Your Cart is Empty

Retreat Faculty Bios

Faculty Bios

N'Camara Abou Sylla was born in 1958, in Guinea, West Africa, into a musical family. The large family musical clans are called DJELI. They are specified by their last names, i.e., Kouyate, Diabate, Camara, etc. Abou was surrounded by these ancestral styles from birth. His style in the music transcends the historical roots of the balafon within today's world music - West African Balafon.

In 1995, Abou's passion for creating his own compositions and performance talent drew him to the United States. After arriving in NYC, he co-founded and musically directed the performance company FEREBA, a fusion company of West African music and tap-dancing. With co-founder, Irene Koloseus, a celebrated tap-dancer, the company continues to delight audiences in the United States and abroad.

In 1998 Abou joined the faculty at the University of Florida Department of World Music, Gainesville. During his time at the university he composed and performed an eight-part musical called Agbedidi, presented to the pubic at the University's theater.

Back to Top

Adriana Portela is the pioneering artistic director of Banda Didá, Brazil’s first all-female Afro-Brazilian percussion band, and the first Black female conductor in the history of Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. As Didá’s dynamic leader, she also leads a movement of resistance, combatting Brazil’s long history of racism and anti-feminism with music, community and education.

In the quarter-century since Didá’s creation , over 2000 young Salvadoran women of color have gained confidence and strength through the powerful drums that become extensions of their physical bodies.

We are excited and honored for her first appearance at the Wula Retreat.

Back to Top


Carolyn Koebel has been exploring rhythm and vibration for the past 40 years on this planet. A Michigan based music therapist/performer/educator, she has traversed the globe in search of indigenous drumming styles and currently teaches Japanese taiko drumming and directs the international percussion program at Kalamazoo College, and serves as world percussion instructor and dance accompanist at Western Michigan University and St. Mary-of-the-Woods College.

Her foundations in global rhythm came through brief encounters with Francisco Mora Catlett, Francis Kofi, Layne Redmond, Glen Velez, Mary Ellen Donald, Hamid Drake and countless other artists. She has become an in-demand accompanist, educator, performer and community rhythm circle facilitator across broad genres and settings. She has toured and taught internationally with Rhonda Larson and Ventus and currently works with Ugandan multi-instrumentalist Samuel Nalangira, as well as numerous other collaborators.

Back to Top


Coming all the way from Hartford, Connecticut, Cassandra Zito is back as the official Retreat Coordinator for the 2nd year in a row at the Wula Retreat.

Cassandra has extensive experience as an event coordinator, official communication liaison, kitchen management and music management.

Also known as Cassie Djembe Kan, Cassandra is a drummer with a focus on studying djembe culture for the last 15 years. Known as a percussionist on the East Coast and helping to run programming in Conakry, Guinea- she is passionate about anything to do with any drum & the authentic education of any culture; and is super excited to be joining everyone at the retreat in 2022.

Back to Top


Originally from Santiago de Cuba, Danys "La Mora" Pérez is an internationally renowned master of Afro-Cuban folkloric dance. Perez's special expertise as dancer, teacher, dance ethnologist, and choreographer is in the unique styles of her native region of the Oriente province in Eastern Cuba. Oriente attributes its rich cultural heritage to the infusion of Afro-Haitian influences to an already vibrant Afro-Cuban context. Perez began her dance training at an early age with Afro-Cuban and Afro-Haitian dance ensembles. At 13, she was asked to join the renowned national folkloric ballet company, Cutumba, and toured internationally with the company for 18 years. In 1994, she was evaluated and granted the designation of primera bailarina and primera profesora by the National Dance Commission in Cuba, and has taught outside of Cuba - in Italy, Spain, France, Canada, and the United States.

In addition, while she was still dancing with Cutumba, she founded her own dance company, Adiro Omode, for Children ages 4 to 15 in Santiago de Cuba. Adiro Omode has trained some of the internationally acclaimed professional dancers currently working with Cutumba and Folklorico National de Oriente. In 1998, Las Mora was the founder of another dance company, the original Oyu Oro, with professional and amateur dancers which was also based in Santiago de Cuba.

