country for eight years.
Monza’s musical career begun well before he became known as “President 2 la Rue Publik” (a wordplay with the French terms republique – republic – and rue publique – a public road): he wrote his first lyrics when he was just 15 and a member of African Prodige. Five years later he founded La Rue Publik and was joined by another local artist, Couly Man. The philosophy of the new duo was straightforward as that of most rap artists: through their music, they wanted to denounce what was wrong in society and even at a political level. Or, as Monza once said, “to challenge the Republic and pay tribute to the road”.
Limam and his colleague never thought that their challenge went too far, even if their first album was withdrawn from the market by the government of Colonel Maaouiya Ould Taya. With the help of a successful local businessman, Ahmed Ould Hamza, and of the French cultural centre, 1.500 copies were reissued and La Rue Publik was able to start its first travelling show ever. Monza, however, had learnt a lesson from what happened: if others did not support him, he had to do things on his own, also in order to help those in his same situation.
In a country where rap music was marginalized to the extent that it did not feature even for a single minute on the two main national TV channels, the young artist then launched his own music label, Zaza productions, and subsequently the Assalamalekoum Festival. During the years, the event has been sponsored by the French Institute, the French office for cooperation and the city of Nouakchott, which is led by that same Ahmed Ould Hamza who had helped Monza some years before.
“I had had that idea for years – Monza said some time ago – this culture needed to step out of the shadows and take the scene”. So, Kane Limam, the ‘bad boy’, the protester, without losing his musical qualities nor his innovative attitude, turned into an organizer and a patron: his festival became a meeting point for artists from all over the region, as the name itself suggests (assalamalekoum meaning ‘peace be with you’ in Arabic) and even from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
The partnerships with similar festivals in neighbouring countries, such as Le Boulevard (which takes place in Casablanca, Morocco) and Festa 2H (Dakar, Senegal), is in fact, only a small part of the initiative. The artists participating in the last edition of Assalamalekoum, came from three continents: Africa (Guinea Bissau, Nigeria, Tunisia), Europe (France) and even North America; some US and Canadian artists accepted Monza’s invitation.
The Mauritanian hip-hop star, during the years, has also been criticized by the local press for some features of Assalamalekoum, notably the increasingly shrinking space awarded to Mauritanian artists in comparison to those from other countries. Indeed, the festival has experienced some changes, but this should not be seen as a betrayal of its original nature. Focusing on artists from countries other than Mauritania is a way to promote the values of “solidarity, cooperation and cultural mixing”, its organizer stated while local rappers have not been forgotten.
Budding talents can compete in a dedicated section, Assalamalekoum découverte, and Monza himself has new projects for them. The most ambitious, and still unachieved, is the creation of a Mauritanian hip-hop academy, in which the future voices of rap will be closely followed in the early steps of their career.