Rhythm Nomad

Senegal-America Project

When the music, the dance and the poetry bring us all together, the message is always that "we are all connected, our fates are ultimately inseparable, and the help we give becomes the help we get.”

World Music... Spoken Word... Global Citizenship... limitless possibilities

The SENEGAL-AMERICA PROJECT is an expandable, up-close-and-personal model for practicing the most essential and obvious principle of human interactions, which is that we are all connected. The primary goal of the project is to bring people together in meaningful collaborations that create transformational responses to what we share of common issues and common ground.

It's Global citizenship... and we're using music as the vehicle to set all this in motion.

There are two distinct aspects of this project; A performance troupe that features musicians, poets, and dancers from Senegal, America and beyond.... and a non-profit sponsored network of partnerships that is focused on the power of our inter-connected global citizenship to address our common issues. These include health, education, equity, access, the prevention of violence, and the practice of joyful respect for our exquisite humanity. 

For us, these are totally interconnected elements… Music has always been the engine of social change.

Massamba Diop and Tony Vacca

Massamba Diop and Tony Vacca

To see our two CD recordings just go to: www.cdbaby.com/cd/thesenegalamericaproject, or www.cdbaby.com/tonyvacca4

About the performance troupe: the music, the dance, the poetry...

Concert performances:

This Project really began with music. The connections and friendships that grew from the music soon fostered collaborations that spawned concert performances and a great recording (The Senegal-America Project, 2001). From all this, we have created the performance spectacle called The Senegal-America Project. 

The groups and special guests who have performed in concert as "The Senegal-America Project" include Tony Vacca's World Rhythms Ensemble, one of Senegal's most popular and innovative bands called Bideew Bou Bess, West African Rap/Hip-Hop pioneers Gokh-bi System, saxophonist Charles Neville of The Neville Brothers, tama master Massamba Diop, Senegalese dancer Abdou Sarr, and poets Abiodun Oyewole (of the Last Poets), Tantra Zawadi, and Magdalena Gomez.  

A wide variety of "hands-on" workshops can be included as part of these programs when feasible.

As part of our project, we regularly bring visiting Senegalese artists to America for a variety of collaborations. This is an important part of how we finance the health and educational programs we've done. See below:

We currently offer:

-Concerts and workshop presentations in schools throughout America

-Festival performances

-Club performances

-Projects and Visions trips to Senegal: collaborations of all sorts that take place in Senegal and are designed by participants. Some past projects include collaborative composition and recording, health care initiatives, story telling collaborations, documentary films, arts exchange projects, a collaborative poetry collection, and school partnerships.

To book The Senegal-America Project please contact the following:
For Festivals, Colleges, Clubs & Performing Arts concerts

Contact: Tony Vacca/World Rhythms
phone/fax: 413-665-1067

For School Programs:
Contact: Jean Butler Arts are Essential, Inc.
phone/fax: 978-263-0108

Early History

During the past twenty years, Massamba Diop and Tony Vacca have been bringing together the traditions of their music and the peoples of their countries. 

In 2000, the Senegal-America family of performers expanded to include the extraordinary Senegalese Hip-Hop troupe called Gokh-bi System, and together they've created three CDs ("Rhythm Griots," "Suma Deuk Waay," and "The Senegal-America Project"), a video documentary on their work, and sixteen U.S. tours in support of the Senegal-America Project. 

This collaboration began in 1995, when American-born percussionist Tony Vacca met up with tama drum master Massamba Diop of Senegal, West Africa. Tony had been exploring the many world rhythm sources of music in America since 1972, the year he took the first of seventeen trips to Africa. 

Massamba Diop had been in the band of Senegal's Afro-pop superstar Baaba Maal for over a decade before he met Tony. In fact, it was Baaba Maal who was the connecting force that brought them together; they literally met backstage at one of Baaba's concerts. Baaba's dedication to uniting the people of Africa and bringing them to their full potential is the reason he was appointed to be the Artistic Emissary for the United Nations' Millennium Development Program in Africa. These three world musicians share the same mindset of building community through music and have dedicated their careers to doing just that.

In 1996 Massamba came to America for the first of many tours with Tony Vacca and World Rhythms. Over the past twelve years, Tony and Massamba have done concerts and workshops in schools for over 380,000 students, demonstrating how they have created common ground between their two countries. The Senegal-America Project has now grown from the initial collaboration between Tony and Massamba, to include several other Senegalese and American performers. 

