Project History

The Senegal-America Project is a cross-cultural collaboration involving Senegalese and American musicians, students, and teachers. Its purpose is to bring the peoples and the many musical traditions of these two countries together, up close and personal, through school programs, musical performances, hands-on participatory workshops, and town-meeting discussions of music, poetry, culture, and race.

This collaboration began in 1995, when American-born percussionist Tony Vacca met 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 14 trips to Africa.

Massamba Diop had performed with Senegal’s Afro-pop superstar Baaba Maal for over a decade before he met Tony. Tony and Massamba 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 Artistic Emissary for the United Nations’ 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 ten years, Tony and Massamba have performed concerts and workshops in schools for over 80,000 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 12 educators, musicians, and filmmakers to Senegal for the first cultural exchange journey. Using an interactive Web site and e-mail communications, they partnered with over 25 American schools, creating a unique virtual experience. Students at these schools got a taste of Senegal almost as if they were there. This visit resulted in CD recording, a CNN global music feature, lasting friendships, and a promise to return.

Arts are Essential and World Rhythms have collaborated on two cultural/educational exchanges, one in starting in December 2005 and one in February 2007. Both exchanges included educators, parents, and artists. The 2007 exchange also included students from the Roger Ludlowe Middle School in Fairfield, Connecticut.