Amadou Fall Ba

Urban cultures crystallise the desires and frustrations of young Africans

Cultural producer, founding member of the Africulturban association and director of the Festa2H festival in Senegal, Amadou Fall Ba is one of the sector experts for the Africa2020 Season. He tells us about African urban cultures.

Updated on 27/04/2022

2 min

Amadou Fall Ba
Amadou Fall Ba
© Barham

How would you define urban cultures?

It is always complex to give a single definition. We, urban culture professionals – particularly in Senegal – have simplified matters by defining urban cultures as an artistic and cultural movement rooted in hip-hop. Several disciplines coexist: music is of course a major strand and rap is the most important part, closely followed by slam and local urban music; then dance comes, followed by street art, and finally urban sports, which are starting to make their way across the continent. However this definition of urban cultures is not fixed, quite the contrary. From a semantic point of view, it is a catch-all.


What place do these disciplines occupy in Africa today?

There is an effervescence that even we, actors of urban cultures, cannot define. Every day young African artists create: there is an overall dynamic, which is really common, as if there were a transmission belt between the different African countries. Today you will see an initiative in Senegal, the next day you will see it in Cameroon, two days later in Rwanda, and so on. It's an amazing process! From Kinshasa to Casablanca via Djibouti or Cape Verde, it's bubbling from everywhere. 


Nonetheless, are there contrasts between regions?

There is an initial contrast in terms of language. Many artists have become flexible and now work in local languages. When you go to Côte d’Ivoire the effect of nouchi, a slang that mixes French and local languages, is extraordinary. In other countries, the French language plays an important role in urban music because we are in multi-ethnic territories where it is not easy to identify another common language. These artists have succeeded in creating semantics that are very different from what we are used to hearing and seeing: this mixture is the charm of urban cultures.

The second contrast I would highlight touches on the very aesthetics of musicality. The artists draw on what I call "the African sounds bank," which refers to the music of their forebears and which they sometimes search for hundreds of kilometres away. They modernise them, giving them a new sound but keeping a very recognisable African touch. 

Our first sponsor is not the state or private partners, but the African public. The barometer for measuring the impact of urban cultures is the street

So there is no break, but rather a connection between traditional and modern heritage?

Just a few years ago in Africa everyone wanted to become Americanised or Europeanised. This is no longer the case. We are seeing a return to our origins, born of an awareness of the challenges of our cultural heritage. We artists need to take the lead and offer things to the world, instead of waiting to be asked. Today, being original no longer means being like the Americans or the French, it means being yourself first.


Where is hip-hop in Africa?

Hip-hop has a real political dimension in Africa: the "Y'en a marre" collective in Senegal and the "Balai citoyen" collective in Burkina Faso, and the "Touche pas à ma nationalité" protests in Mauritania bear witness to this. The rappers take centre stage and carry a social message. Alongside their civic engagement, they are trying to create music companies.


How do institutions support urban cultures?

Our first sponsor is not the state or private partners, but the African public. The barometer for measuring the impact of urban cultures is the street, what I call “the real people”. People not only set the tone, but also give credibility: they are the ones who speak and convey messages. Today, if you organise an urban concert and a political meeting at the same time 100 m from each other, you run the risk of having no one at the political meeting! To understand young people, it is essential to listen to the discourse emanating from urban cultures. They really crystallise the desires and frustrations of young people.

In Africa, 50% of people working in the field have left school or have never gone to school; bringing them back into the system is not the solution. I am not against degrees, they are important; that said, there are people who are talented and need to be empowered and energised. The most sophisticated institutions know that there is an urgent need to invest heavily in structures dedicated to creation. These initiatives should make it possible to meet these artists in an inclusive manner. We have to build with them because, as Nelson Mandela said, “Everything that is done for me without me is done against me.”


As founder of the Africulturban association and director of the Festa2H festival, do you see yourself at the heart of this dynamic of creating artistic and cultural businesses?

I see myself as a social as well as an economic entrepreneur. I think the two go together and a lot of people haven't figured it out yet. If you look across the cultural spectrum, urban cultures are central not only in terms of statistics but also in terms of how they represent youth. Africa needs to think about a new economy by investing in human capital. You have to think about having a Gross Domestic Product, but also a Happiness Domestic Product, as they say in Bhutan.

The Institut français and the project

Initiated by Emmanuel Macron, the President of the French Republic, the Africa2020 Season will take place throughout France (mainland and overseas territories) from June 1st to mid-December 2020. It will be dedicated to the 54 states of the African continent. Find out more about the Africa2020 Season


L'institut français, LAB