Africa Underground: Democracy in Dakar

Award-Winning Documentary About Youth, Hip-Hop, and Politics in Senegal to Premier in Harlem

Ground-breaking film Democracy in Dakar bridges the gaps between hip hop activism, video journalism and documentary film.

Brooklyn, NY— Next week, the Maysles Theater in Harlem will host a week long run of the documentary Africa Underground: Democracy in Dakar, an award winning film about the role of musical activism in the Senegalese political process. The documentary exposes audiences to a gritty, raw side of Senegalese music and politics, through youth hip hop culture.

Using hip hop music as the primary storytelling device, Democracy in Dakar chronicles the lived experience on the streets of Dakar before and after the controversial 2007 presidential elections. The film follows rappers, DJs, journalists, professors, and others, intimately capturing the fluidity and intensity of emotion surrounding the controversial election.

“We see hip hop as a means by which we can mobilize the fight for fair and free democracy,” says Baay Musa, one of the artists featured in the film. “Hip hop is a powerful non-violent weapon that can externalize what’s in the hearts of frustrated, disillusioned youth. Complacency often comes from ignorance, so we want to get our message out to as many people as possible.”

In the 2000 presidential elections, youth and hip hop profoundly contributed to the success of Abdoulaye Wade—a candidate who, at the time, “embodied change” from the long-standing Parti Socialiste du Sénégal, which had reigned since the country’s independence in 1960.

By 2007, the cost of living had increased exponentially and hundreds of thousands of young Senegalese men had died in attempts to migrate to Europe in the face of remarkable unemployment rates, the once hopeful population of Senegalese youth was again in search of change. It was during the winter of this year that filmmakers Ben Herson, Magee McIlvaine and Chris Moore packed a small set of equipment to film the weeks leading up to the election.

“I can’t think of another hip-hop film that approaches the convergence of hip-hop and politics in this way” said Magee Mcilvaine the films co-director. “By using hip-hop to tell the story of this election, we hoped to make African politics more relevant to a younger demographic who might not be interested in it otherwise.”

Originally shot as a seven-part documentary mini-series released over the Internet, Democracy in Dakar set out to raise awareness in the United States about the political situation in Senegal. The short films were unexpectedly viewed widely across Senegal and the African Diaspora as well.

“In Senegal, hip-hop is being used as a way to critique Senegalese and global systems of inequality and injustice, sometimes successfully and sometimes not,” explains Ben Herson, the film’s founder and co-producer. “The important thing is that people are trying and that’s what this film is about.”

As Senegalese leaders continue to disappoint their voters and as global injustice prevails, many journalists contemplate the increasing fragility of Senegal’s democracy.

“Senegal is one of the few African countries never to have a coup,” says Musa. “Sometimes it seems as though the media is just holding its breath until we do. They don’t understand that we are a peaceful people and we will continue to inspire hope, not violence, through hip hop.”

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Dates: Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - Saturday, September 26, 2009
Time: 7:00pm - 9:00pm
343 Malcolm X Blvd / Lenox Ave
New York City

Benjamin Herson

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