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MIT student blogger Jess K. '10

Rambax MIT Goes To Senegal by Jess K. '10

Like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, except with fewer filibusters and more dancing.

This week in blog entries posted by people who no longer go to MIT, and sometimes go to trivia together, and eat each other’s nachos: my name is Jess, and I graduated in 2010. That doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to still take advantage of the incredible opportunities MIT has to offer, although it does mean that people sometimes look at me funny as I’m doing it. As an undergrad I played with a drumming group called Rambax, MIT’s best (and only) Senegalese drumming (also known as “sabar”) ensemble, and this January we had the amazing option to actually go to Senegal and work with drummers there. Oh, and did I mention it was free? Sponsored by some generous donations from several departments at MIT, we were able to spend two glorious weeks studying under genuine Senegalese griots (sabar drummers), learning to dance the Senegalese way, and eating lots and lots of ceebujen (fish and rice). And I got to film it all happening. Check it out:

One of the best parts about Rambax is that you don’t need any musical background whatsoever to start playing with the group – it’s taught as a co-curricular class (21M.460) you can take at any point during your time at MIT, along with a few extra rehearsals. You also don’t need any dance background, as evidenced by this video of us learning to dance on the beach in Dakar:

The music scene in Dakar is one of the most vibrant and thriving environments in the world. We often went out at night and stayed out until sun up dancing to mbalax music – a type of modern music in Senegal that incorporates sabar rhythms with guitars and piano – and sometimes they even invited our teacher Lamine up to play with them:

And finally, just for fun: here is a love song we wrote about Chocoleca, a peanut butter-chocolate spread that’s sort of like the Senegalese version of Nutella:

In sum: there are a lot of things you can do at MIT; one of them happens to be learning about the incredible West African music scene from world-famous Senegalese drummers. I’m failing at a way to end this blog entry without using “check it out,” but you should definitely check it out. Jërëjëf!