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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris with music from Senegal.

(Soundbite of song)

DAARA J: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: The singer says, `Everything is from the sand and everything will return to the sand.' That theme of cycles inspires the hip-hop trio Daara J. They're superstars in Senegal, and they're just now finding an audience in the United States.

(Soundbite of song)

DAARA J: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: That's Faada Freddy with those rapid-fire rhymes. He's backed by Ndongo G and Lord Aladji Man. All three members of Daara J join us now from NPR's New York studios.

Welcome to all three of you.

FAADA FREDDY: Yes.

Unidentified Group Member: Yes.

FAADA FREDDY: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Group Member: Yeah.

FAADA FREDDY: You know, that's how we say `greetings' in Senegalese.

NORRIS: Ah, well, greetings to you, too.

Unidentified Group Member: Yes.

NORRIS: Faada Freddy, when you start rapping in this song, what are we hearing you say?

FAADA FREDDY: (Foreign language spoken) It means, ain't no need to beat around the bush, you know, saying that, you know, hip-hop was born in Africa, went around the world to come back to Africa like a boomerang that has been thrown from the motherland and now is back home.

NORRIS: So hip-hop has come full circle?

FAADA FREDDY: Definitely, yeah.

(Soundbite of song)

DAARA J: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: What language are you singing in?

FAADA FREDDY: We're singing in the native language, which is Wolof, spoken by over 25 ethnic groups in Senegal.

NORRIS: Now you say that hip-hop was actually born in Africa before it came to the States, but it wasn't necessarily the same thing that we think of as hip-hop in America; it was much more of a storytelling tradition.

FAADA FREDDY: You know, this music is typically like the new reflection of the griotism, the new reflection of the tasso, as we used to say in Senegal, because the first time we heard Grandmaster Flash rapping, you know, on a hip-hop track, everybody was like, OK, we know this because this is tasso.

NORRIS: So tasso is sort of the rhythmic oral history in Senegal.

FAADA FREDDY: That's it. And, you know, everybody does tasso in Senegal. You know, when you feel something that you want to say, you know, with some rhymes and under a rhythmic form, you use the tasso. But it's something very natural that we used to do. We've been rhyming like that for a long time. Even before the slavery era, people used to do that, you know, in Africa, incarnate that style.

NORRIS: Could you give me an example of tasso, maybe sing a little bit for us right here in the studio?

FAADA FREDDY: OK. So we going to try to improvise, you know, something. OK?

(Soundbite of song)

DAARA J: (Singing in foreign language)

FAADA FREDDY: Original lyric is (foreign language spoken). Like that.

NORRIS: Like that.

FAADA FREDDY: Yeah. This is tasso.

NORRIS: Heads are a-bobbing in the studio here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: So if we heard this now in a club, I'm wondering what that might be like to catch up with Daara J on a Friday night in a dance club in Dakar. Help me understand what it would look like, what it would sound like, what it would smell like. What we would see?

FAADA FREDDY: A warm atmosphere, you know, the fever. Warm people.

NORRIS: The fever?

FAADA FREDDY: Yeah, the fever. You know, beautiful Senegalese women.

Unidentified Group Member: Senegalese, yeah.

FAADA FREDDY: You know, traditional clothes and even modern clothes all together, the atmosphere getting hotter and hotter, you know, till the morning light.

(Soundbite of song)

DAARA J: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: Freddy, Ndongo, Lord Aladji Man, I understand that the three of you met each other in high school while you were studying--did I get this right--accounting?

FAADA FREDDY: (Laughs) Yeah. That's it. That's it. We were studying accountancy because, you know, our parents wanted us to be, you know, as we used to say in Africa, bureaucrats--I mean, you know, someone behind a desk and counting the money, you know, or even working in the bank because they thought that was the only way to make some money, you know, and help them out.

NORRIS: Obviously, you had ideas of your own.

FAADA FREDDY: And, you know, it was--I thought that they would only be proud of their sons if they were behind a big desk, you know, running a big company. But, you know, the destiny chose that we would fall in love with music. And, you know, since then, you know, our life is music.

(Soundbite of song)

DAARA J: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: You write in a couple of your songs about Senegalese people who leave their country in search of work. And I'm thinking of one song in particular, "Paris Dakar."

FAADA FREDDY: Yes.

(Soundbite of "Paris Dakar")

DAARA J: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: Freddy, did I just hear you say bling-bling?

FAADA FREDDY: Yeah, bling-bling. Yeah.

NORRIS: I guess that's become a universal term.

FAADA FREDDY: Yeah, that's it. That's it.

(Soundbite of "Paris Dakar")

DAARA J: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: Now, in this song, Paris is all about bling-bling.

FAADA FREDDY: "Paris Dakar"--you know, that's the comparison between Paris and Dakar. And it was a way to call people to come over to Africa because it feels so good to be over in Africa because it's like they're really missing something not going, you know, to Africa.

(Soundbite of "Esperanza")

DAARA J: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: The song "Esperanza" or "Hope," when you listen to it, the rhythms transport you across the Atlantic from Senegal all the way to Cuba, and that's a long stretch. I'm wondering how that happened. Where did this song come from? And why that reference?

FAADA FREDDY: You know, since we were kids, our parents used to listen to Cuban music. You know, we grew with it and with that Cuban influence, you know, we reminded them of the good old days. And, you know, we really had all these people, you know, getting connected to the new generation.

(Soundbite of "Esperanza")

DAARA J: (Singing in foreign language)

FAADA FREDDY: This song means a lot to us. It's a very important song that put the youth and the elders together.

NORRIS: You widened the circle.

FAADA FREDDY: The circle, yes. We came from a long way just to show them, you know, to give them the prop that hip-hop was about lifting the spirit up. You know, and finally they got all convinced, you know, that we were doing it for the good cause. And now I think they're more--the rappers, they're more hip-hop than anyone.

(Soundbite of "Esperanza")

DAARA J: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: Faada Freddy, Ndongo G, Lord Aladji Man, thanks for coming into the studio.

FAADA FREDDY: Thank you very much.

Unidentified Group Member: Yeah, bye.

FAADA FREDDY: It's a pleasure. Daara J.

NORRIS: Daara J's first CD to be released in the United States is called "Boomerang." They'll be on a US tour this summer. And if you want, you can hear more music from Daara J at npr.org.

(Soundbite of song)

DAARA J: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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