Since her first visit to the States in 1996, she has taught at numerous universities, participated in the legendary Katherine Dunham's East Saint Louis seminars, and performed at the inauguration of the African-American Museum in Detroit.For the past four years, she has been teaching weekly Afro Cuban dance classes at The Alvin Ailey Extension program. She has also attended in several dance programs and workshops outside New York, as a guest instructor and choreographer, including the annual participation to the summer intensive dance program at Humboldt University in California and Tulane University in New Orleans.

She is the founder and artistic director of Oyu Oro, an Afro-Cuban Experimental Dance Ensemble in New York City. Danys "La Mora" Pérez is an international artist who offers a profound contribution not only to the dance world, but to the world of cultural study as a whole.

Back to Top


Famoro Dioubate is one of the three premiere balaphonists in the West at this time. Famoro was born in 1965 in Conakry, Guinea as a Griot (family lineage who keep the history and traditions of the people). He is the grandson of El Hadj Djelli Sory Kouyate, a living legend of the Mandeng Balafon. In Conakry he co-founded "Les Heritiers" with Sekouba Kandia Kouyate and recorded the albums "Kandia Dinke" and "Nyoumekela" with this group. Famoro was the understudy of his grandfather in the Ensemble Instrumental National (National ensemble of Guinea) and routinely performed for the President and visiting foreign dignitaries. He was a member of the famous Mory Kante's orchestra for the performances and recording of the "Traditional Symphonie."

Famaro has made a strong name for himself and moved to the United States in the late nineties. He is in high demand as a free-lance musician, playing everywhere from nightclubs to Carnegie Hall.

Back to Top


Francisco Mora Catlett - drummer, composer and educator - Began his musical career in Mexico City where he worked as a session musician for Capitol Records 1968-1970. Studied at Music School of UNAM. With a grant from the Mexican government from 1970 to 1973 he study drums with Alan Dawson and composition at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. He left Mexico City with Sun Ra in 1973 and worked with him until 1980. In 1987 while in Detroit he released his first album as a leader, the Pan-Afro project “Mora!”

Among several grants, he received one from the NEA to study with Max Roach in New York City. Mora Catlett worked with several Roach's percussion ensemble M'Boom, appearing on two Blue Moon LPs, 1990's “To the Max” and 1992's “Live at S.O.B.'s” and in addition to composing for Mr. Roach’s Uptown String Quartet.

In 1993, he became a visiting professor at Michigan State University. Mora-Catlett played on Detroit’s Techno producer Carl Craig's 1996 jazz/electronica fusion project, “The Innerzone Orchestra” and 1999's “Programmed”. The same year, using Innerzone cohorts Craig Taborn and Rodney Whitaker, Mora Catlett issued a second album, “World Trade Music”. Following Mora Catlett's departure from Detroit in 2000 the Outer Zone Band’s first recording featuring Marshal Allen, Craig Taborn and Carl Craig was released.

In New York City Mora-Catlett co-founded the “Oyu Oro Afro-Cuban Experimental Dance Company” with his wife Danys Perez Prades “La Mora” dance-music project experimenting with and music from the African Diaspora that performs nationally and internationally.

Back to Top


Ismael Bangoura, born in Guinea West Africa in 1975, has been musical director and lead drummer for Jeh Kulu Dance and Drum Theater since 1997. He has been studying music since age nine, and primarily plays the djembe and krin. His formal training began under the teaching of Master Musician Mohamed Camera, a close personal friend who is currently living in New York. He continued to develop as a musician playing informally and professionally with mentor and teacher Ibrahima “Boca” Camera. Later he worked with Master Percussionist Koungbanan Conde and Lance Kante. At a young age, Ismael landed a position with Percussions de Guinee, touring extensively in Guinea and in Europe.

Since coming to the U.S. Ismael has worked with some of the worlds most outstanding musicians both as a performer and a recording artist. These include Ron Brown, Sekouba Camera, Kemoko Sano, Youssouf Koumbassa and Vermont’s own Trey Anastasio of the band Phish. He regularly travels withing the U.S. and internationally. He has been to Sweden to work with Matimbo and to new Orleans to play with Mariama Curry’s Dance Company. He regularly attends conferences in New York, Florida, and Colorado to teach and perform. Ismael is also a recording artist and has played on CDs with many West African Artists.

