By: Elsa Sichrovsky
Although hip-hop music may be widely considered a product of American pop culture, Niger has also produced hip-hop artists of outstanding talent. They use music as a medium to raise awareness for the social issues of their generation. Nigerien hip-hop was indeed heavily influenced by American culture in its early stages. Eventually, local artists produced a genre unique to Niger’s culturally diverse populace by combining classic hip hop elements with traditional African music.
The mid-1990s was when Nigerien hip-hop and rap exploded in popularity. Although the artists were young people producing music with little financial support and limited facilities, their music about poverty, politics, and gender issues resonated with the public. In particular, the rap group Wass Wong took on political issues such as misuse of public funds, youth unemployment, failed electoral promises, nepotism, censorship, and ineffective governance. They rapped in both tribal languages and international languages like Hausa, Djerma, French, and English. International NGOs such as UNICEF have since enlisted Nigerien hip hop artists to participate in compilation albums on issues such as AIDS, female genital mutilation, and poverty.
Nigerien hip-hop has struggled to develop as young performers leave bands, regroup, experiment, and slip in and out of the music scene. Recording quality is a major issue for Nigerien artists, due to the limited number of recording studios and the fact that Nigerien sound professionals are still unfamiliar with this music style. Artists face high production costs and are obliged to supplement their income with odd jobs. They even borrow money from family and friends to support their dreams. They see these young performers as intruding on a space that belongs to the traditional guardians of music – the griots. “In a Muslim society like ours, parents do not really like that choice,” says Wyzzy, a solo rapper, “but I’m passionate so I keep going.”
For Zara Moussa (ZM), one of Niger’s few female rappers, gender was another obstacle to overcome. “To be a girl in rap is pretty hard,” she says with a smile, “some boys did not believe I was able to rap.” Her family struggled to accept her passion: “My mother is always reluctant. My song lyrics touch her but she would have liked me to express myself with means other than music”. Nevertheless, Zara proved the naysayers wrong. In 2002, her track “Femme Objet” won a rap contest organized by the French Embassy. Her first album, Kirari, was released in spring 2005. While many Nigerien rappers complete an entire album within a few days, Zara took her time to produce high quality work. She uses music as a medium through which to express the cries of oppressed women, those women in forced marriages, as well as women in love.
There are so many talented young men and women in Niger with the potential to produce art and music that will touch hearts worldwide. Unfortunately, many Nigerien young people are caught in the cycle of poverty and disease that leads to high rates of preventable child mortality. Wells Bring Hope educates mothers on how to protect their children from germs and sickness, thus preventing young talent being lost to death and disease. After Wells Bring Hope drills wells for a village, mothers no longer have to walk long distances just to get water for their children. They can attend microfinance training provided by Wells Bring Hope, which enables them to earn an income for their child’s education. By promoting female leadership and requiring that women participate in well maintenance, Wells Bring Hope is giving young Nigerien girls a positive example that will motivate them to work for a brighter future. With more Nigerien youth having healthier, brighter childhoods, who knows what these youth could go on to become?