Female musicians in Senegal are coming together

Elina Seye and Marjo Smolander from the WWW team were working on their own projects in Dakar, Senegal in the spring of 2021 as they went to meet representatives of local organizations for female musicians.

It is not until recently that female musicians in Senegal have started networking to support each other and strengthen their professional skills in the male-dominated music industry. Most female musicians in Senegal work as backup singers – many do dream of a solo career, but it is hard to find musicians, a producer and other professionals that they would need to promote their solo career.

Fatou Diop, Marjo Smolander, Khoudia Dieng, Elina Seye

An organisation for Senegal’s female musicians, Association des femmes musiciennes du Sénégal (ASFEMS, see Facebook page), was founded around two years ago to support women in their musical careers as well as raise societal issues concerning women. The Covid-19 pandemic has postponed many of their concert plans but the association has already organized, for example, a fund-raising for women in prison.

A bit older Senegalese network for women is Genji hip hop (see Facebook page), which combines many operators from the hip hop field as well as feminist activists working within urban culture. Their chairperson Wasso Tounkara told that not all members of the association think themselves as feminists as there is a lot of suspicion towards that term in Senegal. They all still share the main goal of the association, which is to improve women’s position in hip hop and in the society in general.

Elina Seye, Ndeye Fatou “Wasso” Tounkara, Marjo Smolander

Genji hip hop has been operating from 2017 onwards primarily by transmitting knowledge on working and study opportunities to its members. Its more recent activities include the Waxal Sunu Bopp festival (loosely translated as ‘speaking for ourselves’) organized entirely by women. Furthermore, the association has taken a stand on societal issues such as child marriages and rape legislation, both through music and with other measures. The association and its members, like the rappers Mina la voilée and Eve Crazy, have been acknowledged in international media, such as The Guardian, too.

Another instance worth mentioning is Orchestre Jigeen ñi (see Facebook page) who have been highly visible in Dakar’s music scene, performing for example in Dakar Music Expo in June 2021. Most of Senegalese female musicians are backup singers, but the premise of this group was to form a band consisting only of female instrumentalists who can then perform with different soloists. The first female band in Senegal was surprisingly the idea of a man, Samba Diaite, who is now the manager of the band. Many singers, both women and men, have already been accompanied by Orchestre Jigeen ñi, and the band’s first album was released recently. In addition to performing, their future plans include founding a music school aimed particularly at girls.

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