Back to Top


Brazilian master percussionist and teacher Jorge Alabê was born in Rio de Janeiro and grew up immersed in the rich musical culture of Brazil. He developed from a young age as a master drummer in the Afro-Brazilian tradition of Candomblé, and his title “Alabê” signifies the highest level of skill, deep knowledge, and authority in the rhythms, songs, and leading of rituals in Candomblé. Jorge also grew as a samba percussionist as a young man, playing with highest-level samba groups and Rio and achieving recognition as one of the top repinique players of his time. He served as rhythm director of the Minas Gerais Samba School in Belo Horizonte and participated in recordings with Milton Nascimento and Martinho da Vila.

Jorge became known internationally while he was percussion director and a featured performer with the legendary Brazilian performing group Oba Oba. During his 15 years with Oba Oba, he toured through Europe, Asia, and South America, as well as the United States. Jorge moved to the U.S. in 1996, first residing in New Orleans, where he mentored and performed with the cultural group Casa Samba. He has been teaching workshops in samba and folkloric percussion as well as Candomblé rhythm, song, and dance forms throughout the U.S. since then and has been an inspiration to numerous musicians and community groups across the country.

He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2004, where he leads his samba group, Grupo Samba Rio, and he continues to perform, teach, and inspire students as part of workshops and projects locally and around the U.S. He was the samba director at California Brazil Camp for 15 years starting with its inception in 1997 and continues to be a leading instructor and cultural icon at the camp. jorgealabe.com

Back to Top


Jose "Apache" Rivera has played folkloric music throughout the five boroughs of New York's cultural melting pot since the age of eleven. He has been quoted saying:

"I will spend the rest of my life searching for peace, love, and harmony. I play and make percussion Instruments as a form of prayer and meditation. Each one of my Instruments are embraced with prayers and gratitude."

This statement rings true and clear in his music and his teaching.

Back to Top

Mangue Sylla was born in Conakry, Guinea in and started playing music at the age of 7. Although he is Susu, he learned the traditional Malinke music on the Sangban from a group of master Malinke drummers. This gave him a great foundation in the music and the ability to progress quickly.

In 1993 Mangue joined the well known ballet troupe Les Merveilles de Guinee. This provided him the opportunity to travel throughout Africa and study under the leadership of the late great Kemoko Sano. In 1998 Mangue moved to the US and keeps a busy schedule, performing and teaching at most major dance conferences nationwide. He also works with numerous organizations including, but not limited to: Alvin Ailey Arts in Ed, Wula Drum and Dance NYC, Drum Cafe, Marylin's Bamdulaye, and Nandy's Sankofa Kuumba Cac (summer program for children).

Back to Top


Marie Basse-Wiles was born in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa. The granddaughter of Bambara singer and dancer Maimouna Keita, Marie began her professional career at the age of 9. She began teaching at the age of 12 as a member of the Ballet National of Senegal. Her professional accomplishments include resident work with Kinne N'Diaye Rose, daughter of master drummer Dou Dou N'Diaye Rose, and Papa Dougoufana Traore, as well as renowned choreographers Mamadou N'Diaye, Demba Diallo, Oumy Sene and Raymon Sylla.

Her international touring experience includes performances with the Ballet National of Senegal and Koumpo Dance Company, under the direction of Ibrahima Camara. She has won numerous awards for her commitment to the community and accomplishments in dance. She has created numerous ballets throughout her career as well as a piece for The Center For Traditional Music and Dance "Bedenya 97" Festival that is archived at the New York Public Library's Performing Arts Library.

Back to Top


Born in Tivaoune, Senegal, master drummer Mar Gueye is the son of Bouboucar Gueye and N'dambe Thioune, both of respected musical families known as N'guewel to the Wolof people. At the age of eight, Mar went to Senegal's capital, Dakar, to study and work with his uncle, renowned sabar drummer Dou Dou n'diaye Rose. By 1973, Mar had entered the Senegalese National School of the Arts and soon found himself playing with the Ballet National de Senegal. In 1976 he joined the Ballet d'Afrique Noire. By the time Mar had become a master of many drumming styles from Senegal and other parts of West Africa, including Sabar and the Djembe complex of dances.

