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Teaching with drums

March 16, 2006

By Cindy Blankenship

Ryan M. Camara, artistic director of Denbaya Drum Dance, the Ashland-based school of West African drumming and dancing, was packing for his 11th annual trip to Guinea on the West African coast when he took time out for a phone interview.

In Ashland, Camara is also known for his work at Ashland Middle School where he teaches the music, dance and culture of West Africa based on the curriculum of his teaching book, World Rhythms: The Music of West Africa, published by Alfred Publishing Co. and set to be distributed this summer.

For Camara, it&

s the dance that inspires his drumming: &

Even though I&

m a percussionist, I&

m a very visual person &

133; It inspires me completely when I have a great dancer. The drummer and the dancer play off each other, improvising within a structure &


As a member of the international Company Forè-Foté (meaning black and white in Susu), Camara teaches the traditional music and dance of the djembe in the Republic of Guinea. His workshop lasts three weeks, but he&

ll stay for three months.


I love it there,&

he says.

Forè-Foté is an educational and performance organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the traditional music and dance of the djembe playing cultures of West Africa. Denbaya is a non-profit arts and culture, performance and education organization based in Ashland that emerged from Forè-Foté.

— — — Name: — Ryan M. Camara

Hails — From: Long Beach, Calif.

Age: — 30

Training: — Bachelor of Arts in ethnomusicology, UCLA; apprenticed with artists from — the Republic of Guinea&

s national ballets.

Niche: — West African music, dance and culture.

Claim — to Fame: &

Being accepted as an artist in Guinea.&

Inspiration: — &

Dance. The interaction between drummer and dancer.&

Camara moved to Ashland five years ago after performing here with his mentor and master drummer, M. Lamine &


Camara. Dibo, the founder of Forè-Foté, is now also moving to Ashland, closing his L.A. school and directing Denbaya while Ryan&

s in Guinea.

Backing up a bit, the djembe (pronounced JEMbay), which originated in West Africa, is a goblet-shaped drum with a wide range of tones, made possible by the density of the wood, the internal carvings and the skin. This drum is quickly growing in popularity.

Ryan discovered the djembe at an L.A. music trade show near his Long Beach home. He&

d loved drumming so much as a young child that at age seven he was given a snare drum by his mother. In his teens, he played drums with reggae and rock with bands. When he first saw the djembe drummer, he says, &

I fell in love with the music &

133; I was floored.&

A couple years later, as a student of ethnomusicology at the UCLA, he was awarded a special studies research project in Guinea, West Africa.


When I went there, I realized their music and culture are inseparable. Rhythms are played when you&

re born, when you&

re married, for every tradition. In Guinea, life&

s a song. The djembe can help to bridge the gap between here and West Africa.&

In Guinea, Ryan was adopted by the Camara family of the Susu tribe and his apprenticeship with Dibo began. Ryan also studied with artists from the country&

s national ballets. The ballet in Guinea he says is a joining of West African music (drumming and melodic instruments), dance and their culture&

s stories. Many ballets formed there as part of the nation&

s cultural renaissance.

While Ryan is now a world-wide acclaimed drummer, teacher and recording artist (including recording on the critically acclaimed Wonbéré), when asked what his claim to fame is, he quickly replies, &

Being accepted as an artist in Guinea, performing with their ballets and at their traditional ceremonies. It&

s one thing to do a show here, but to be really accepted there is a great honor.&

Asked what he loves most about his art, he says: &

Meeting the different people. I&

m always amazed &

133; This music is so old and attracts people from all walks of life &

doctors, students, guys driving trucks, stay at home moms. There&

s such a diversity and community of friendships, and I love helping to create these friendships and bonds, especially with the kids &


To learn more, visit www.denbaya.org and

www.fore-fote.com. For online instructional materials, visit

www.djembelesson.org, to be updated in April. For lessons in Ashland, call Lezlie Green at 541-301-7151