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Female rappers & Africa in 2020 : Ears to the ground !

Are female rap­pers Africa’s new griots in 2020 ? One thing is cer­tain, Afri­can hip-hop is stan­ding tall as these women offer modern takes that are unin­hi­bi­ted, in step with the times and uncompromising.


Rap to live

Thanks to the pio­neers who broke through in the late 90s – such as ALIF in Sene­gal or Zara Mous­sa in Niger – being a female Afri­can rap­per is no lon­ger clas­sed as a miracle in 2020. Not that any­bo­dy has tried to claim that it’s easy, espe­cial­ly not Ami Yere­wo­lo.

When I star­ted rap­ping, eve­ryone wan­ted to stop me : my fami­ly, socie­ty, even other rap­pers ! In Mali, like eve­ryw­here else, women were only sup­po­sed to get mar­ried, sub­mit or be mar­gi­na­li­sed if they refu­sed to obey. Today, I’ve relea­sed two albums, filled the Palais de la Culture in Bama­ko and don’t depend on anyone, so it’s tur­ned out okay!” Without a doubt, Ami Yere­wo­lo has got a taste for inde­pen­dence and didn’t wait to be taken serious­ly before brea­king free of the music industry’s “rot­ten men”. By foun­ding Den­fa­ri Events, the win­ner of the “Femme Bat­tante du Mali” [Mali’s War­rior Woman] award in 2016 gave her­self a way to dis­tri­bute her music, be free to orga­nise her own concerts and launch a fes­ti­val, Le Mali a des Rap­peuses [Mali Has Female Rap­pers], a spring­board and soli­da­ri­ty net­work for her “com­mu­ni­ty of sisters”.

There is strength in uni­ty, an adage that has pro­ven itself and the Ama­zons of Afri­can hip-hop have made it a wea­pon to help carve out their place in the rap game. “When you’re a woman in hip-hop, you have to grab the micro­phone because they’ll never give it to you” comes the cut­ting res­ponse from Moo­naya, a female rap­per from the Sene­ga­lese col­lec­tive Free Voices, for­med on the occa­sion of the 30th anni­ver­sa­ry of Hip-Hop Gal­sen – a pio­neer in Afri­ca, almost as old as French rap. “What’s our rea­son for exis­ting ? Sho­wing it can be done”, she adds.


Rap with a consience

Plen­ty of them have got the mes­sage it seems : women have taken back rap to shut up the phal­lo­crats ! And their male coun­ter­parts have got the mes­sage too, such as Yeli Fuz­zo in Mali and Awa­di in Sene­gal, who open­ly sup­port them. “Don’t talk to me about gen­der, talk to me about talent”, says Ivo­rian MC Andy S in his latest mix­tape Le rap n’a pas de sex.

Denoun­cing the inequa­li­ties of patriar­chal socie­ties, vio­lence against women, sexism, the ravages of rape and female geni­tal muti­la­tion… This is the cre­do behind the lyrics of femi­nist hip-hop that goes by the name of Key­la K in Gui­nea, Dama Do Bling in Mozam­bique, Soul­ta­na in Moroc­co, Mutho­ni Drum­mer Queen in Kenya, Myam Mah­moud in Egypt, Asayel Slay in Sau­di Ara­bia – threa­te­ned with impri­son­ment by the autho­ri­ties – and Sis­ter Fa in Sene­gal. For the lat­ter, hip-hop is a “power­ful vehicle for awa­re­ness, espe­cial­ly among young people and in remote regions because all you have to do is press play”. In Sene­gal, hip-hop has alrea­dy shown its strength with the Y’en A Marre [Fed Up] move­ment that played a large part in the fall of Pre­sident Wade in 2012.

If hip-hop is essen­tial­ly an act of pro­test, in Afri­ca it offers close sup­port to the continent’s struggles, move­ments for change and major revo­lu­tions, when it’s not pro­vo­king them. In 2017, for example, when Mutho­ni Drum­mer Queen pos­ted “Kenyan Mes­sage” on You­Tube, did she sus­pect it would go viral through Blue­tooth and What­sApp, only to reap­pear on public trans­port and become the anthem for the Kenyan doc­tors’ strike ? In Mada­gas­car, the young slam­mer Cay­lah denounces the stig­ma of French colo­ni­sa­tion and the cor­rup­tion of the “Mal­gaches en cos­tard” in vitrio­lic lyrics, while in Alge­ria, Raja Meziane pulls no punches in “Allô le sys­tème”, a fier­ce­ly pole­mi­cal take with 43 mil­lion views adop­ted as a cho­rus across the coun­try when it hit the streets in the spring of 2019.



At a time when young Afri­can women are no lon­ger asha­med of being proud, rap natu­ral­ly comes into play as a space for reflec­tion and reclai­ming issues of identity.

In “Qui”, the female Sene­ga­lese rap­per Moo­naya samples the famous speech by Mal­colm X – “Who taught you to hate your­self?” – in an ode to the beau­ty of the black body, while in Mali, Ami Yere­wo­lo raps in Bam­ba­ra over pro­duc­tions that com­bine urban beats and tra­di­tio­nal ins­tru­ments because “it’s not by imi­ta­ting the Ame­ri­cans or the French that I’m going to make a name for myself : I’m Malian and proud”. To its own beat, Afri­can rap also bears wit­ness to the need to pro­duce a new dis­course around gen­der and sexua­li­ty. And if the gent­le­men are still lag­ging behind, the radi­ca­lism of female rap­pers such as the ex-drag-king Dope Saint Jude has contri­bu­ted to the emer­gence of a queer scene in South Afri­ca in par­ti­cu­lar, fol­lo­wed by Nyo­ta Par­ker, Naz­lee Saif Arbee, the trans­gen­der artist Umli­lo and the duo FAKA.

Final­ly, with the demo­cra­ti­sa­tion of the web and new tech­no­lo­gies on the conti­nent, it’s not impos­sible to see Afri­can hip-hop chan­ging, and qui­ck­ly : soft­ware hacked through Wi-Fi and DIY lear­ning, digi­tal expe­ri­ments and elec­tro­nic blends in the music of Sho Mad­jo­zi for example, who mar­ries his Tson­ga rap with the fury of gqom beats. And it has big ambi­tions, jud­ging by pos­ters for all the lea­ding fes­ti­vals, in Afri­ca and beyond. Of course, many female artists dream of expor­ting their music, not least because of the lack of dedi­ca­ted struc­tures in Afri­ca, but others are going the oppo­site way, like Sam­pa The Great, a Zam­bian rap­per based in Aus­tra­lia who cele­brates her roots on The Return and Lous and The Yaku­zas who nur­tures the hope of being able to return to the Congo, from her adop­tive Bel­gium, to build hos­pi­tals there.

A vec­tor for eman­ci­pa­tion, soli­da­ri­ty, empo­werment and crea­ti­vi­ty, Afri­can hip-hop real­ly does have eve­ry­thing going for it, espe­cial­ly when women are involved !

Jeanne Lacaille

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