Apart from Senegalese B-boys, the folks at the smoothed-out Sol Village at S.O.B.’s seemed ill-prepared for the Pan-African ruckus that dropped on March 16. Indeed, perplexity and confusion reigned as foreign tongues bucked wild over the sound system in preparation for the U.S. debut of the Dakar-based trio Daara J. Moments later, however, those drawn by buzz surrounding the genre-spanning rhythms and conscious rhymes of the much lauded record Boomerang seemed to be actively contemplating the towering, dreadlocked MC Aladji’s invitation, “Come with us to Africa.”
Aladji and his co-conspirators, Faada Freddy and N’Dongo D, have an ambitious agenda: to expose the polyphonic links between West Africa and the New World once manifested through the voyages of slave ships. Like at a less academic Roots show circa 1996, Senegal’s soundbombers wasted no time orchestrating their version of hip-hop history, going back to what Freddy calls the “ancient” school of street poetry known as tasso. Spitting rapid-fire rhymes and Rasta chants in English, French, Spanish, and their native Wolof, the modern-day griots, whose name translates to “school of life,” expeditiously tackled political corruption, la vie africaine, and the hopes of a global generation.
From the salsa hybrid “Esperanza” to Freddy’s Marley-like wailing in “Exodus,” the three embarked on a transatlantic award tour with port calls in the Caribbean, West Africa, and the Bronx—where they say hip-hop “grew up” before returning home to Africa. Once Parisian DJ Neasso dropped a spine-tingling boogie-down break, it didn’t take much for the screw-faced N’Dongo D, draped in the red, gold, and green flag of Senegal, to elevate the three into near-trance mode. Jumping and gyrating during the frantic “Bopp sa Bopp,” the Sene-rap stars soon proved their stamina would outlast that of the Wednesday- night crowd. But when the acrobatic Aladji untangled himself from the microphone cables with a smile and demanded “two steps for Senegal,” what good-standing member of the hip-hop “civilization” Daara J claim to rep wouldn’t comply?