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LOCATING HIP HOP ORIGINS: POPULAR MUSIC AND TRADITION IN SENEGAL

  • Catherine M. Appert
Abstract

This article complicates internationally circulating origin myths that alternately link hip hop to West African griot traditions or highlight the global resonance of its roots in the US inner city. I argue that such generalizing narratives potentially obscure how complex understandings of traditional cultural production inform local engagements with hip hop in Africa, and advocate instead for ethnographically generated interpretive frameworks that enable alternative, locally grounded analyses of hip hop cultures. In doing so, I examine the particularity of Senegalese invocations of origin myths to ask how local and global histories are reimagined through discourse about musical practice. Based on their understandings of tradition as something that precedes, is transformed in, and remains integral to contemporary urban life in Senegal, underground hip hoppers conflate the local popular genre mbalax with griot practice, contrasting it with hip hop as a modern music born from experiences of urban struggle that resonate with their own realities. I demonstrate that Senegalese hip hop practice is defined not only through political engagement or social action but also through and against local musical practices that performatively re-inscribe the political and social systems that limit and contain youth.

Cet article complexifie les mythes d’origine véhiculés dans le monde qui tantôt associent le hip hop aux traditions des griots d’Afrique de l’Ouest, tantôt soulignent la résonance mondiale de ses racines dans les cités urbaines aux États-Unis. L’auteur soutient que de telles généralisations masquent potentiellement la manière dont des interprétations complexes de la production culturelle traditionnelle informent l’adoption locale du hip hop en Afrique, et prône plutôt des cadres interprétatifs d’inspiration ethnographique qui rendent possibles d’autres analyses localement ancrées des cultures hip hop. Ce faisant, l’auteur examine la particularité des invocations sénégalaises des mythes d’origine pour s’interroger sur la manière dont les histoires locales et globales sont réimaginées à travers le discours sur la pratique musicale. Sur la base de leurs interprétations de la tradition comme quelque chose qui précède, se transforme et reste partie intégrante de la vie urbaine contemporaine au Sénégal, les artistes de hip hop underground fusionnent le genre populaire local mbalax avec la pratique du griot, le distinguant ainsi du hip hop en tant que musique moderne née d’expériences de lutte urbaine en résonance avec leurs propres réalités. L’auteur démontre que la pratique sénégalaise du hip hop se définit non seulement à travers l’engagement politique ou l’action sociale, mais également à travers et par rapport aux pratiques musicales locales qui réinscrivent de façon performative les systèmes politiques et sociaux qui limitent et jugulent la jeunesse.

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