anticipatory nostalgia

As I’ve mentioned before, my family moved from the suburbs of New Jersey to the London area when I was a kid. I spent a year and a half living an everyday little girl’s life while also soaking up mid-80s British pop culture in all of its splendor. I remember so much of my time in England, 32 years later. The layout of our various apartments and later our house; several traumatizing incidents from kindergarten and first grade; interactions with my brother and sister; key moments in the love story and breakup of my school-bus boyfriend; every friend’s birthday party; my toys; the walks we used to take; the food we used to eat; the dairy delivery we used to get. But the memories that hit me the hardest, on a visceral level that gives me chills, are almost entirely musical.

They are not even memories per se. When I hear a song that I first listened to in England, I usually don’t remember a particular moment associated with it. Instead, I am transported back to a general time and place, and I re-experience the feelings I had while listening to the song at the age of 5 and 6. That’s powerful emotional stuff.

These songs in particular really get me:

a-ha – Take On Me

Do They Know It’s Christmas? from Band Aid

Tears for Fears – Everybody Wants to Rule the World, as I’ve noted.

The Bangles – Manic Monday

The theme to “Chariots of Fire.” I never saw the film but my music teacher would play the theme song for us on the piano at the end of every class, after my schoolmates would beg him to.

And perhaps more than any of the others: the theme song to “EastEnders,” a long-running British soap that first aired soon after my family arrived in London.

My mom loved it, and it seemed to be on all the time. I heard that song and saw the opening titles with the satellite photo of the Thames zooming out to reveal East London so much that it came to represent all of England for me. To this day, any time I hear the music, my heart clenches with nostalgia.

So, that’s how I know that the Senegal song that will stop me in my tracks and bring tears to my eyes years from now is none other than the theme song to “Wiri Wiri,” Senegal’s favorite soap. Like “EastEnders,” “Wiri Wiri” always seems to be on, and I have heard the opening and closing music countless times. It is quite catchy and stirring in much the same way that the “Eastenders” theme is.

Here’s the whole song, which is by none other than Youssou N’Dour. He seems to be behind everything beloved in this country.

I can list a bunch of other songs – hit singles from Youssou and other top Senegalese artists – that I know will similarly make me emotional. But I am guessing “Wiri Wiri” will be the one to effortlessly transport my heart to a time and a place that will forever stand out from other times and places, and that I will wish I could return to just once more.

[P.S. The actors’ expressions on “Wiri Wiri” are so amazing that I enjoy watching it even without knowing what anyone is saying. I like guessing the storyline and getting Mamie or Tantie to tell me how close I’ve come. Try it – it’s quite entertaining.]

[P.P.S. Remember how yesterday I said that even annoying things are making me preemptively homesick for Senegal? Well, this morning I peed in a squat toilet that had gone un-emptied for too long. As mosquitos swarmed and bit me everywhere that I couldn’t swat fast enough, my pee – and everyone else’s – splashed back from the nearly overflowing hole in the ground onto my exposed ankles. It was a good reminder that there are some things no amount of sentimentality could make me miss.]

happy new year!

I don’t know why I keep writing about the new year since I am possibly less enthused about it than anyone else on the planet. But, I did do two fun things to ring in 2017:

On New Year’s Eve a friend hosted dinner at his house and then we went up to the roof to count down to midnight. The annual official fireworks display was cancelled this year due to security concerns but the Dakarois took it upon themselves to pick up the slack. For at least a half hour, fireworks popped off every few seconds, every which way you turned. My photographic evidence, unfortunately, is not much proof at all… I managed to capture exactly one remotely-in-focus firework on my iphone.

I asked the people I was with to forgive my Eeyore-ness but to please help me come up with something, anything, to make me hopeful about 2017. Here’s the best we could do: a highly effective ebola vaccine has just been cleared for use in case of another outbreak, and the recent Chinese ivory ban means fewer elephants will die. (I would welcome your additions to this rather sad “list.”)

The next day, I went with Mamie, Tantie, their cousin, and a couple of friends to see Youssou N’Dour’s annual New Year’s concert. Mamie insisted that we get there before 10pm because she was sure the show would start early, it being a work night. I have been in Senegal less than a year, yet found myself setting straight someone who’s lived here her whole life. I told her, “If this show starts before 1am, 2017 really is bringing the end times with it.” And like clockwork, Youssou came onstage at 1:03 am. At 4:03 am, he was still running up and down the catwalks like a man half his age, and I had decided that third time’s the charm and I am done seeing him in Senegal. It’s a constant battle between enjoying the music and wanting desperately to be in bed, and with each show the old lady in me tugs a little harder towards the latter.

