Trip To Senegal, West Africa

I returned in January 2006 from Senegal on a fantastic trip with 17 people, mostly teachers and my good friend and band mate from World Rhythms, Tony Vacca. We played with a lot of great Senegalese musicians and got to hang out with Baaba Maal at his house. I recorded 5 different musicians and bands including a kora player, a hoddu player, a singer-songwriter, djembe and talking drummers and gave them CDs of their music as gifts. I wrote a lot of new music inspired by all the new sights and sounds in the short 12 days we were there. We stayed in a magical place called Sobobade right on the beach. Just a wonderful time! I'm busy working on a CD called "SuperString Theory Goes to Senegal" which brings together all the music I recorded and composed there. Article about my trip to Senegal from VT Folk US Magazine follows: I was invited by Tony Vacca to go to Senegal, West Africa the day after Christmas (2005) for a 12 day trip. Tony is a well-known percussionist from the Northampton area. I've been playing in his group, Tony Vacca's World Rhythms for the past 4 years. He's been to Africa 15 times. This was my second time, my first being 5 years ago when I went to Ghana to study drumming. The trip was organized by Tony and Jean Butler who head the Senegal-America Project, a group that is working to create a cultural bridge between the two countries. Jean is also Tony's agent and books him into schools for performances and workshops. Seventeen people went on the trip, most of whom were school teachers who already teach about Africa in their classrooms, but wanted to get some firsthand experience of the place. It was an inspired group of people and each person had their own amazing back story. Massamba Diop, Tony's good friend and a celebrated tama player (talking drummer) with Baaba Maal's group was our host. We spent our time between Dakar and Toubab Diallaw, a small coastal village about an hour south of the capital. I had some ideas before leaving about what I hoped to accomplish in Senegal. Amazingly, I was able to achieve them all in the short time we were there. I brought my electric violin, a small amp and recording gear. Before leaving, I thought it would be great if I could give something to the musicians that I met there that would be valuable to them. It occurred to me that if I could record them and give them a CD of their own music while I was there then they could use it to help promote themselves or at the very least use it as a reference that they could listen to. It proved to be a very popular idea. I made the first one for Pape Sakho, a great kora player, who was at Sobobade in Toubab Diallaw where we stayed. Once his musician friends heard it they all wanted one too. I made 5 separate CDs for musicians or groups while I was there: kora (harp), hoddu (small African banjo), two drumming groups and one for a singer-songwriter. I also got to record my electric violin with Pape Sakho the kora player and with Barou Sall, who plays the hoddu. Massamba says Barou is the best hoddu player in Senegal. I will be including these recordings on my next SuperString Theory CD which will have a Senegalese theme. Sobobade, the place where we stayed, is completely magical. From the moment we arrived there I was inspired to write music which I did most nights till the very early hours. Sobobade is a combination of an artist retreat and a hotel for tourists set right on the ocean. It was created by a sculptor from Haiti who had filled it with sculptures, tiles and mosaics of stones and shells. It was a very inspiring place to be and very conducive to creativity. There was an amphitheater there where a large dance company that included 7 drummers rehearsed every day. They were fantastic and one of the CDs I made was of this drumming group. I was hoping to buy a riity, a one string Senegalese fiddle, while I was there and I finally was able to get one on the last day of the trip. It's a very unusual instrument and I'm having fun learning how to play it. Other highlights of the trip included two Baaba Maal shows that we attended. We even got to hang out with him at his house after the second show. He is a true visionary leader and does a lot of work to prevent AIDS in Africa. Our trip to Goree Island was very moving. Goree Island is where the slaves were held in captivity while waiting for the ships to come to bring them to the New World. We went to the market in Dakar on the last day which was overwhelming - extremely crowded and the vendors wouldn't stop hassling us to buy things. Tony had an all day and night recording session at Baaba Maal's studio that was very productive. A parade of musicians came through. We were invited to a very special ceremony at the mayor's office in Dakar because Tony had gotten a signed letter of friendship from the mayor of Northampton to give to the mayor of Dakar. The mayor welcomed us with 2 drumming groups and 2 dancing groups. It was an unforgettable experience. The whole trip was captured on video by Robbie Leppzer who is an independent documentary filmmaker. Sometimes it seems like I dreamed the whole thing, except I have these cool recordings... ~ Derrik Jordan

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