From 1980 through 1986 Mar toured and performed at international events such as the Dijon Festival, and the Festival de Nance as well as the Vancouver Percussion Festival. Following this period he moved to New York and founded the N'guewel School of the Arts which helped to galvanize the network of Senegalese communities between New York and Washington D.C.

Amoung the constellation of internationally renowned Senegalese artists, Mar has worked witth Youssou N'Dour, Tambour Brombg and Roots Talibe. In addition to his work within the Senegalese musical community, he has worked with a vast range of prominent musicians from diverse musical arenas including the Rolling Stones, Ziggy Marley, and jazz saxophonist David Sanborn. Since 1992 he has regularly recorded and toured with the World Saxophone Quartet. Also Mar frequently reunites with the World Saxophone Quartet and reunites with his uncle Dou Dou N'daiye Rose for tours in Asia, Europe, and North America.

Back to Top


M’Bemba Bangoura has traveled the world as a performer and teacher of the Djembe drum, and he is revered for his high level of mastery. As a native of Guinea, West Africa, M’Bemba began playing the djembe at the young age of seven. By the age of twenty-one, he was acclaimed as a master drummer and was invited to play for Ballet Djoliba, the national company of Guinea. Since moving to the US in 1992, M’Bemba is an integral part of the entire drum and dance scene nationwide. He has taught hundreds of students, many of who are now teachers themselves. In addition, he has personally created choreography and developed repertoire for dozens of dance companies worldwide.

Working throughout the United States, Mexico, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean, his style is infectious. He has recorded 3 solo albums, and a 2 volumes of DVDS called Wamato: Everybody Look! M’bemba has been a guest artist on dozens of other recording projects, videos, and films. Dedicated to teaching drumming, dancing, and his culture, M’Bemba is one of the world's most prominent ambassadors for Guinean drum and dance.

Back to Top


Melissa Hié grew up in a musician family and was a member of the family band from a very young age. Her father taught her how to play several instruments : balafon, barra and djembe. This enabled her to acquire a strong knowledge of African traditional rhythms and develop her own soft and melodic touch. At nine years old, she chose Djembe as her main instrument. She then began playing in various formations and bands as a percussionist. In order to reinforce her skills, she continued to discover other instruments such as the conga.

She further developed her artistic skills (singing, dance, computer music) through several collaborations, including major projects with artists such as Damon Albarn and Fatoumata Diawara. Today, she enjoys experimenting with music in unexpected ways and explores various genres ranging from jazz to electronic music.

Back to Top


Mohamed Diaby began playing djembe in Guinea, West Africa at age seven, under the supervision of his elder brother Moustapha, who was himself an accomplished djembefola and member of Guinea's national ballet, Ballet Djoliba. By age eleven, Mohamed was lead drummer for Africa Djolé, led by Fodé Yulla. Mohamed later joined Mamoudou Camara’s troupe, Soleil d’Afrique, also as lead drummer. He toured all over West Africa with that troupe, including multiple years spent in Sierra Leone. Kemoko Sano - legendary artistic director of the world-renowned drum and dance ensemble, Les Ballets Africains, and director of his own dance company, Les Merveilles de Guinée - saw Mohamed perform and requested that Mohamed join his troupe.

Upon his return to Guinea, Mohamed joined Les Merveilles de Guinée as lead drummer. Shortly after he began training with Les Ballets Africains. Then, in April of 1995, Mohamed arrived in America to play at New York City's Symphony Space. Nowadays, Mohamed travels around the USA and the world teaching and performing Guinean drum and dance.

Back to Top

Moussa Traore was born and raised in Mali, West Africa. He has been playing the djembe for over forty years. In 1984, after completing a twelve-year apprenticeship, he was deemed a "master" by his teacher, Sega Cisse.

Moussa has achieved great recognition throughout Mali as an accomplished musician in theater, traditional ceremonies, as well as the Malian pop scene. Among musicians in Bamako, Moussa is considered to be one of the top djembe players in the country.

Since moving to the U.S., Moussa has continued to distinguish himself as a highly respected teacher and performer. He has given drum workshops in cities throughout the U.S. and China.