Speaking of being an old lady: at 12:30 after standing in the suffocating and pushy crowd near the stage for two hours, I had had enough and abandoned my group to go hang out at the periphery. There, I could breathe, but I also felt rather hopeless and adrift. This was a really bad omen for the year ahead. Then a man who had lugged over a plastic chair for himself offered it to me to stand on instead, so that I could see the stage. And then the woman on the chair next to mine put her arm around my shoulder, commanded sweetly, “Il faut dancer!” and led me in a distinctly Senegalese dance move with her arm around me the whole time. Normally I’m all about personal space but the woman’s generosity of spirit – bringing me into her joyful fold when she saw I was deflated and alone – changed my mind about 2017. I decided that the omen before had been a false one, and that this was in fact the real sign. We are never as isolated as we feel, and things are never as bad as they seem.

Here’s the concert, if you’d like to watch. It was so good, as always.

(I love the first song in the video above, and the one at 57:57 is my all-time favorite.)

(Another one of my favorites is at 26:27.)

Youssou, encore une fois

YoussouNdourOn Saturday we went to see Youssou in a very different venue than last time. It was a concert space en plein air, as they say, and it was packed with a generally younger, more casual, and much more energetic crowd than at the Grand Theatre gala.

I almost skipped this show because of the fear it could never live up to the first one, but then I realized that would be incredibly silly. And in the end, the two shows had such different vibes that they were like apples and oranges.

One thing remained constant, however: the ungodly hours. Youssou is nearing 60 years old and yet he came onstage at 1:15 and finished performing at 3:49am. (I know the precise time because by that point I was checking my phone every five seconds.) He and his band kept asking the crowd, “Est-ce que vous êtes fatigues?” and my whimpered “Yes”es were completely drowned out by the delirious “Non!!!!”s.

But earlier in the night, when I was not yet falling asleep on my feet… here’s the moment that gave me chills. (That’s my beautiful and charming “host sister,” Cecile aka Mamie, at the end.)

I’ve now heard this song, “New Africa,” live three times. The first time was in New York and I got baby chills. In Senegal, the baby chills turned into enormous adult chills, and I felt a bit like a sucker for cheap thrills. But can you blame me?

It was an awesome night. There’s a longer video here (including amazing drumming and dancing) if you want to see more.

Orchestra Baobab heart heart heart

I said it last week and I’ll say it again: Afro-Latin music is the best stuff on earth.

After an incredible show, Saturday night ended with me sitting in the lead singer Rudy’s car waiting for his promised ride home. (I made that sound way more titillating than it actually was because I can’t help myself.) He was about to get in the driver’s seat but then disappeared, apparently to distribute ngalax around the neighorhood. When he showed up again twenty-five minutes later, he said he had to go to a meeting. It was 3:30 in the morning. I’m so accustomed to these lost in translation moments by now that I just laughed, considered it a fun non-adventure, and took a taxi home.

This situation, by the way, was not of my own making. One of the people with whom I went to the show was a guy named Doyen who works at the language center where I’m taking classes. He used to be a radio DJ and is good friends with the band. Rudy offered me a ride because he offered Doyen a ride.

Alas, it was not meant to be. But it is pretty remarkable how small a world it is here and how up close and personal you can get to the amazingly talented musicians in Dakar. Next time I see Rudy I am going to ask him for advice on taking drum lessons here. Because why not.

post-weekend update

referendum_vote.jpg

I tried to post all my weekend links on Friday, then on Saturday, then on Sunday, but Senegal’s circa-1996 Internet had other plans. (This place has given me such a sharpened appreciation for the impact of the digital divide.) Oh well, at least now I can share a photo from yesterday’s referendum (my neighborhood polling station, above) and a video from the Cheikh Lo show at Just4U on Friday night:

Three thoughts:

  1. Latin-West African fusion has produced the most amazing sounds on the planet.
  2. Cheikh Lo and the thousands of other stately gentlemen walking around this city put America’s hipsters to shame. The combination of tunic, leather slippers, beanie, aviators, and ornate silver jewelry is just about the coolest thing I have ever seen. I don’t know why the Sartorialist hasn’t gotten around to visiting this place.
  3. I really do want to leave everything behind and learn how to play that over-the-shoulder/under-the-armpit drum.

