People of SU

Rapping for (Climate) Change

Written by Andrew Binion

October 3, 2023

Photo featuring SU study abroad students with rappers in Senegal

Education abroad students meld lessons on French and environmentalism into music video with help from rappers in Senegal. 

To put their developing French language skills to the test—and to spotlight the reality of climate change in Africa and around the world, while living with host families in Senegal—nine Seattle University students not only wrote a rap song, called “G-23 (Globe 23)” but also filmed a video with local rappers.

The multimedia project was the culmination of two quarters spent abroad—first in Paris, then Morocco and finally Dakar, Senegal—emphasizing that most of the French in the world is spoken outside of its borders. 

Associate Professor El Hadji Malick Ndiaye, PhD, says he wanted the project to be fun and allow students to stretch out creatively, but also to connect global issues to local perspectives while allowing students to demonstrate what they were learning.

“They are abroad and spending a lot of time out of the country. We need to find more integrative tools to keep them focused and interested in what they are doing there,” says Ndiaye, who teaches both French and African and African American Studies. “I wanted a more organic way to think about these issues. Do it in an academic way, yes, but also more in a social and cultural way.”

The project was perfectly suited for Senegal, which has deep ties to rap music—it is the birthplace of MC Solaar, a world-renowned musician who raps in French. The country’s capital Dakar, where the students stayed, was called out by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as being especially vulnerable to sea level rise.

“The idea of connecting global issues to local perspectives was important to me,” Ndiaye says.

The students toured the country and saw up close some of the environmental challenges. 

“It’s also a very important issue to students because they see the negative impacts of climate change and are experiencing them,” he adds.

Hannah Sutherland, ‘24, a French and photography major, says the rap song verses came together through a month-long collaborative process and that zeroing in on climate change was a group decision.

“Climate change is one of those issues that our generation thinks about a lot and it just kept coming up and we thought, ‘Let’s run with it,’” she says.

Ndiaye and the students credited the success of the project to the participation of the musicians, Sir Jamal, Meuz and Foflow from Senegal and David 2 Pan from Belgium. A Senegalese filmmaker, Agas, helped produce the video.

Although the song and video highlight the environmental crisis, they also serve as a platform for the growing command of the language the students acquired abroad.

Prior to the trip Kevin Ruiz, ‘25, struggled with pronunciation, but saw his abilities grow in Senegal as only one member of his host family spoke English.

“That really helped my French. I had to constantly speak it to communicate with the people in my family or else I wouldn’t have had a real relationship,” the French and journalism double major says, improvements that were on display in the writing process for the song. “I wasn’t translating word to word. I understood the sentence and the meaning behind the sentence and I think that’s what is really important.”

The cultural differences between France and Senegal also made learning French in Africa easier, as locals took an interest in talking to them regardless of their fluency.

Beyond learning about French and the cultures that speak it, Sutherland says she learned about herself and returned home a different person, more open to people and new experiences.

“It really changes your way of thinking when you are trying to figure out what somebody is trying to say.”

Sara Barrish, ’23, credited the program for developing her interpersonal and teamwork skills. The psychology major and French minor says the most memorable lesson from her time in France and Africa was to take opportunities as they come.

“Even if it isn’t what you initially envisioned for yourself,” she says, “everything always works out in the end, so it’s important to enjoy the ride along the way.”

The French in France and Africa program is open to all Seattle University students interested in French and environmental and social justice. Applications will be accepted during spring quarter. 

Check out the video for “G-23 (Globe 23)."