Cultivating interpersonal multiculturalism at Mac: Studio Ponsandous, a WMCN Radio Show

Feet in air, qraqeb between legs, takes flight the Gnawi. Gnawa is Moroccan spiritual music performed by Gnawis who originate from soldiers and war captives from the Songhai empire following the Moroccan conquest in the 16th century. 

During the lila, a nocturnal spiritual ceremony that lasts till dawn, the Gnawa maâlems (master musicians) are gathered in a circle of dancers and singers aiming to connect with the spirits of their ancestors through the music they are performing. 

Under a full bright moon, seven colors are worn, seven spirits are evoked and seven smells of incense dance through the air. It is widely believed that Gnawa is supposed to spiritually cleanse those who could not be healed by a doctor.

Just like the lila, “Studio Ponsandous” connects spirits from around the world to share music, stories and love. But “ponsandous” is not a real word. In Haitian Creole, the word “pon” means bridge, and “san dous” means sweet smell. Though not frequently used together, ponsandous means “bridge of sweet smells,” an image that captures the simple beauty of hearing about a friend’s unique culture. 

The melodies, spirituality and human gathering that the lila offers are reflected in the Macalester College radio show “Studio Ponsandous”’s mission of giving multiculturalism at Macalester, and at large, a newly interpersonal emphasis. 

Born out of deep reflection in the Dunn Brothers parking lot, “Studio Ponsandous” constructs our path through various cultures, metabolizing the sweet smells of music and experiences that unite and differentiate our kind.

Each week in the first hour of the show, a new guest presents their own playlist of childhood songs that remind them of their youth at home, cultural songs that harken back to their ancestral heritage, or any music that is of personal value. During the second hour, the guest shares stories that they feel are indicative of their upbringing and culture. 

Deliberately inspired by oral history, “Studio Ponsandous” presents itself as a new platform for embracing multiculturalism in an interpersonal manner. Instead of fixating on the coup d’etat in Mali or the state misinformation on the pandemic in Brazil, “Studio Ponsandous” draws our focus towards the desert blues of the Tuareg or the funk carioca of the favelas.

So often on American college campuses like Macalester, dialogue on internationalism is limited to the classroom, the auditorium or social media. Our only hope in this project is to remove multiculturalism from the sheath of formality and subsequent remoteness in which it currently resides. 

We want to underscore the importance of the stories that normal people from around the world have lived, and we know no better way to do that than sharing music and stories discussed organically between friends. 

So, every Sunday at 8 p.m. CST we invite you to take a walk with us along the bridge of the world’s sweet smells. Listen live on either 91.7 FM or