Since the days when Fab Five Freddy called for ‘peace in the Middle East’ hip hop has consistently presented to popular culture politically charged rappers who address injustice and democracy through song. African Underground: Democracy in Dakar tells the story of the politically engaged hip hop scene in Dakar, Senegal, during the 2007 national elections.
A joint production between the New York-based Nomadic Wax and Sol Productions, and co-directed by Ben Herson, Magee McIlvaine and Chris Moore, African Underground follows rappers such as Keyti Rap’Adio and Jah Tigrim-Bi who, through their critical rhymes, spread the gospel about the corruption of the Senegalese government. Often perceived as one of the most stable democracies in Africa, many Senegalese suffer from poverty, high unemployment and increasing emigration.
Selected for the Images of Africa section at the One World Human Rights Film Festival in Prague, Czech Republic, African Underground is one of the few documentaries in recent times that conveys a very positive and progressive reflection of Africa. With about 3,000 rap groups in Dakar, hip hop music is one of the only social tools through which young people can creatively explore their frustrations without turning to violence, and ultimately help to change the regime. Says one young rapper in the film, ‘If you’re on the wrong side of the government then you can’t get press unless you have an international rap career.’ Though rapped in their native free-flowing Senegalese language, through translation we understand the blatancy of the message – ‘The situation is bad, but it’s getting worse…the President uses his power to oppress the people…reflect before you elect.’
For co-director Ben Herson, making a documentary about the political situation in Dakar was the ‘next extension to get the music and message out, creating a platform for the artists to express their situation to a Western audience.’ And it really works. African Underground is not only moving on a sonic level, but it’s also an inspiring record of progress, of a fight for change absent of rebels and militias. ‘The most important thing is to have as many people see or hear the story that you want to tell,’ says co-director Magee McIlvaine, ‘especially if it’s politically motivated. And the hope is that a percentage of the people who see it will pay attention to the issues raised in the film on a global level.’