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Sam Rush, Production and Publicity Manager
(413) 585-3249; srush@smith.edu
Nikki Beck, Production and Publicity Assistant
(413) 585-3222; ncbeck@smith.edu

Hip Hop and Social Activism in Senegal

A four-day residency examining how musicians and poets in Senegal are using their talents and their art to motivate social engagement and promote peace

Northampton, MA—From February 22-25, 2014 Smith College will host a four-day residency bringing together an innovative group of musicians and poets with a distinguished group of scholars for a series of events exploring the impact of hip hop and rap music on political and social activism in the West African nation of Senegal.

The residency will open on Saturday, February 22 at 3:00 p.m. in Sweeney Concert Hall, Sage Hall, with a concert featuring some of the top hip hop and rap musicians in Senegal, including the band Bideew Bou Bess, Abiodun Oyewole (of The Last Poets), female performance poet Tantra Zawadi, American percussionist Tony Vacca, and Senegalese-American band Gokh-bi System.

On Sunday, February 23, there will be a screening of the documentary film Democracy in Dakar at 3:00 p.m. in Weinstein Auditorium in Wright Hall. The film, which was directed by award-winning international media producer, educator and author Ben Herson, examines the confluence of hip-hop and politics in Dakar, Senegal. After the screening, Herson will lead a talk-back about the film and the issues it raises with the audience and performers from Saturday’s concert.

Events on Monday, February 24 will focus on educational and scholarly discussions between the artists and students and faculty at Smith College. Performers will visit several classes at the college to discuss their work, and will also participate in a global salon, a meeting with members of the academic community exploring international issues associated with art and activism.

Additional class visits and educational meetings will take place during the day on Tuesday, February 25, and then the residency will conclude with a final public event at 7:00 p.m. in Weinstein Auditorium, an open dialogue titled Hip Hop and Global Citizenship. Eric Charry, Professor of Music at Wesleyan University and the editor the book Hip Hop Africa: New African Music in a Globalizing World. Charry will give an overview of African hip hop and will then engage both the performers from Senegal and the audience in a conversation about music as an agent of political and social change.

This event is made possible by the generous support of the Smith College Music Department, the Office of Student Engagement, the Lecture Committee, the Office of the Provost/Dean of the Faculty, the Office of Institutional Diversity, the Lewis Global Studies Center, the Smith College Anthropology Department, the Five College African Studies Program, the Five College Ethnomusicology Program, the Amherst College Black Studies Department, and the Mount Holyoke College Music Department.


Bideew Bou Bess is one of the best-known hip-hop bands in Senegal West Africa. Brothers Moctar Sall, Baidy Sall, and Ibrahima Sall perform music known for its insightful lyrics, sweet vocals, complex harmonies, and savvy political commentary. In reviewing their work, James Heflin, music editor for The Valley Advocate wrote "Bideew Bou Bess offer something startling: an African brand of Hip-Hop that's not quite like anything else...which possesses equal parts Hip-Hop swagger, big beats, well-sung harmony, and traditional African sounds... It's exhilarating stuff."

Abiodun Oyewole is a poet and teacher considered one of the fathers of rap and hip hop. In 1968, he helped to found The Last Poets, a group that originated with the goal of being a poetic voice for Malcolm X's call for self-determination and black nationalism. The Last Poets developed into what is considered to be the first hip hop group.

Tantra Zawadi is a female performance poet and published author who uses her voice to raise awareness about issues that are important to women. She is the author of three books of poetry, including the 2013 volume Bubbles: One Conscious Breath, as well as an accomplished songwriter. She regularly performs with The Senegal-American project.

Tony Vacca is an American percussionist and poet with jazz and world music roots going back to 1972. He makes a habit of pushing the conventions of World Music into new territory, both as a soloist and as the leader of his World Rhythms Ensemble. He has recorded and/or performed with musicians including Sting, Senegalese Afro-pop star Baaba Maal, jazz trumpeter and World Music legend Don Cherry, poet Abiodun Oyewole of The Last Poets, Senegalese Hip-Hop stars Bideew Bou Bess, as well as Gokh-bi System, and Massamba Diop, Senegalese master of the tama or talking drum. In addition to a busy performing and teaching schedule, Vacca's current projects include a collaborative CD Things Gotta Change. Vacca is a co-founder of The Senegal-American project.

Ben Herson is an internationally celebrated social entrepreneur, educator, media producer and author. In 2001, he founded Nomadic Wax, a media and educational events production company that uses music, film and the arts to promote cultural exchange and social change. He is an experienced educator with ten years of classroom experience in New York City public and private schools, and he lectures regularly at colleges and universities. He is also a consultant and media producer for clients that include MTV, USAID and US Department of State.

Eric Charry is a professor of music at Wesleyan University, where his work focuses on popular music in Africa and the Americas, as well as on musical improvisation. He teaches courses on the history of Rock and R&B and on global Hip Hop. He is the author of Mande Music: Traditional and Modern Music of the Maninka and Mandinka of Western Africa (2000, University of Chicago Press) and the editor of Hip Hop Africa: New African Music in a Globalizing World (2012, Indiana University Press). He has also published numerous articles, chapters, and encyclopedia and dictionary entries on a broad range of subjects related to World Music and Rock, R&B and improvisation. Charry holds a PhD in music from Princeton University and Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music.


Bideew Bou Bess Concert     Saturday, February 22     3:00 PM 
         Sweeney Concert Hall, Sage Hall

Film: Democracy in Dakar     Sunday, February 23       3:00 PM 
         Weinstein Auditorium, Wright Hall

Class Visits and Global Salon: Hip Hop and Social Activism in Senegal
         Monday, February 24              Various Locations

Lecture: Hip Hop and Global Citizenship   Tuesday, February 25   7:00 PM
          Weinstein Auditorium, Wright Hall

Events on Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday are free and open to the public.
Events on Monday are for the Smith College community exclusively.

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