I found Hip Hop.
Senegalese hip hop, it seems, is not so much underground as groundless: on Sunday afternoon I learned that the PIscine Olympique in the Point E neighborhood would be the venue for a four hour long hip hop gathering, incorporating the Four Elements: Rapping, Graffiti, DJing and break dancing. I went with my friend Robert Mendy, whose little brother had entered a Wolof-language freestyle competition in hopes of qualifying for further competition. I got to the gathering at about 1830, by which point the rapping was over, but I later learned that he qualified and advanced. He was incredibly proud of the win–every rapper, dancer, and DJ announces their neighborhood before their own name, and this kid had just put Niary-Tally on the map.
The dancing was a a strict competition. Teams of two, often in coordinated outfits, competed against each other, facing off across the black strips of rubber that served as a dance floor. They too were divided by neighborhood: Mermoz vs. Yoff, Pikine vs. Parcelles. Each dancer competed individually and then as a team, in routines that mixed isolation and pop-locking with acrobatic flips and splits. The only rule was that they COULD NEVER touch their opponents. Why? “Then the neighborhoods fight,” Robert said.
My neighborhood, Yoff, lost the dance off, but redeemed itself by winning the pushup competition. Between each round of dancers each neighborhood was told to send forward one champion, who competed head-to-head on the mats while the MC counted them off. Yoff won, 79-72.
The admission was supposed to be 500 CFA, but I got in for free. The crowd kept growing and growing, mostly 20 somethings but also a few older people and kids. People had clearly put a lot of thought and effort into the outfits they wore; which tended towards bright colors and prominent brand names. This was a long way from the baggy thug style I saw in Uganda–watch a New Boyz video and you’ll get the idea. I was surprised that no one was drinking or smoking–or if they were, they were being pretty cagey about it. It was still early, however. Nightlife doesn’t start until midnight at the earliest, and this was over by 2030.
It was awesome. The dancers were fluid and original, the rappers confident and swagged out, and most importantly the whole neighborhood turned out to support their champion. I’ll be back. Pictures coming soon.