Smiles, dancing and the infectious rhythm of African beats welcomed me into rapper, singer-songwriter, Sister Fa ‘s dressing room at Les Crèatives Festival in Geneva. I shyly interrupted her and her team as they prepared in a room filled with music, bursting with happiness and celebration.
The warm atmosphere continued; I was happy to see my presence did not dampen the mood. Our conversations were as open and lively as my welcome, with interjections from her team who listened attentively as we discussed her music, her travels and of course her notable work fighting female circumcision.
As a survivor of female circumcision, Sister Fa uses her musical gift to empower communities, giving them the knowledge they need to understand the unnecessary and inhumane dangers of the practice. Her campaign Education Sans Excision battles the should-be outdate tradition in different African regions.
A champion for many women and particularly to other female musicians in her home country of Senegal, where she became the first award winning and well recognised female rapper; she travels the world sharing her message but spends most of her time in Africa. “The communities there need me more,” she says.
The floor was full as Sister Fa took the stage. I rushed to the front. Her set began with a mid tempo song, then slowed down and sped up again. Influences of old school hip hop, reggae and Jali (a music style inspired by word for West African oral historians and storytellers). Some songs were sung, others were rapped, some had both. Her powerful voice would paralyse the room at times in French, other times in Wolof, Manding and Jola. I could not always understand her words but with each song I could connect with her sound and energy that swept the room.
So powerful that at one point the entire crowd danced in synchronisation to a variation of the side step/shuffle, a highly notable accomplishment for a Swiss crowd, often considered to be slightly more reserved. Although perhaps this spontaneous flash dance is a given for a society that vigilantly adheres to western norms of politeness.
With endearing conversation, she would transition from quick tempo dance songs to more solemn ones. At times her words would trigger laughter, other times admiration. The crowd clapped endlessly when she said in French, “Before I would cry, now I sing because I believe music begins where language stops.” Sister Fa is one of those rare rappers that are still political, who’s rhythms are as powerful as their lyrics.
“I use my music as a way to communicate; this is my weapon,” she tells me. Easing her way into people’s homes through music, she raises awareness about the dangers of female genital cutting in a non confrontational manner. “Female genital cutting is such a sensitive issue. You cannot just enter somebody’s house or school and start talking about it, but when people hear it in the music they can get the information they can use to protect their children,” she explains.
Her personal experiences have lead her to be a knowledgeable advocate working towards the eradication of female genital cutting. “I am not ashamed anymore to say that I am a victim of female genital mutilation. I do not blame my mom because she thought she was doing the best thing for her daughter. If I was not cut in my communities I would have been an outcast. I won’t cook for people. I am not allowed to greet people. I am talking about this subject because I know what it is about, I am a survivor. I am using music to build trust between myself and the young people,” she explains.
The greatest problem lies in changing people’s ideologies so that they understand that female circumcision is a harmful practice. Often time people justify the act with respect for tradition, but societies must adopt and abandon traditions in order to successfully grow. “This practice existed 3000 years before Jesus Christ in Egypt. If [someone who uses the argument of tradition] will tell me this is our culture, I will ask them where it came from and let them know that it is not originally part of our culture.”
Sister Fa’s next album will discuss political and social issues beyond female circumcision, she will address the dangers of our world’s ideologies and systems. “In my next album, I will talk politically, generally about how we are spoiling and destroying the world. We know that our children our coming, our grand children are coming, but we are still creating wars for material things like just petrol or just gold. In my next album I will also talk about discrimination. There is still not enough respect for Africa. I try to explain the situation: Europe and America is over there, we are still here but they still try to control us, our economy, our everything. They try to put their word inside everything we do.”
Her new album will be out in 2016, after being in the making for the past two years. We expect another intimate lyrical journey, travelling with rhythmic beats fusing hip hop, traditional senegalese instruments and reggae.
Her final words, “Change is happening, it’s just slow but we are doing quite a lot in changing the comportment of African communities. Our mothers will get the chance to go to school and learn how some of our practices are doing wrong to our daughters health. I think everyone should be part of this change and say I did something to end female genital cutting. Just approach different organisations dealing with those issues or approach someone like me if you want to be a volunteer to go on the field to meet children at school, there is no danger just exchanging and talking to kids who need help.”