Rap, a musical genre known for its rebellious and revolutionary essence, is increasingly adopted by young female activists as a weapon to combat various sexist practices against the women’s community in Mali.
Despite the country's immensely rich musical and artistic repertoire, no other musical genre has been as successful in raising popular awareness against the innumerable prejudices that undermine the lives of Malian women.
Rap music, which is one of the most popular cultural products in the Western world, was until then, the preserve of young Malian boys. They ingeniously modified it in many ways in order to adapt it to local rhythms and sociological realities so as to create a more original sound. It's been nearly two decades since the genre was popularly discovered in Mali, and has quickly seen a meteoric rise thanks to the particularity of the themes addressed in the songs.
Malian youth immediately recognise is as a propitious means of expression so much so that now it’s hard to miss it unavoidable throughout the national musical and artistic sphere. In recent years, young female activists, who are fiercely committed and advocate against bullying or any other form of social injustice generally directed against their gender, have grown interest in rap music and see it as a weapon for social, political and ideological struggle.
These young female musicians, who are strongly supported by women’s associations and several other human rights groups, claim to be the "spokespeople" for millions of Malian women suffering in silence, some of whom were eventually forced into exile.
Mali is one of the most conservative countries in the West African region where gender issues and women’s rights are still facing enormous social and institutional challenges. The weight of cultural and religious conservatism gives free rein to multifaceted sexist practices, including violence against women as well as barriers to economic empowerment. Rural women suffer the worst pain.
The numerous awareness-raising campaigns and policies jointly implemented by the government and its foreign partners have not really succeeded in reducing the rate of daily oppressive acts against women, despite official gender equality proclamations by the Malian Constitution. Rap music however, is now the new channel used by emerging female artists to breathe new life in the fight for women's rights and is quickly gaining momentum, reaching a larger proportion of the nations population, whose youth is about 80%.
Fanta Mady Diakité, a Malian human rights activist said, "Rap being a musical genre usually reserved for men, the fact that our young women are more and more interested in it, using it to convey bold emancipatory messages as well as claiming their real place in society, makes it clear that the female community is increasingly aware of their fundamental rights".
Contrary to this prospect, many Malian conservatives who have a negative view of the rise of female rap in Mali, believe that the musical phenomenon would only result in opening the way to "new forms of turpitude" in society.
Speaking to 7Dnews, Ami Yèrèwolo, one of the pioneers of Mali female rap responded, "My rap is a militant rap. Before music, I had campaigned in several women's associations, where I led many struggles on behalf of women’s social rights. But with the adoption of rap as a means of expression, my voice has become much more audible".
"Our society has made women subject to submission and has culturally structured things so as women will not have the same opportunities as men. A woman is always bound to make superhuman efforts if she wants to make a place for herself in the sun. Yet, it has not been written anywhere that the man is king and the woman is the slave", she added.
Her music has had a considerable influence on both urban and rural youth, while giving greater prominence to female militant rap in Mali.
More than a passion, rap music for these young ladies, is a way to step up against the Malian patriarchal society they blame for various discriminatory practices that have long subjugated women.
Yèrèwolo reiterated her commitment to championing the cause for women’s rights, saying, "We must understand that man is by no means superior to woman so that we may be able to print a better direction to our history and leave behind these everlasting and unnecessary gender conflicts. It is basically what I strive to convey to the masses through my songs".