In 1998, Tony brought a group of twelve educators, musicians, and filmmakers to Senegal for the first of several cultural exchange journeys. Using an interactive web site and email communications, they partnered with over 25 American schools, creating a unique virtual experience. The net result was that the students at these schools got a taste of Senegal almost as if they were there. During this trip a group called Gokh-bi System introduced themselves to Tony. They were from one of the roughest boroughs of Dakar called Guinaw Rail. Their music was part ancient traditional, part new city hip-hop, and all about how music, dance and storytelling can open our minds to a shared vision and common ground. Two years later they were touring in America with Tony and Massamba Diop, doing concerts and workshops at festivals, colleges, and public schools. This visit also produced CD recordings, a CNN global music feature, lasting friendships, and a promise to return.

Six years later, in 2004, they did just that. The project had grown, and nowJean Butler and her non-profit corporation, Arts Are Essential, were partners with Tony Vacca on the Senegal-America Project. Together Tony Vacca, Jean Butler, and Massamba Diop decided to offer a "Professional Development" trip to Senegal. Eighteen teachers, musicians, visual artists, filmmakers, storytellers, and global minded community-builders answered the call. They created many friends and much love, and inspired the mayor of Pikine to host a press conference and reception in their honor. This group was the prototype for what has now become the "Projects and Visions trip to Senegal.

Debby Kern had also returned to Senegal with this crew, and updated the new, expanding web site that would now include teacher-created lesson plans, hundreds of photos, and journals by those on the trip. This new site, and the generous contributions by American and Senegalese "extended family," would help to encourage a whole new level of social activism for the Project.

The next level of the project's expansion began when two middle school social studies teachers (Rich Haxshi and Lenny Moitoso) involved their classes in their trip to Senegal. They kept in constant touch, and returned with stories, photos, musical instruments, and personal adventures. The students' interest quickly lead to a trip to Senegal for ten students, ten parents and three faculty members from their school, and this trip started a entire new level of social awareness and activism. From raising money to help build and support a new school in Guinaw Rail, to donating 2750 mosquito nets to help fight malaria, and offering free diabetes screening, this contingency from Roger Ludlowe Middle School continues going above and beyond anything we've seen before. They've created a perfect blend of committed social activism with lasting personal friendships and profound learning experiences. 

This is what education is supposed to look like!

Their work/adventure/vision continues. The third contingency of students, teachers and parents went to Senegal in the Spring of 2009. In addition to continuing with all their other work, they brought assistance for traditional coastal fisherman at the mouth of the Senegal River. The entire cottage fishing industry is threatened by gargantuan vessels overfishing right at the edge of international waters. These students not only studied the problem, they chose to do something about it, and they did. Big kudos to them.

For the more recent history, go back to the top of the page.


Here's the proposal:

In an effort to strengthen and deepen the many connections our Senegal-America Project has fostered, and in recognition of the extraordinary role our children play in righting the precarious ship of humanity, we are inviting schools and students in Senegal and America to participate in The Senegal-America Project's Collaborative Art Exchange. 

In this process two strangers will meet in the realm of imagination, and attempt to reveal, change, and connect who they are by virtue of the power of their art. 

Here's how it might go:

Each artist starts a life-size self-portrait; something simple, honest, colorful, and funky. This self-portrait is then brought to a distant collaborator (in this case in Senegal, West Africa) to be finished. It is then returned to them changed. Each artist is also given a self-portrait to finish, that will then be returned to its originator.

Not only do we illustrate how "we are all connected," but we also demonstrate that when you dare to travel far from home, you come back...well, changed.

In general, if there is any advise at all, it's this: "Be bold, and keep it simple."  

Here's Tony's take on what actually happened:

I invited one school and one community organization to participate on our initial version. I received twenty rather amazing self portraits from these groups, carefully rolled them up, and proceeded to carry them with me right onto the plane headed for Dakar, Senegal.

I got to Senegal with these wonderful paintings and brought them to my friend Ibou Pouye. Ibou is a commercial artist, and a teacher as well, and he immediately saw the potential of this idea to make a real connection between Senegalese and American students. His school does not have any open floor space to do such a project, so he brought several of his students to his studio.

The results were especially interesting to me. The only directive I gave Ibou and his students was to create a background for these images that would place them in Senegal. I was thinking that they'd create a scenario that we would recognize as being in Africa and in Senegal. I was thinking of a marketplace, or a city-scape, or a village scene that would look like Senegal to us. What they did was...well, it was their vision of their world. They added stars and sky and earth and color... I was thinking they would make it "look like what Senegal looks like" to a visitor, but they made it "feel like how Senegal feels to them." They made it feel like the world they know. They took it beyond what I imagined, which is the actual goal of the whole project...to go beyond where we are now.

So now it's your turn...

This Project has just begun. We want you, whomever you are, to be part of this. Imagine and design your part, and we will collaborate with you to make it happen.

Send me an email with your ideas. I am at: tonyvacca@comcast.net.