The compilation African Underground: The Depths of Dakar furthers Brooklyn label Nomadic Wax’s mission statement of uncovering, recording, and distributing new talent from Africa, but to catalog the disc as a mere label sampler would be misleading. Released in conjunction with the label’s Democracy in Dakar documentary (co-produced with partners Sol Productions), Depths of Dakar acts as both a study of hip-hop’s influence on Senegalese politics and a mouthpiece for the people.

Despite notable media sources, such as the BBC, upholding it as one of Africa’s model nations, Senegal has experienced rampant poverty and unemployment within its borders. Thousands risk their lives every year taking dangerous boat journeys to Spain’s Canary Islands, seeking better lives. Freedom of speech is, according to many, becoming a rare commodity, with radio stations and journalists being harassed and sometimes harmed for their “biased” viewpoints.

Music is no exception. Hardly the American stuff of bling bling, Senegalese hip-hop might be seen as a cathartic means for the country’s youth to express the state of their country–and the dangers that rise with voicing such opinions. 

“Rap music in Senegal is no game,” says Nomadic Wax founder Ben Herson, who makes periodic trips back to the country seeking new talent. “[The artists] have been threatened, beaten up, and censored, yet they continue to speak for the people and get their voice heard. The Democracy in Dakar project is all about providing a platform for people worldwide to hear the story straight from the source.”

With that in mind, Herson, along with partner-in-crime Dan Cantor, set up shop in the capital city in 2003 to capture that story. The two constructed a temporary studio in Dakar and opened its doors to anyone willing to drop by and pick up a mic. “Keeping things open like this has allowed me to discover some incredible talent that many in Senegal had not had the opportunity to discover,” explains Herson. “Rather than take artists out of their element we bring the studio directly to them, in an environment they are most comfortable in.”

The result of such “guerilla-style” recording is a selection of rising stars, established artists, and unknowns spitting sharp lyrics over tightly arranged beats that demonstrate both the politics of hip-hop in Senegal and the country’s rich musical tradition. “We want our audience to get the clearest picture possible of what these artists are going through,” says Herson, “and the hardships that rappers in Senegal face to get their music out.”

Depths of Dakar is out May 15, 2007 on Nomadic Wax

Listen to Sen Kumpa’s “Niawal,” from the compilation, available now at XLR8R’s Downloads Section

1. Sen Kumpa “Niawal”
2. Pato “Keep It Real”
3. Zoo Squad “Fresh Time pt 1”
4. Foumlade “sing With Us feat. Bag Blin D”
5. Nightmare “Geble Night in Blue feat. Yella”
6. Adama “Aduna Bi”
7. Omzo “Goor Yombul”
8. Jojo “All I Want feat. Gofu (Yat Fu)”
9. Zoo Squad “Fresh Time pt 2”
10. Fatim “Real Woman”
11. Tigrim Bi “Hip-Hop”
12. Omzo “Li Guen pt 2”