Senegal's Natty Jean imagines brighter days for west African youth
Our guest on this week's edition of World Music Matters is Senegalese reggae artist Natty Jean. After years working with the French reggae band Danakil, he's carving out a successful solo career here in France. He talks to RFI about his second album Imagine and the disenchantment with Senegal's politics that inspired it.
Natty Jean released his debut album, Santa Yalla, back in 2012 as President Macky Sall swept into power, carrying the hopes of a young generation ready for change.
But he feels that new beginning never materialised.
"There’s a lot of disappointment over Macky Sall and we're saying we've had enough," he told RFI. "Six years ago there was a sense of hope, I remember how enthusiastic young people were. We believed [Sall's election] marked the end of the old ways of doing African politics, with presidents who'd gone into politics just to hang onto power. But today the situation’s even worse."
"[Music] is a way of trying to bring about change," he says."And reggae in particular. That’s why we chose to go into reggae. The situation we grew up wasn’t easy, but it gave us something to say and an opportunity to say it and to change people's way of thinking. That’s what keeps us going, even if isn't always easy."
The power of imagination
His new album Imagine is about raising consciousness.
"It’s about hope. If we want to move forward then we need to imagine that Africa is going to develop, that one day we’ll be independent, and I mean truly independent."
For him, that means ending the CFA franc.
"Fourteen countries in west Africa are financially managed by France because the CFA franc is made in France and France decides on our trade policy," he explains. "In the meantime we don't have enough to eat. The imbalance, the lack of justice in all that really hurts. Africa is being strangled by Western powers and we have to speak out against that."
Hip hop roots
Natty Jean is light-years away from the archetypal dread-locked reggae artist. He started out in hip hop and integrated his flow into reggae and it's arguably what distinguishes him from reggae greats like Alpha Blondy, Tiken Jah Fakoly and the late Lucky Dube.
"I can’t change the way I am, I grew up with hip hop and it will always be in my blood," he says. "So what I love is playing around: when the mood takes me I rap, or sing, or do a big roots reggae thing. The album has a sort of jerky sound I like.
"One of the very first albums I had was by Alpha Blondy, he really left an impression on me, so I'm proud to follow in his and Tiken's footsteps, but everyone's got their own style. I have my way, a certain freshness and flow which I think can appeal to the younger generation."
Natty Jean now lives between Dakar and the French town of Dunkirk. He's been a staple feature of French reggae band Danakil but is now touring in his own right and hopes, despite the lack of infrastructure, to play in Senegal in 2019.
"There's no major reggae festival in Senegal, but there's a lot of talent," he says.
"There's a lack of structure, of funding, and the events that do exist are not well organised. If one day I'm famous I'd like to change that."
Natty Jean is currently on tour. Follow him on Facebook