Senegalese Political Activist Inspires Change With Hip-Hop

Social justice doesn’t just come in the form of speakers and political scientists. On Tuesday, Feb. 25, it came to Pomona College in the form of chants and raps echoing throughout Doms Lounge. 

Senegalese hip-hop artist and political activist Malal Talla—more widely known as Fou Malade from the musical, politically charged group Y’en a Marre—treated Doms to an energized concert. Disc jockey Will Mitchell PO ’14 accompanied Fou Malade, who engaged the crowd through dance, call-and-response chants, and raps primarily in French and Wolof, a language of Senegal. The following day, the artist presented a talk entitled “Hip Hop as a Tool for Youth Mobilization and Social Change in Africa.”

Spearheading the effort to bring Fou Malade to campus was Adam Cox PO ’14, who came across the artist and his group while studying abroad in Senegal. Cox, along with other students, is helping Pierre Englebert, chair of Pomona’s international relations department, with
the school’s Africa Initiative, which seeks to bring scholars, political analysts, and artists from Africa to campus. 

“I encountered Fou Malade and Y’en a Marre while I was studying
abroad in the fall of 2012,” Cox said. “They
were brought in to speak at the CIEE study center—they gave a talk on hip-hop, youth mobilization, and political activism—which I thought was very

Fou Malade and Y’en a Marre are fighting for exactly this type of change and social awareness.

“That’s what hip-hop does in West African countries,” Fou Malade said. “It is a tool for building awareness.”

said that there is a general narrative of the African continent coming on the up and up, which he and the
other members of the Africa Initiative want to focus on with the groups they bring to campus. 

“We are trying to provide speakers that will
speak in support of that idea, while also painting a picture of some of the
more negative aspects of the continent’s
development,” Cox said. “We wanted to bring not just speakers, not just
political scientists, but also a little bit of culture to Pomona.” 

“Y’en a Marre” is a slang French expression that means “I’ve had enough.” The group was formed in January 2001 by a medley of hip-hop artists, journalists, and other civic activists. 

“As young people, as artists, citizens living in Senegal, we could not accept seeing bribery or corruption growing up, cost of life growing up, miseducation,” Fou Malade said. 

The issue of political corruption is dear to Fou Malade’s heart, and something Y’en a Marre fights against passionately. The group organized demonstrations and exerted social pressure on Senegal’s former government, led by President Abdoulaye Wade, who was elected in 2000. Wade was in office for two terms that lasted five and seven years apiece, during which he amended Senegal’s constitution to allow for a two-year extension of presidential terms. He attempted to run for a third term in 2012, which sparked a series of riots and violent protests. 

However, Fou Malade explained that the group’s mission reaches far beyond Wade’s corrupt presidency. 

“This movement was born to have a new Senegal, a Senegal without corruption,” Fou Malade said. “We believe that change will come from the population.” 

“We first have to galvanize and mobilize the people with hip-hop as a tool of education, as a tool of information, as a tool of consciousness,” he added. “We have offices in the regions of Senegal outside of the Dakar region, to mobilize the population, to ask them to take their responsibilities for change.” 

Fou Malade explained that hip-hop serves an essential role as an agent of social change in African

“Hip-hop in African
countries is different from in [the] USA and France,” he said. “In [the] USA, it has become commercialized. People
are talking about ‘I’m driving my car, I’m riding in a boat.'”And in my country, hip-hop is still a tool of

Of his shared performance with Fou Malade, Mitchell had nothing but respect for a fellow artist. 

“Fou Malade is an incredible musician … and I’m so grateful that I got a chance to work with
someone who is just doing things at the level and the dedication that he is,” Mitchell said. “I don’t know if I’ll approach rap music and hip-hop the same way
after this experience.”

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