Popular music animates life everywhere and West Africa is no exception. Artists tell all types of stories in their songs and tackle all sorts of issues. The “Stronger with breastmilk only” campaign recently got a boost when Safiath, a popular artist in Niger, produced a song to support its awareness raising efforts, joining other artists who also produced songs. Born in Khartoum to a Nigerienne father and a Sudanese mother, Safiath’s first forays into music came as a university student in Rabat, Morocco. She took a few minutes recently to speak by phone from Niamey.
Listen to Safiath’s latest album, Point Final ! Read more about exclusive breastfeeding across West Africa in this series of Le Monde Afrique articles.
A&T: Tell us about your start in music. I read you were studying economics in Morocco when you got started.
Safiath: Yes, I started singing in Morocco, with a group that was playing Latino-American music. I did covers of songs by groups like Buena Vista Social Club and Santana. When I graduated, I returned to Niger and started making personal music. I joined Kaidan Gaskiya 2, a hip-hop group. That’s really when my career started. The group was a big success. We were three – myself and two men. In Niger, female rappers are rare. I stayed with the group for 10 years and now it’s been three years since I’ve been solo.
A&T: How would you describe your music today?
Safiath: I do a mix, a little of everything. In 2018, I did a lot of urban music – hip hop, R&B, ragga dance hall – and I also do songs inspired by traditional music with a rock foundation. People love music here but not always Niger music. [Editor’s note: Safiath has been a strong supporter of Nigerienne music, promoting it both within the country and around the world.]
A&T: Tell us about the song “Nono uwa.”
Safiath: I made the song specifically for the campaign. The chorus says (in Hausa) “nono uwa” – breastmilk; “Banda ruwa” – without water; “aba jariri nono tsantsa daga an ayhoshi zuwa wata shidda” – exclusive breastfeeding to six months. It’s a good thing, particularly in a situation where hygiene is not adequately controlled. It’s difficult because clean water is not available all the time, so moms might give whatever water, which can cause the baby to fall ill. It’s very difficult to manage compared to exclusive breastmilk.
A&T: Was it unusual for you to write a song calling attention to an issue like this?
Safiath: No, not at all. I am a big proponent of engaged hip hop – we don’t sing just to sing: we sing to address the social and political problems. It was a habit i already had. In 2007, I did a whole album on the rights of the child with a group of African artists.
A&T: And do you think it makes a difference when a popular artist sings such a song?
Safiath: Music has the power to teach people, to reach people. I know there are people who prefer songs that don’t say anything, but there are people who appreciate music that says something important. And it changes mentality.
A&T: Do you think it changes behavior?
Safiath: Yes, music can change behavior. There is a proverb in Niger that says, “Music soothes the soul.” When we are very musical, it’s easier to receive a message. I’m not saying it will change the world but it will change the behavior of certain people. Of course, I want to see that with this song. I had a song on forced marriage, and I met a young girl who told me when her mother tried to force her to marry, she thought of this song. She played the music so her mother could hear its message and it influenced her mother – her mother changed her mind.
MDM Crew, another popular musical group, has also produced a track for the Stronger With Breastmilk Only campaign.