Memory & Mo Bamba

During my first week of college, I found myself crying to Sheck Wes’ bombastic, bass-heavy hit “Mo Bamba” on more than one occasion. 

If you’re not familiar with the song, synonymous with the end of my 2018 summer, it goes something like “Oh! F**k! S**t! B**ch! Young Sheck Wes and I’m gettin’ really rich! Ching-ching!” I recommend listening to it before continuing to read this essay. Then you can truly understand how turbulent I must have been feeling in order to be so completely rocked by it, because the song is not exactly a tear-jerker.

Nonetheless, I stood or laid in the library, cafeteria, or my sweaty dorm room and positively wept to “Mo Bamba” as though it were Rilo Kiley’s “With Arms Outstretched,” which has made me weak since 14 with its pleas for resolving unrequited love and its tinkling, teary chorus. But it wasn’t. It was just a song that reminded me a bit too much of dwindling summer nights with my hometown friends from Chicago, the threat of leaving that was ever-present in our minds, and the way we drowned out the fear of a new world with boisterous trap. It was Mo-goddamn-Bamba.

I suppose it’s not quite as simple as stating that I cried to that song that week. I cried at almost any song that reminded me of anything from my “life before. I couldn’t listen to most music, watch most movies, or, some days, talk to most of my old friends. My nostalgia and homesickness were all-consuming. Orientation was a humid mess and made me one in turn. It felt like I was at summer camp, and I never wanted to go to summer camp. Not to mention I felt the pressure of forming connections that would last the next four years. The terrifying subtext of which is that, until they are found, you don’t have people to trust.

Confused and dismayed by my social and emotional difficulties, I tried to use facts learned in my Intro to Econ class to make sense of the weeks that unfolded before me. With scarce goods, quantities demanded and supplied are difficult to reconcile, but eventually they do move towards equilibrium. This meant I would find a confidant eventually, and that everyone, more or less, felt the same way I did as they were waiting for their needs to be filled. Intellectually, I knew this: a balance would be struck, and I was far from alone. However, I’ve never been quite left-brained enough to live my life analytically, by models economic or otherwise. Maybe I didn’t want to let myself believe I would be okay. I didn’t want to be let down if I was wrong. 

Since that sticky week of orientation, I’ve found people who share my reverence for music’s ability to entrap memories. People that make even the most hauntingly sad folksy guitar music bearable to listen to, and that comfort me when it makes me cry. We comfort each other!

While I still can’t bring myself to listen to most of my truly personal landmark songs, I no longer huddle with only the tracks on my playlist that have no memories attached. I can persuade myself to listen and feel without being pushed to the brink of irrationality. I am slowly learning to reconcile my worlds. I now have loaded songs from both Chicago and Poughkeepsie. I have people I love in both places, too. Balance may not be fully achieved quite yet, but I’m getting closer.

Recently, I got on a plane back home for the first time and, as a symbolic gesture, played “Mo Bamba. I didn’t even shed a tear. Frank Sinatra’s “My Kind of Town,” however, was an entirely different story. -Noa Rosenberg

Noa Rosenberg is a freshman at Vassar College from Chicago, Illinois. She has written and edited for Polyphony H.S. and can be caught being foolish on Twitter at @illsnowynoey.

Learn more about Sheck Wes and “Mo Bamba” here.