Free concert kicks off 4 days of events at Smith College

NORTHAMPTON — “Music is Our Revolution: Hip Hop and Social Activism in Senegal” will be a four-day residency at Smith College, today through Tuesday, bringing together an innovative and distinguished group of musicians, poets and scholars to explore the impact of hip-hop and rap music on political and social activism in the West African nation.

The residency will open today, at 3 p.m., in Sweeney Concert Hall’s Sage Hall, with a free concert featuring some of the top hip-hop and rap musicians in Senegal. Among them will be the band Bideew Bou Bess, Abiodun Oyewole (of The Last Poets), female performance poet Tantra Zawadi, Whately percussionist Tony Vacca, and Senegalese-American band Gokh-bi System.

Sunday, Feb. 23, there will be a free screening of the documentary film “Democracy in Dakar” at 3 p.m. in Weinstein Auditorium in Wright Hall. The film, directed by award-winning international media producer, educator and author Ben Herson, examines the confluence of hip-hop and politics in the Senegalese capital city. 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 Monday and Tuesday will focus on educational and scholarly discussions between artists and students and faculty at Smith College. Performers will visit several classes and will also participate in a global salon with members of the academic community exploring international issues associated with art and activism.

The residency will conclude Tuesday with a 7 p.m. public, open dialogue, “Hip Hop and Global Citizenship” in Weinstein Auditorium. Eric Charry, professor of music at Wesleyan University and the editor of the book “Hip Hop Africa: New African Music in a Globalizing World,” 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.

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.

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 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. 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 and jazz trumpeter and World Music legend Don Cherry.

— RICHIE DAVIS

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Music is our revolution

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The “tama,” or “talking drum,” that Massamba Diop cradles under his left arm and beats with the stick-like mallet held in his right in Tony Vacca’s Whately living room is extraordinary. First, the drum, which he’s repaired as Vacca has been “talking drums” and rapping about rapping, was handmade by the tall, lean African percussionist in his native Senegal using … 0

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