Ethiopian Students Sing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” For Dave Grohl’s Birthday

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Thanks to Kirsten Kuwatani and Matt Westerberg.

Nevermind Bieber, Ethiopia Smells Like Teen Spirit

ETHIOPIA — It’s a typical day in the Ethiopian desert. A hundred degree sun is baking already scorched, dry land around the walls of Yechila high school. Hundreds of kids are trekking along dusty roads from their homes, some hours away, to study English in open-air concrete classrooms. In Ethiopia, learning the English language is a prerequisite for attaining a college education, the key to a better life for many. On this particular day, droves of 9th and 10 graders are learning English and building self-confidence in a peculiar way.

In his classroom, Matt Westerberg takes a few minutes each day to teach the lyrics to arguably the most influential song of the 1990’s. Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit is sung daily by over 150 screaming Ethiopian students. Westerberg is an education volunteer with Peace Corps, and has been working in Ethiopia for over a year. “One of our greatest challenges here is getting shy students to have the courage to speak English,” says Westerberg. In the Ethiopian education system, teachers often lecture the entire class while students sit in silence taking notes. This doesn’t bode well for students attempting to learn new languages, like English. “Without an active and secure environment to practice, most students feel too timid to even attempt the language at all. Learning a loud, energetic song by Nirvana gets them out of their shells.”

This is not the first time Westerberg’s students have learned a ’90s anthem. In 2015, they debuted their cover of Pearl Jam’s Even Flow. “The Even Flow cover began as a joke that turned into a motivational project,” says Westerberg. I taught the kids the song and watched their participation and confidence with the language dramatically increase.” Westerberg collaborated with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Kirsten Kuwatani, to create a video of the kids performing the song, which reached over 58,000 views on YouTube last summer. “The best part was showing the kids their video, watching their reaction as they saw themselves on screen, and reading them the comments from people around the world cheering them on.”

Yechila Secondary School presents Ethiopia Smells Like Teen Spirit, paying homage to Nirvana and also containing a very special birthday message to the band’s legendary drummer, Dave Grohl, who celebrates his birthday on Wednesday.