“As a girl it was not really a given, it wasn’t easy to rap in Senegal because making music was not really for girls,” says Fatou Mandiang Diatta. But when she was a child, watching music videos on TV and composing her own songs, the hiphop artist now known as Sister Fa knew she would never be like the other girls, who were “supposed to stay home, cook, do dishes and laundry, and just wait at home with mom for a handsome husband.” In fact, as she narrates in the documentary Sarabah, Fatou does have a handsome husband, a filmmaker and social anthropologist named Lukas May. They live in his native country, Germany, and have a little girl who accompanies them as they work in the studio or tour with their band. Sister Fa has always made overtly political music, including songs about AIDS awareness, Islam, and women’s rights in Senegal. (She released her CD, Tales from the Flipside of Paradise, in 2009.) But it was only recently that Fatou began incorporating her personal story into her performances. Specifically, she began speaking and singing about her experience with Female Genital Cutting.
Premiering on Link TV‘s Doc-Debut series on 15 January, Maria Luisa Gambale and Gloria Bremer’s film follows Fatou back to Senegal, featuring interviews with relatives and supporters, footage of still traditional village life, and Sister Fa’s galvanizing performances. If the format of the film is conventional, the story is unusually powerful, as Fatou seeks to educate audiences, encouraging them to rethink their traditions with a tour called Education sans Excision. It was tradition, her aunt explains, and women worried that their daughters would be rejected as “different” or abnormal. “It’s complicated,” adds Fatou, “You can’t blame someone who thought they were helping you for hurting you.” She recalls the experience was terrifying and traumatic: “I remember the pain, the screams of the women who grabbed me,” she says over footage of women at work in a Senegalese village. I remember the blood on my feet.” Today, she means to stop the practice, to keep it from happening to other children.