Currently, he is teaching at schools, offering weekly community classes, leading drum ensembles for West African dance classes, and performing for special events and workshops.​

Back to Top

Quenia Ribeiro is a dancer, choreographer and dance instructor from Rio de Janeiro Brazil with over 25 years of experience in the field. Quenia has performed Samba and Afro Brazilian Dance in Greece, Brazil, and throughout the United States. She has been featured in interviews and performances broadcast on PBS, ABC, WPIX, Telemundo and Fox 5 television. As a dance instructor she has been teaching Samba and Afro Brazilian Dance in NYC since 1997. Quenia has worked extensively in the public and private school system with children and teens teaching Brazilian Dance and Creative Movement (in both NYC and Brazil).

Classes with Quenia include elements drawn from her background in Ballet as well as her 10 years of Capoeira training. Currently Quenia Ribeiro choreographs and directs her own Dance Company, “Grupo Ribeiro”. Recently she celebrated a decade of teaching 5 weekly open classes at the Ailey Extension in New York City. Her reputation as an innovative leader in the instruction of Brazilian Dance has been furthered by her series of 4 instructional DVDs that have been marketed worldwide as well as the Idancesamba instructional app available on Itunes.

Back to Top


Rafael Monteagudo (drummer/percussionist/composer) arrived in the US in 2000 from Havana, Cuba. His areas of focus include jazz, funk, fusion, Latin jazz, and Afro-Cuban. He grew up in a neighborhood in Havana that has produced some of the most famous Cuban musicians. The musical traditions in Havana are rich in both popular and folkloric music. it was through sharing the strong African traditions that are inherent in Cuban culture that Rafael gained such a wide range of styles. Rafael continued his studies at the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Arte (ENA) and later at Felix Varela conservatory in Havana. while in Cuba, Mr. Monteagudo had the opportunity to work with some of the best-known Cuban jazz and folkloric groups, including Calle 42, Eddy Mesa, Jazz Quartet Carisma and the Conjunto Folklorico of the University of Havana to name a few. He also performed at various prestigious festivals such as the Havana Jazz festival and Cubadisco. Since Rafael has been in the U.S.,he has performed in prestigious venues and music festivals such as Lincoln Center, Central Park Summer Stage, the Jazz Gallery, Joe's Pub, BANF, Blue Note, Scullers Jazz Club, Jerome L. Greene Space at WNYC, Blues Alley, the Smithsonian Institute, The Kennedy Center, the Green Mill Jazz Club, Aspen Jazz Festival, Cape May Jazz Festival, the Rochester Jazz Festival, the Caramoor Jazz Festival, the Sedona Jazz Festival on the Rocks, the Jerusalem Jazz Festival, Artscape, the Painted Bride Art Center, and the Cherry Blossom Festival among others. He has toured with, Yosvany Terry, Chuchito Valdes, Michele Rosewoman and The Pedrito Martinez Band among others including a performance with iconic songwriter and producer Desmond Child for his induction into the songwriters hall of fame. Rafael has participated in Ricky Martins new musical Cuba Libre, with music and lyrics by Desmond Child and Davitt Sigerson and most recently Rafael appeared at a tribute concert to Eddy Palmieri and the late Randy Weston as part of David Virelles ensemble.

In addition to his extensive tours within the United States, he has also toured to Europe, the Caribbean and South America and Canada. Rafael recorded an album with Chuchito Valdes's band. The album, New York is now, was nominated for a 2011 Latin Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album. In addition to his work as a touring, recording performer/musician, Rafael is regularly featured in workshops at the Latin American Folk Institute in Maryland, and in percussion master classes at Coppin State University, Baltimore Maryland, University of Richmond, Virginia, the Levine School of Music Washington D.C., Loyola College Baltimore, Maryland, University of Colorado at Boulder, George Mason University, Washington D.C., The BANFF International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, and the Kingston Jamaica Jazz Festival. His percussion workshops include drum set techniques, applying Afro—Cuban rhythms to jazz, hand drums, and the various styles of Afro-Cuban music. In 2009 Rafael released his first instructional dvd “Clave in Modern Drum Set Playing”. The video incorporates many African and Afro-Cuban rhythms, including those typically played on congas and Bata that he grew up with. The unique twist that Rafael brings to the music is how to apply these rhythms on the drum set. This allows drummers to gain interdependence in playing using a new method that can bring excitement to their practice. Rafael was featured in modern drummer in October 2004. He uses and is endorsed by Sabian cymbals and Toca percussion.

