Introducing the 2021 Wula Retreat Faculty
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
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
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
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
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
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
Fodé Moussa "Lavia" Camara, master drummer, percussionist, folklorist, choreographer, exemplifies the new generation in the preservation of West African traditions and the influence of these traditions on the world. Born into an artistic family in Conakry, Guinea, West Africa, Camara honors his family and heritage through his expression of Guinea’s musical traditions and culture.
His musical talent was discovered at the age of five, when he began his formal training with the djembe, dunun, sangban, and kenkeni orchestra. He was called a prodigy by his teachers, claimed leading roles, and attained featured-artist status in a myriad of productions. Elder artists throughout Guinea, Senegal, and Mali regularly sought Camara’s musical contributions. Camara’s command of the djembe, dunun, sangban, kenkeni and other traditional West African percussion instruments such as the krin, bolon, and gongoma prepared him to become the musical director of the renowned Gbassikolo, an African Ballet owned by his father Djibril Morlaye Camara, and lead drummer of the company Fatouabou Percussion from 1997 to 1999.
From 1998 to 2000, Camara was musical director of the National Circus of Guinea, an international touring ensemble. In 2000, after an international search, Camara was recruited to Senegal’s Ballet D’Afrique Noire for a 32-city tour of the United States, as lead drummer of the ballet’s widely acclaimed Mandinka Epic, a dance theater production that told the history of the Mali Empire. In 2002, Camara began serving as musical director with distinguished Kadiatou Conté Forte, artistic director of Balafon West African Drumming and Dance. In 2004, Camara was selected as musical director for Borenya West African Drum and Dance Company, a teaching and performance company located in Columbia, SC. Two years later he was appointed artistic director and served in this function until 2008.
In 2009, Camara started his own company, Wona Womalan West African Drum and Dance Ensemble, located in Charleston SC. Its mission is to teach West African history and culture, and to bring knowledge, compassion, and empowerment to schools and communities through performance, workshops and residencies.
He has taught at Georgetown University, American University, Howard University, University of Maryland, University of Florida, and University of South Carolina and has worked with a large number of performance ensembles. In high demand, Camara tours extensively in Africa, Europe, North America, South America, and Australia as an instructor, choreographer, and guest artist.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.comBack 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
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
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
Michael Markus has spent over 20 years performing, teaching and studying West African styles of drumming. After receiving his BFA in percussion from Ithaca College, he fell in love with Djembe and moved to New York City in 1993. Soon afterwards he found his primary teacher, Master Drummer M’Bemba Bangoura, and began to apprentice in Guinea, West Africa.
Michael is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of cultural arts and socioeconomic development in Guinea, West Africa where he has based the production end of this company, Wula Drum: crafting authentically elegant and professional sounding African drums.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
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
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
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