Not your average grad school band: Lekker at SAIS Europe

whatsapp_image_2018-11-19_at_9.55.35_am.jpegBy Nirit Hinkis

BOLOGNA, Italy — It’s 9:00 p.m. on a Friday and Bologna’s vibrant nightlife is beginning to buzz. SAIS Europe students, however, are still on campus. Packed tightly into Giulio’s coffee shop, cheers and applause erupt as Lekker opens their new cover song, Rihanna’s “Work.” Lekker (pronounced Lekka) is made up of five members: singers Dania Abdalla and Quentin Sauvage, drummer Michiel (Micky) Vriens, Tamur Yusifzai and Joon-Sup Kim, who alternate between bass and guitar.

In typical SAIS fashion, the band takes their hobby seriously. They come together twice a week to collaborate on new sets for upcoming performances. It is during these practice sessions that the personality of each band member shines through, revealing the group’s rare dynamic.

“We should look at this as if it’s a fifth or sixth class,” Tamur remarks during my dinner interview with the group. “We have homework. We have class time every week, which is practice.” Using the band management skills he gained working as a program director at a music academy, the role is natural for Tamur. However, he is pursuing a dual degree and will leave SAIS in January to continue his studies.  

The role of group leader will pass on to Joon, who accepts it hesitantly. Joon’s peers describe him as having a remarkable musician’s ear. Born in Arlington, Virginia to a classical pianist mother, Joon grudgingly began playing piano at a young age. He protested and was handed a violin, which he also declined. At age 13, he decided that guitar would be his instrument.

Micky, the band’s drummer, mentions that growing up, he didn’t think he was talented. It wasn’t until a classmate heard him practicing and encouraged him to try out for his school’s band that he began to take drumming seriously. At dinner, Micky is surprised when the other group members point out that good drummers, like him, are hard to come by.

Singers, too, are a rare breed. They’re more than just voices: “Both Quentin and Dania capture an audience, they draw them in,” says Tamur.

Quentin has been vocalizing informally since childhood. When asked to join the group, he agreed without hesitation despite having no previous band experience. On Friday nights, Quentin enjoys energizing the crowd with his gritty rock-band persona. “But, when the show’s over, I’ll be the first person to go hide somewhere,” he admits.

Dania, by contrast, is somewhat mysterious and describes singing as a very private activity (though you’d never guess based on her performance). She is also a key member in this team. The day she approached Micky to ask if the group could play Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie”, marked a turning point. Her presence and graceful voice transformed this jam-session group into a true band.

This extraordinary team of musicians has become more than just a fun feature of SAIS Europe – it serves as a backbone of our community, creating a space where students and professors interact in a familial atmosphere. “We walk in and out of the building all week studying, stressing.” Dania says. “Friday nights it transforms into a space where we can socialize and unwind and sing.” With no shortage of nightlife options, the fact that SAISers choose to kick off their weekends together on campus is a testament to the power of this band in uniting our  community.