Back to Top


Souleymane Solo Sana is an accomplished traditional dancer from Mali, West Africa. Dedicated to the preservation of traditional dance, music, and culture Solo is committed to continuous research to maintain an accurate representation and disbursement of traditional information, movement, and rhythm. A former principal member of one of the premiere companies of Mali, Ballet Du District de Bamako, he is a leader among artists. Solo’s presence at local ceremonies and festivals in Mali has always been in high demand, performing with renown griots and musicians as well as internationally known artists such as Djeneba Seck and Oumou Sangare. With an extensive knowledge of traditional dances of the Mande culture he is highly sought after as an instructor for private and group lessons teaching students from around the world including internationally acclaimed dancers, university instructors, and Broadway performers.

Currently Solo splits his time between teaching and performing in the United States and running Kono Gnaga, his NGO in Mali with a mission to preserve traditional dance and music. Solo made his choreographic premiere in New York City in the Spring of 2014 and has most recently embarked on the creation of Sira Koro, a dance and music ensemble in Mali, where he serves as Artistic Director and choreographer with a mission to bring new perspective to traditions while simultaneously providing opportunities for young artists in Mali. This is his first time at the Wula Retreat and he is looking forward to meeting everyone there. Back to Top


Known for her pioneering efforts in West African keyboard percussion music, Valerie Dee Naranjo was the first woman to play gyil (African marimba) in public in Ghana, and has been the only non-West African to win the Ghanaian Kobine Festival gyil competition. She has lived in New York since 1981, plays percussion for NBC’s Saturday Night Live band, arranged African percussion for Broadway’s The Lion King, and has performed at 10 PASIC conventions, and on six continents solo, with The Philip Glass Ensemble, David Byrne, Carole King, The Paul Winter Consort, Zakir Hussein, and others. She travels to West Africa annually to keep her hand on the pulse of contemporary gyil art.

Valerie compiled the published transcriptions "West African Music for the Marimba Soloist", "Joro" a series of works for Gyil and Orchestra, and 10 CDs. Valerie teaches Gyil and other West African Percussion at New York University, and was named Drum! Magazine's "World Percussionist of the Year" 2003 and 2008, and “Mallet player of the Year” 2012.

Back to Top


Youssouf Koumbassa is a former artist of Ballet Djoliba, the National Ballet of Guinea. Born and raised in Guinea, West Africa, Youssouf began dancing at the age of six. Youssouf's father is from the Landuma people and his mother from the Baga/Susu people.

Youssouf has traveled extensively throughout West Africa, Japan, Bangladesh, India, Holland, Hungary, Russia, Korea, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Since moving to the United States twenty-two years ago, Youssouf has established himself as the pre-eminent teacher of dance from Guinea. He now travels widely throughout the world as a much sought after master teacher at dance conferences, workshops, camps and schools. His classes are attended by a large and loyal following who are appreciative of his mercurial energy and grace.

Youssouf is meticulous in acknowledging the source of this material and insists on a high level of understanding and respect for the form among his students. He travels to Guinea regularly, taking students on dance trips and returns to the United States with the latest developments in contemporary dance so that his teaching is always a mixture of traditional work and the dances that infuse popular culture. He is easy to learn from and suitable for all levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced dancers.

Back to Top


Accompanist Bios

Born in Conakry, Guinea, Abdoulaye Toure began drumming at 10 years old. In time he became well versed in the traditional music of his country, excelling in playing djembe, kenkeni, sangban and dundun drums and krin. He has performed with Guinea’s highly acclaimed National Ballet Djoliba and with Papa Kouyate’s Les Petits Sorcier, traveling throughout West Africa including Gambia and Mali. Abdoulaye has apprenticed with some of the most respected teachers in Guinea: Papa Kouyate, and Sekou Conde. In 2012 he recorded with Solo Keita playing dundun, djembe and krin, and in 2013 he recorded with Mohamed Diarra playing dundun drums.

Currently based in New York, Abdoulaye teaches a weekly drum class and is in growing demand as a working musician. He has worked with several well known and respected Guinean artists and teachers such as Youssouf Koumbassa, M’Bemba Bangoura, and Mouminatou Camara.

