Fara Tolnowas born in Conakry, Guinea, West Africa. He spent his youth in the village of Kissidugu and Guinea’s capital city, Conakry. He started playing djembe at the age of nine and is a master of the Djembe, Dounnoun and various other instruments including bellaphone and flute. Fara spent nine years as the lead drummer for Les Merveilles (The Marvelous) de Guinea under the tutelage of West Africa’s most influential director and choreographer, Kemoko Sano.
Fara has traveled extensively throughout the world performing and teaching both drumming and dance. Fara has performed with many of the world’s premier musicians including Mamady Keita, Burning Spear, Neil Young, Sekouba Bambino, Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, Habibe Koite, and the incomparable Oumou Sangare.
I met Fara in Boulder, CO in the mid 90’s during the height of Boulder’s drum renaissance days. Fara, along with With Master Drummers Abdoul Doumbia, Bikaye Kouyate, and Somono Somalia immersed the Boulder Community in traditional West African drum and dance culture. I found him to be a kind and thoughtful person. Unlike other Master Drummers who often got caught up in the American mystic of seeking wealth, Fara from the very beginning, always spoke of a larger vision: to preserve the integrity of his traditional music; to preserve his culture in Africa which is suffering from the migration of Cultural Masters to the West, and that everyone make a living from their art. This was a unique and refreshing perspective amongst the master drummers.
Fara also supported me as a female djembe fola. Now, women playing djembe is common place, but then, his supportive words and actions helped keep me focused on what I wanted to do: Master the art of playing djembe.
Fara has stayed true to his visions. He established Camp Merveilles, an intensive summer drum and dance camp, which brings in internationally know drummers and dancers to the Rocky Mountain region. He also established Kissidougou Drum and Dance Company in Boulder in 2004. I am not surprised that when others have faded from public view, Fara remains and has quietly established a sound organization with a multi-cultural staff to help him to obtain his vision. Fara says of his work,
“It’s amazing to me how deeply this music affects people of all cultures. Everyone is trying to find a way to connect to their sources. For me to preserve this music and culture, I have to share it with everyone who is willing to open their heart and mind to it. And this is how I can help them connect to themselves and God.”
Fara has a magical way of teaching everything from the basics to the beautiful intricacies of West African percussion to Western players of all levels and ages. His energetic and compassionate teaching style makes him one of the most sought after drum and dance instructors in the United States.
Currently Fara is focusing his energy locally by developing Kissidougou and Project Drum, an organization focused on bringing West African music and dance into Schools and other organizations.
Our objective is to build a School of Music, Dance and Education in Guinea, West Africa. The popularity of West African music and its influence on the western world has offered many African musicians and dancers an amazing opportunity to move and teach abroad. Unfortunately, this has created a situation where many of Guinea’s finest teachers leave Guinea permanently, taking with them the history, roots, and foundations of this important part of their culture.
The vision of this school is to create a place where master drummers and dancers can support their families without having to leave Guinea, keeping the knowledge of the traditional music and dance alive and thriving for generations to come. The school will provide the opportunity for work, the chance to study, and a space for local educators to teach. It is our hope that the school will provide a consistent place for international students to travel to, toexperience, and study the rich culture of West Africa. Most importantly, the school can provide scholarships and education opportunities to the youth of Guinea.
The school will be a source for education, language studies, arts, music, and dance. It will be a place to raise cultural awareness, initiate dialogue, and focus on African heritage and history. Currently any long-term schools or opportunities like this do not exist in Guinea. A future hope for the school is to double as a community center, providing a space to host community workshops on health care, AIDS awareness and prevention, sustainable living and smart environmental development practices.
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Rhythm Reference Project
Fara has recently released a CD of clips of over 50 traditional West African rhythms. Each clip includes two to three traditional accompaniments and the dounoun parts. It does not replace a good teacher but certainly helps one to hear and absorb the music. Click the picture below to learn more about the Rhythm Reference Project and to purchase these wonderful reference CD’S.
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Click to purchase Rhythm Reference
Support an Honest Vision
Through the years, Master Drummers have come and gone in my life. I have helped many. Here is a Master Drummer whose values are consistent with my own and I am excited to spread the message of harmony and cultural preservation which he promotes. I am glad that he is focused on his people and cultural preservation and not just himself. Support his work and ultimately his village and culture by attending his fabulous classes, workshops,Camp Merveilles or purchasing his music and instructional CD through the Rhythm Reference Project.
More ifo on Camp Merveiles coming soon!