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.

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Arturo Stable was born in Santiago de Cuba, the cradle of the island nation's most important center of culture and home of such elemental music styles as the Guajira and Son. Considered by the jazz media at the forefront of his musical generation, the 2 time Grammy award winner, percussionist, and composer has shared the stage with artists such as Paquito D'Rivera, Esperanza Spalding, Miguel Zenon, Terri Lyne Carrington, Christian McBride, and The Philadelphia Orchestra, to name a few.

Mr. Stable also has an extensive experience as a composer and educator. He has written music commissioned for the Puebla Symphony Orchestra, the Harlem String Quartet and the NJ sax Quartet. Currently the Chair of the Hand Drum Department at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia he has also developed a strong international presence as a bandleader with five releases under his name and countless international appearances in important festivals such as Madrid Jazz Festival, Vittoria Jazz festival, JVC Jazz Festival, Moscow Jazz Fest, Budapest jazz fest, among others.

Arturo is currently endorsed by Meinl Percussion and is also the Chair of the Hand Percussion Department at the University of The Arts in Philadelphia. arturostable.com

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Babara Bangoura was born in Guinea and is half Soussou and half Malinké. As only a young child in Conakry, he joined the Ensemble des Percussions de Guinée Junior, and subsequently the Djoliba National Ballet Company. He has lived in Belgium since 1999.

A spiritual heir of the great Guinean master Mamady Keïta, he passes on the Guinean tradition and art of the djembe. Both musician and teacher, Babara travels throughout the world giving workshops and concerts, some of these with the legendary Sewa Kan ensemble. Groups specializing in musical styles from jazz to electro have also welcomed him, recording several of his compositions on their own albums. Babara is the founder of the International North-South Cultural Exchange Festival. This festival takes place in Conakry and provides musicians from all over the world with the opportunity to share their passion for the traditional Mandinke music and dance.

As a djembefola, Babara is dedicated to promote Mamady Keita’s message: music has no boundaries and the djembe does not know skin color or nationality and cannot be an obstacle for meeting other cultures.

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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.

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Djeneba Sako was born in Bamako, Mali, and began her journey with dance and music at the young age of 5. She started dancing professionally at age 11 with the Bienal District Troupe. She danced with them for eight years, during which time they won the National biannual Dance Competition four times in a row. From there she went to the District of Bamako troupe, where she performed for another eight years, touring internationally.

She has worked with prominent Malian artists such as Mamadou Kante, Djenebah Seck, Nanou Koul, Abdoulaye Diabate, Molubaly Traore, and Karim Coulibaly. She is one of only three best Malian dance teachers here in the US, of which she is the only woman. In high demand, she is often traveling and teaching at conferences, workshops, and festivals around the USA, sharing the culture of Mali through music, song, and dance. Her style is unique, radiant, positive, and encouraging.

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Famoudou Konaté is one of only a handful of initiated Masters of the Malinké drumming tradition. In almost 50 years of tours and performances as Guinea's leading djembefola, he has elevated the djembe orchestra from its traditional roots to worldwide popularity. Among Guinean drummers, he is universally recognized for his unsurpassed knowledge of the repertoire of the Malinké people, the creators of the djembe and dunun drums and its core tradition.

Famoudou was born in 1940 in Sangbarala, a village in the Hamanah region of Upper Guinea. Hamanah is the Malinké heartland in Guinea, and is also the birthplace of the Dundunba family of rhythms which are Famoudou's specialty. A percussive prodigy, he was drumming in community festivals and ceremonies by age eight, and was in demand throughout the region as a djembefola by the age of fourteen.

Recruited into Guinea's Les Ballets Africains in 1959, he was the Lead Djembe Drummer for Les Ballets until 1985, performing with astounding virtuosity and creating many of the musical arrangements now common in ballets and performance groups world-wide. Famoudou toured the world performing to wide acclaim for 26 years, establishing Les Ballets as West Africa's foremost performing company.

Since 1986, he has taught and performed annually in Europe, instilling a generation of European djembe drummers with an extraordinary level of training, while teaching with thoroughness, patience and humor. His pioneering contributions were recognized in 1996 with an Honorary Professorship in African Musical Education and Practice from the Academy of Arts in Berlin. Since 2000, he has also taught annually in North America, Japan, Israel, and of course, West Africa.

Famoudou has recorded 9 classic djembe CDs; has co-authored a book on the drum music of the Malinké people; and has been guest soloist on 3 CDs and in 2 films with Mamady Keïta. He has a new DVD and a new CD Hamana Kundö only available direct from Germany or through DrumConnection in the US. Since leaving Les Ballets, he has directed The Famoudou Konaté Ensemble and the groups Hamanah Diara, Hamanah Dan Ba and Hamana Föli Kan. He is also a key member of the group Mögöbalu (the Masters), alongside dundunfola Daouda Kourouma and Master Drummer Mamady Keïta.

He is a Master Teacher, working across cultures, languages and skill levels to assist students with an approachable, patient and flexible teaching style. Famoudou’s passion for the music infuses every workshop. In each session, he effectively communicates a wealth of knowledge and drumming experience through his hands, his heart and his warm sense of humor. Everyone benefits from hands-on, personal contact with Famoudou throughout the workshop experience.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.​

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Percussionist, composer, and arranger Shane Shanahan has combined his studies of drumming traditions from around the world with his background in jazz, rock, and Western art music to create a unique, highly sought after style. He is one of Silkroad’s inaugural co-artistic directors, and has performed with Bobby McFerrin, James Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Philip Glass, Alison Krauss, Chaka Khan, and Deep Purple, among others, and has appeared at the White House, playing for President and First Lady Obama. He frequently hosts workshops and clinics at the world’s leading universities and museums and collaborates actively with the dance, theater, and yoga communities in the New York area, including several stints on Broadway.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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