Back to Top

Dylan Blanchard was born and raised in the North Shore of Massachusetts, and first dipped his little toes in the waters of rhythm there whence a benevolent man introduced him to some basic West African rhythms after church. A long time later, he has been fortunate enough to have traveled to the cities of Santos and Salvador in Brazil, and La Habana and Matanzas in Cuba, studying the music and culture of those places. Currently his path has taken him to New York City, where he continues his studies in Afro-Caribbean music (mostly from Cuba, and from Brazil and Puerto Rico as well) in a community of great talent, history, and passion. With respect for the traditions and cultures that we feed on, he hopes through this music he can transmit encouragement for the health and well-being of us all, and a feisty good time every once in a while.

Back to Top


Fara began his studies in the percussion arts in 1993, under the tutelage of the Bayo family from Kankan, who were at that time residing at the Camp Camayenne military base in Conakry, Guinea. While at Camp Camayenne, he also studied with Moussa Kourouma and Billy Nankouma. He soon began performing, first with the Sanké Jeanne Makôles ballets in 1999. In 2000, Fara and members of the Sanké Jeanne Makôles ballet created a new group called the Grand Sorcier Papa Kouyaté.

In 2003, Fara was honored to join the National Ensemble of Percussions de Guinée (after an introduction by Billy Nankouma), and he traveled with Percussions de Guinée to Egypt in 2015 and 2019 to perform. In 2010, Fara created his own group, Fara Percussions. His hope was to form a troupe featuring the finest music and dance talents in all of Guinée-Conakry.

Throughout his career, Fara has worked with and learned from renowned West African percussionist, such as Fadouba Oularé, Coungbana (master of Sangban), Lancei Konté (master of Doundoun), Ali Sylla (master of Djembe, and Lamine Lopez (master of Djembe).

Back to Top


Nick Birmelin is a percussionist, musician and educator with over 20 years experience playing and researching the music and rhythms of Brazil. As an instructor he has taught extensively to adults and kids of every age. He has taught drum workshops in a wide variety of settings including College of Charleston, Alvin Ailey Extension and the Museum School. For the past 7 years he has been on faculty at the Turtle Bay School in Manhattan, teaching Percussion, Drum set and Orff Music Classes for children. As a co- founder and musical director of Grupo Ribeiro Productions (along with Quenia Ribeiro) he has produced music for choreography, instructional dvd’s and computer applications. In 2012 he released his CD “ Brazilian Percussion for Dancers”. Currently he works regularly as the musical director for Brazilian Dance classes at the Alvin Ailey Extension in NYC.

Back to Top


Seattle based composer, percussionist, multi-instrumentalist and music school dropout, Naoyuki Sawada, has been involved in and passionate about Brazilian music for over 20 years. He moved to New York City from Japan to attend music school, then dropped out and started his professional career as a percussionist with a New York based Brazilian dance company and toured domestically for three seasons. The knowledge of the Brazilian rhythms and the sensitivities he gained from this experience plays an integral part of his compositions and musical performances. He’s been focused on playing and composing Choro music (Vintage Brazilian Jazz) for the past several years, and performing with Choroloco.

Back to Top


More Bios

Awa Konate was born and raised in Senegal, West Africa, and both her parents are from Guinea. Because of this, she is part of both cultures. Her mother, Salimata Konate inspire her to cook at an early age and she's been doing it with passion since then. Every Friday she cooks for the Sousou Mosque in New York City. Awa will present special dishes from her culture and offer a cooking demonstration for the Saturday Night Celebration!

Back to Top


Yoga instructor Joelle Faucette grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and started her journey with dance and movement at four years old. Classically trained in ballet, she danced throughout childhood with the Dance Del Bello company and began teaching at age sixteen. She was first exposed to yoga in her early twenties and fell in love with the combination of breathwork, movement and the healing power of this practice. She has received her Buti Yoga certification, RYT-200 certification, achieved the level of Reiki Master/Teacher, and is the founder of the.SoL.method Podcast. Her teaching style is encouraging, warm, and bright and infused with the dedication to create a safe space for each one of her students.

Back to Top