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APRIL 2007
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Hip-Hop Planet

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  Chris Carroll   Dereck and Beverly Joubert   James McBride   Jim Richardson   Pencil and Compass

Hip-Hop Planet

Sengalese musicians with James McBride

James McBride
Photograph by David Alan Harvey

At speaking engagements across the U.S., "80 percent of the kids I meet see the music industry as a way to get out" of their present circumstances, says author James McBride, at far right. In Senegal the story was the same. Rapper Omar N'Gala Seck, Jally, a traditional griot, and Assane N'Diaye, from left, play their music in hopes of a big break that will help lift their families out of poverty.

Being a black American in Senegal is a bit like going to a family reunion: Every fifth person looks just like your Cousin Bob.

On the other hand, he's not your Cousin Bob. It took at least 160 American greenbacks for photographer David Harvey and I to get out of Dakar airport, and that was just the keep-your-hands-off-me money. The cab ride cost an extra $40. I never did get the driver's name. And he wasn't driving a cab, either. As we were pulling out of the airport, David pointed out the window to a row of cabs lined up at the curb and said, "Why are we riding in this car?" I can't remember my response. I was working my French at the time. It kept my mind off the fact that we had enough greenbacks stuffed in our socks to get us killed.

But I loved Senegal. There is a deep sense of musicality there unlike anywhere else in the world. In an abandoned motorcycle repair shop in Dakar, I watched noted Senegalese writer Issa Samb Joe Ouakam, 60, talk and sing through more music in five minutes than seemed possible. "Tassou. Baku. Cannou," he said, naming several forms of the indigenous West African musical sounds. "There is music here for wrestling, for cooking, for peeling the meal." In short, for everything.

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