The weekend is now over but here are some weekday reads. They are all from the New York Times, because now that I’ve traveled to a far reach of the planet, I can no longer travel to a far reach of the Internet.

Ugghhhghsfgkdfhgjkf$@#^$*#@^%!*#$(@&%.

Bilinguals have superior social skills. 

How to find a local guide when traveling solo.

Six of the ten least happy countries in the world are ones I am really hoping to travel to this year. :S

There are only two cruises I want to take: this one and the one that tours Alaskan glaciers with the elderly.

Americans: get yourselves to Cuba, stat. Look at this if you need convincing.

How to travel with an eye to settling down.

Have a good week! As for me, I’ll be returning to Kaolack tomorrow to shoot some pick-ups in the 100 degree heat, yippie!

 

(Get over the) hump day inspiration: fun French music

Indochine in concertA compendium of the French music that has been introduced to me over the course of my twenty years (on and off) of studying the language:

Indochine

My first year of French, in eighth grade, the teacher would start each class with a few songs from one of her French albums. She played them on an actual record player, which is how I know it really was a long time ago. Indochine is the only music I still remember from that year. I loved it because it took me on a nostalgic trip back to the new wave of my 80’s childhood, but at the same time it was completely new and catchy to me. Call me crazy / 47 years old, but I do really think Indochine makes good music.

Here’s the album my teacher would play for us. My favorite song was and still is “Tes Yeux Noir (scroll forward to 35:47):

Diam and Koxie 

In grad school I took a French class after ten years without formal – or really, any – study. For one looong and humbling semester I endured the snarky looks of barely-adult undergrads who had no patience for my halting mangled French. I made friends instead with the one other grad student (who also spoke much better French than I did – I was the worst in the class by a long shot). The one favor those haughty undergrads did for me was to introduce me to Diam and Koxie, both woman rappers of immigrant ancestry. At a recent Meetup I learned from the Togolese guy that Diam wears the hijab now and has stopped making music. Perhaps the two things are related, perhaps not – I leave that to you to Google if the spirit moves you.

Diam:

Koxie:

At another recent Meetup, Kery James was another French rapper recommended to me:

And at yet another one, I was told to listen to MC Solaar:

And just for fun, since this has become a list dominated by French rappers, here’s a song from the (highly derivative) Busta Flex album I bought pretty much at random the year I studied abroad in Ireland and spent a day in Paris on spring break:

For good measure, a beautiful / spunky / easy-to-follow-even-if-you-speak-terrible-French song that Emmanuel sent to me, by Françoiz Breut:

What do you think?

(Photo of Indochine doing the we-can-still-rock-in-middle-age thing: Laurent Breillat)

youssou

Youssou N'Dour at BAM

Over the weekend I saw Youssou N’Dour perform in Brooklyn. I don’t say this lightly: it was transportive. The music is so overwhelmingly life-affirming, and I’m chomping at the bit to go to Senegal. So I spent the entire show alternately blissing out in the moment and imagining myself living in Dakar in the near future, making a weekend routine of going out to dance to West African music.

The band kept announcing him as the “minister of the people” but I would more aptly call N’Dour the minister of tourism because within minutes of his arrival onstage I was ready to pack up and go.* Lo and behold, I just looked up his discography and he is indeed Senegal’s minister of tourism and culture as of 2012! That is both hilarious and entirely appropriate.

Sometimes I think I’m going to wimp out on my language sabbatical but then a night like Saturday’s reminds me of how much fun I will have and eradicates the fear. In fact, I spent a good part of the show wallowing in fantasy-land “logistics” planning: I’d move to Senegal next November and spend the winter months learning French eight hours a day, then visit every country in West Africa after becoming proficient, next head south to Zimbabwe and South Africa just because, then cut back up to Rwanda, then turn east into Tanzania and Kenya, and finally somehow end up in the south of France in time for summer. Oh, and there’d also magically be time and money for Mozambique and Madagascar. And then I’d move to South America for Spanish immersion.

It’s good to dream… And eventually, when the time is ripe, I will become a bit more realistic about my dreams and turn them into reality. (With God as my witness.)

* pending Ebola neutralization

I leave you with a clip from the show, taken by someone with a much better seat than mine!