Music. Keur Gui: hip hop for change

Their country did not change, they say, so they didn’t either. More than three years have passed since Macky Sall replaced Abdoulaye Wade as the president of Senegal and four since the protest movement Y’en a marre was started in Dakar.

But the Keur Gui duo (that is, rappers Thiat and Kilifeu), which took part in the demonstrations, has seen almost no difference being made in the West African state. And they said it in the best way they can: through music. Same cats, same dogs/same electoral promises/it’s only two years and we’re already fed up: that is how, for instance, the lyrics of Diogoufi go.

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The song, the title of which means precisely ‘nothing has changed’, is the first single of their latest double album, Encyclopédie, and it caused huge controversy in the country, given its content. In fact, it does not only address issues such as the economic situation, power cuts, inflation and land grabbing, but even the rumours about an alleged role of President Sall’s wife in government policies. A huge success among the population, the track, however, was not cherished by the duo’s sponsors, who gradually abandoned them. In vain, since the two members of Keur Gui (wolof words which stands for ‘the house’) are used to doing things on their own and, most of all, at doing them their way.
Also their first album, in 1999, was considered too critical of the government and of then president Abdou Diouf and was never released after censors asked the rappers to modify all the tracks but two. The duo was also arrested and beaten for criticizing, in some lyrics, the mayor of their home town of Kaolack.

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Nevertheless, this did not prevent Keur Gui from dealing throughout their career with social and political themes until they, together with other artists and the journalist Fadel Barro, took part in the protest movement against the octogenarian head of state Abdoulaye Wade in 2011. Wade’s electoral defeat at the hands of Macky Sall, the following year, was also seen as a victory for the grassroots movement, but the fact that Diougoufi and Y’en a marre have the same meaning (‘fed up’), is a clear proof of Keur Gui’s feeling some years later. “There’s been no rupture with the old regime – Thiat said in a recent interview – We fought against a monarchy under Wade and we now have a dynasty under Macky Sall”.
Politics – in a broad sense – plays a great role in the double album, being the main theme of one of its two sections, Opinion Publique (Public Opinion), a reflection on present-day Senegal, the future of the country and also of the entire continent. Africa as a whole, in fact, is dealt with in tracks such as No comment, where political leaders such as Gbagbo and Mugabe are indicated, or France a fric whose title (a wordplay between Françafique and the French words a fric, ‘has money’) is an explanation in itself. On the other hand, Reglement de compte (‘The reckoning’) is a classic hip hop battle style album: the duo tries to show their rivals that their long absence from the scene (their previous album dated back to 2008) does not mean they have lost their touch. Tracks with a very personal theme are also included in the album: Fima Diar (My life) details Thiat’s biography and the rapper is also not afraid of remembering the abuses he suffered as a child.

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From a musical point of view, Encyclopédie keeps the promise implied in its title: thanks to the collaboration with some US-based artists (the Grammy-nominated Kokayi being only one of them), the duo manages to mix hip-hop and present-day African music with traditional instruments. The result is a very peculiar sound, as Thiat himself explains: “We make hip hop our way. Rap in Senegal is defined by its relationship with the Wolof language. Kilifeu sang Saloum tunes because we are from that area. They colonized our country, they took everything, they changed everything except our culture”.


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