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. 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." 


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

Ms. Jean Butler and her arts non-profit (Arts Are Essential, Inc.) are instrumental in sustaining and uniting these two aspects of our project. 

In 2012 the US Embassy in Dakar Senegal funded the group's trip to Senegal. During that stay (December 2012 to January 2013) we performed at Festival des Formes at des Rythmes du Monde, with Bideew Bou Bess on Goree Island and then at the CISES Concert Hall. We also did professional development workshops and then The Poetry Slam at AfriCultUrban, and several collaborative recordings that are part of the new Senegal-America CD for 2015.

In 2014 and again in 2015 we hosted visits to the US by the project co-founder Massamba Diop. Massamba is one of Senegal's great masters of the tama or talking drum. We also hosted visits by Bideew Bou Bess, three Senegalese brothers whose music has made them Senegal's favorite young singers/Hip-Hop artists. They joined with many of our US crew and together we did a series of public concerts. Venues included Smith College, Berklee College of Music, Vermont Jazz Center, The Iron Horse Music Hall, Greenfield Community College and many more. We also did performances and workshops at schools throughout the Northeast. 

Next Up: 
We've been invited back to Senegal for Le Festival des Formes et des Rhythmes du Monde. So we're working on funding a return visit to Senegal for The Senegal-America Project's performance troupe. In addition to performances and recordings we're planning on doing a benefit concert supporting the prevention of malaria and domestic violence, and several additional activities that focus on big issues: a student generated live conversation on identity and global citizenship in the 21st century, a poetry exchange project, and a girls/women's empowerment project. 

If you are interested in helping to fund this extraordinary project, or if your school is interested in learning how you can be part of what we are creating, contact us at: tonyvacca@comcast.net and/or jean@arts-are-essential.org

The idea here is to continue our practice of using our music to create a sustainable blend of social entrepreneurism and effective community-based philanthropy.

So first: The non-profit aspect:

This extraordinary project has grown from the initial collaboration between Tony Vacca and Massamba Diop, into a network of musicians, teachers, social activists, schools, film makers and health care professionals. With the help of friends, investors, and partnerships, we've gone far beyond our modest original vision.

We'd love for you to be part of this, but first please take a look at what we've done:

In Senegal we have
-Helped to fund new schools, building and staffing them in difficult inner city neighborhoods of Dakar
-Distributed 3500 mosquito nets free to residents in high risk areas
-Sponsored free health-care screenings and trained a Senegalese team to facilitate follow-up treatments
-Created six fair-trade collaborative recordings with world class performers
-Created a team of artists and schools who are part of our "Arts Exchange" project between Senegalese and American students and professional visual artists
-Have performed twice at Baaba Maal's "Festival les Blues du Fleuve," done a concert on national television as part of "Soiree Africain," and have done numerous concerts and hands-on workshops at Sobobade, one of Senegal's most distinctive arts centers.

In America we have:
-Brought our concert and workshops programs to over 500 schools, and worked with nearly 400,000 students
-Helped to create a new generation of students with hands-on experience as global citizens
-Sponsored trips to Senegal for students, teachers and parents to be hands-on participants in the work we've taken on in Senegal
-Done the first round of our new "Arts Exchange" project for Senegalese and American students and professional visual artists
-Done hundreds of concerts at festivals and clubs featuring our international collaborations.

The Senegal-America Project is itself a project of the 501c non-profit arts organization Arts Are Essential, Inc, so your much needed generous financial contributions are TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

You can make donations at: http://www.arts-are-essential.org/donate.html

You can also support what we do by donating services, and we truly welcome that. 

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

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 begin in Senegal and are designed by participants. Some past projects include music, health care, story telling, documentary films, student travel, and school partnerships.

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 perform 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.

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 tonyvacca@comcast.net

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

Early History
During the past fifteen 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. Stay tuned....


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.