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UK grime MC Saskilla goes back to his Senegalese roots

AFRICAN PRIDE: Grime MC Saskilla visited Senegal as part of the project Homelands

BORN in Leeds and raised in South London, Saskilla began MC’ing at the age of 15 and came to prominence after clashing for the Lord of the Decks.

A stalwart of the grime scene, Saskilla is a member of famed east London crew Roll Deep, and also formed the collective Nu Brand Flexxx.

More recently, the lyricist left his London hometown and went back to his roots during a trip to Senegal. The visit came as a part of Homelands, a year-long series of global tours, artistic residencies and insights that documents musicians connecting with their heritage, helps them learn about where they came from, and then create something new in response to their journey of self-discovery.

Here, Saskilla shares his experience.

How was your first full day in Senegal?
We headed out early to the British Council, where we were ushered into a room of media and music industry heads. Seated alongside Senegal’s biggest DJ, Coco Jean, Alijiman of Dara J, one of West Africa’s top urban acts and Ms Diagne of African media platform Music B – it was a privilege to share my experiences of Roll Deep and the UK grime scene.

After the panel, I went straight to Nostalgie Radio for a ‘live’ interview with one of West Africa’s most respected hip-hop DJ’s, Coco Jean. I plugged that I was to perform alongside West Africa’s rap megastar, Nit Doff, as part of my Homelands residency. I left the studio trying to imagine how those 20,000 Senegalese people would react to my sound.

Did you meet Senegalese star Youssou N’Dour?
We drove to the studios of TFM, the Senegalese TV network owned by Youssou N’Dour – unfortunately he was away. Nitt Doff and I were interviewed about our collaboration and explained how the fusion of sound and culture would be achieved. After the show, I shot footage for my own documentary touring the crafts markets at Subunjud.

What about family time?
I met with Maguette, my father’s oldest brother. After a wonderful welcome in his home, surrounded by his wife and children, he led us out to Ashlem, where he and my father were raised. The neighbourhood was alive with excitement and emotion as my grandfather strode out to meet us dressed in a traditional royal blue costume. I can tell you there were tears; it was a spiritual, cleansing experience. The next day would be my first outside of Dakar, to Louga in the north-west of Senegal. I asked my uncle Hamza to come with me. I would be performing in a stadium I’d never seen in front of a crowd who’d never seen me. It would be good to have family along.

What was the show like?
I walked on stage later that night and just vibed with the crowd, who responded to my stories and my pure UK grime sound. After that, Nit Doff completely shut down the venue, showing why he is the most successful Afro rap act in Senegal. He sent the crowd wild and kept them just where he wanted them throughout his set.

What was the last day like?
I was very tired and my voice wasn’t in the best condition, but Nitt Doff and I still had a job to do in the studio. We started off the studio session with a melody he thought was strong and an original production he thought best fitted the moment. After drinking lots of hot lemon tea, I recovered my voice and before long we had a solid chorus. Our verses flowed naturally and when we finished the track it seemed had covered some serious ground. I felt I had put a little of my Senegal experience into what I did and said our goodbyes. This has been one of the most amazing weeks of my life.

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