I have begun a regular daily commute to a new flavor of Dakar for the internship phase of my program. Rather than tasting the feigned racial acceptance of “N’ice Cream” or the saturated donuts fried on this morning’s fresh propane tank, I will be working in one of the [outer] suburbs of the city, Pikine. It is here where poverty and ambition butt chests and become one of the rare cartiers of Dakar to vote against Wade as president, where the innovation of the business’s avoidance of the use of electricity determines its success, whereat exists the most vibrant rap and hip-hop youth movement on the continent. It’s where the graffiti is not vandalism but instead a force of community activation. It’s where people will gladly take your money, but would never think of taking your dignity.
My first day, I got into Pikine about an hour early. I thought that maybe I’d explore a little bit, but all too soon I was reminded of what everyone told me about Pikine. I went to the nearest gas station to find a toilet, and I was directed to the back. A police officer saw me searching so he helped me find them. He wondered where I was from, as everyone does, and we exchanged names. Then, he smiled and asked me for a little money. I said why? I’m a student, I don’t have much. His smile faded as he showed me off. After that, I thought it would be better to simply go to my facility and wait somewhere in there for my supervisor.
The facility is a 4-story open walkway white building with chipping paint and muddy stairwells. Paintings and graffiti decorate the halls, and posters of musicians and community events are found on most of the weathered doors. The office of Africulturbane is a veiled room divided into sections by cubicle-like walls, to give the illusion of privacy. The head of the movement is a famous and successful rapper called “Matador”. He is a vibrant activist and hip-hop artist, but until he returns from France, I’m under the auspices of the other supervisors who are there.
The plan, if it stays similar, is for me to get acquainted with the facility a little more and then begin production in the studio. Because of my musical experience, they’re going to have me produce 10 studio sessions in 6 weeks. Some will simply involve putting beats and music behind vocals and raps that just need a few minutes to lay down. But some will require more time, both in pre and in post, from helping with empowering the writing process to running promotion and marketing all over the internet. I might even get the chance to engineer and produce a small festival at the center. This is all working out a little too well for my immediate comfort, so I’ll keep you updated as all of it falls apart…
I’ll also spend some days working for and helping out with other programs at the center. Unfortunately I don’t know too much about them yet, but I had a meeting with the organizer of the youth education program, which runs activities and small educative programs on health, schooling, and development. The organizer is named Habib, and he is 17 years old. He is still a high school student, but tries to go to the center as often as possible to help out and host programs for kids in the community. All the work is volunteered. He held himself like an adult businessperson who was obliged to involve me in any way possible and give to me his time and effort, and he is my little brother’s age. My brother can afford the time to spend at home preparing rigorous applications to the best universities in the world, but Habib cannot, so he awaits going to the 60,000-person public school and volunteers at this remote cultural complex. His age is not an externality; it makes me all the more honored to know him, let alone work with and for him.
So far, I have become acquainted very slowly with the people and the facility. There are a lot of names to remember, but ndank ndank, baax na. Most of the people who run Africulturban are men, and when the electricity went out, we just sat outside downstairs and made tea and talked. Well, they talked. They all speak French but don’t ever use it, so I’m sure my wolof will improve at an exponential rate very soon. That or I won’t understand a flying flit of what goes on between them, but that’s cool too, since all I needed to do for people to high five me was start singing “Feelin’ Good” by Nina Simone when someone mentioned her name while listening to his aged ipod. It serves as a great reminder of a clause we all know and some believe, displayed on a mural that was painted on one of the outer walls of the facility. I saw it while exploring on my own. It was a beautiful graffiti calligraphy of the word “Pikine”, and at the bottom it said “musique, language, universel”.
The opportunities that this internship afford me are endless, and depend on my character, ambitions, and abilities. Worst case scenario: I underperform in the activities designated to me but I have a great facility on which to do research and report. Best case: I make connections in the underground hip-hop community of Dakar, produce 20 or so songs, learn two new software programs, expand the online networking base of the cultural center and local artists, inspire the youth in the hip-hop / rap movement, console the distressed communities of students in the outer suburb of Pikine, and attend a concert or two, or ten, with the tintinnabulation of my newfound wisdom putting a spring in my every sandy step.