Screenshot from the music video for “Caminhos” (“The roads”) by Baloberos.
Tired of watching their country be torn apart by drug violence, rappers from Guinea Bissau are turning to hip hop to denounce drug trafficking. MCs Mario Maxposs, Cientista Realista, FBMJP and Zaino Zavadare accuse their government of complicity in the drug trade through their lyrics and condemn the international community’s apathy.
Music video for “Relatorio” (“Report”) by MC Mario Maxposs.

Excerpted lyrics from “Bo Obi Mas” by Baloberos:
Guinea Bissau, a narco-state?
Traffic that flows up to Spain?
Traffic from Colombia?
Traffic that our brothers see,
Our armed forces transport tons of cocaine,
Do business with their Colombian brethren
Listen to how coca is measured: kilogram, hectogram, decagram, graaaaaaamm!
Excerpted lyrics from “Kaminhus” by As One:
Our laws have been gutted
Here, they are useless
Here, for those who don’t know, we’re in Guinea Bissau
Here, traffickers have more rights than professors
Here, pigs wear suits
These dogs, when they kill, they get cars
And so they kill again, on and on
Guineans, the time has come to realize that
We must leave behind that which holds us back

“Our songs reflect the current events in Guinea Bissau, so the lyrics are about drugs”

Zaino Zavad is a rapper and part of Balobero, one of Guinea Bissau’s most popular groups. He currently lives in Lisbon, Portugal.
It would be hard to pinpoint exactly when “narco rap” started in Guinea Bissau, but it really took off in 2009/2010 when the country entered a massive political crisis related to drug trafficking. [Editor’s Note: In 2009, Colombian drug cartels were accused of being involved in the double assassination of President Joao Bernardo Vieira and the chief of staff for the armed forces. In 2010, the military carried out a coup under the leadership of admiral Bubo Na Tchuto, who had been pushed out two years prior for covering up drug trafficking]. Our lyrics reflect current events. And since drug trafficking is currently contaminating our country, that’s the theme that most frequently appears in our songs. It’s now its own sub-genre of rap.
Music video for “Caminhos” (“The Roads”) by Baloberos.
The media ignore drug trafficking, either out of fear of reprisals or because of government pressure. [Editor’s Note: In 2012, Reporters Without Borders noted serious violations of freedom of the press, especially following the recent coup]. That’s why rappers have taken it upon themselves to investigate and share information on the chaos that Guinea Bissau has been experiencing. In our country, young people have no future, they have no jobs and so they fall back on selling drugs. Obviously, we’re primarily trying to reach these young people, and so it’s convenient because they listen to a lot of rap. We are aware of the influence we could have on them. We are trying to change mindsets, and I feel like sometimes it works: on Facebook, many of our fans tell us that now they have another image of their country and that they want to get involved in politics. We are proud of them.
Social networks have allowed us to get around censorship. We produce our own videos and we share them on YouTube. But that still doesn’t mean that we are free from any kind of legal repercussions. In 2009, me and my fellows members of the group spent a bit of time in jail for having dared to call out the behaviour of powerful, high-level officials in Guinea Bissau. We were very scared at the time, but that didn’t stop us from continuing to criticise government abuses. Nonetheless, because of threats and also because of quality of life issues, many rappers now live abroad. I haven’t been back to my country since I left for Portugal three years ago.
Guinea Bissau is a small Portuguese-speaking West African country – barely larger than Belgium – that is located between Senegal and Guinea. Although Guinea Bissau has significant natural resources, such as rice and cashew nuts (60% of the country’s revenues), it is one of the poorest countries on earth, with 85% of the population living below the poverty line and the government relying on donor aid for 75% of its budget. Since the country’s independence in 1974, the political situation has been very unstable and coups are common. The military carried out the latest coup on April 12, 2012. Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, the current leader, was selected on May 11, 2012 to lead the country toward a democratic transition.
In the meantime, Guinea Bissau has become a hub for cocaine trafficking from South America. The country’s geography, and especially the multitude of small islands off its coast, provides convenient locations to unload drug shipments.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Grégoire Remund (@gregoireremund).