World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Diamano Coura West African Dance Company

ARTISTIC DIRECTORS: Naomi Diouf, Dr. Zakarya Diouf
First Appearance in SF EDF: 1994

Diamano Coura West African Dance Company was founded in 1975 with the vision that performing arts can save lives, revitalize communities, and strengthen our cultural economy. One of the longest-lasting African dance companies in the US, the company has touched the lives of over 50,000 youth, adults, and seniors through cultural exchanges, arts-in-education programming, and apprenticeships.

Diamano Coura performs and tours extensively in the US, Canada, and Europe. Diamano Coura offers classes in music and dance, arts advocacy and information sessions, serving as a community hub for African Diaspora artists. Diamano Coura in the Senegalese Wolof language means “those who bring the message.”


DANCE ORIGIN: Liberia, Guinea, and Senegal
: Lorma, Sousou, and Mandingo Celebration Dances
Djembe Love
Dr. Zakarya Sao Diouf
Naomi Diouf
Ibrahima Ouseynou Diouf
Tavita Bass, LaTashia Bell, Marcus Cathay, Tamika Davis, Danielle DeLane, Esailama Diouf, Ibrahima Diouf, Kine Diouf, Jessica Harden, Kimberly Harvey-Scott, Patrice Henderson, LaDonna Higgins, Antoinette Holland, Dedeh LaFoucade, Bismillah Loving, Christopher Scott
MUSICIANS: Madiou Diouf (djembe, krin), Dr. Zakarya Sao Diouf (djembe), Mohammed Kouyate (djembe, balafon), Darian LaFoucade (dundun set)

In Djembe Love, five bright dances from West Africa pay homage to the djembe drum—the inseparable partner of African dance. The djembe’s rhythm commands the dance, as it signals rejoicing, healing, and connection in community.

Drum Talk is an improvised dialogue between the charismatic drummer and utopia-bound dancer.

The Breaking of the Sande Bush, from the Lorma ethnic group, celebrates a girl’s rite-of-passage from the secret Sande society. In Liberia’s remote, mountainous Lofa County, girls return from a sequestered bush school for their initiation into adulthood. Under the sacred guidance of zoe, spiritual leaders of the female society, they display new skills. Lorma initiates wear threaded skirts woven on a hand-held loom. Beads around their waists represent protection and show their status. Dangling threads hide the girls’ faces, as no one except family should see them. The white chalk signifies purity.

Macru is a fast-paced flirtation dance from the Susu group of Guinea.

Sokho, a celebration dance from the Komanko group in Faranah, Guinea, was originally a male initiation dance.

Mandingo is a celebratory dance from the Mandingo people, Africa’s prominent ethno-linguistic group, (Gambia, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania.) The Mandingo are descendants of the Mali Empire, founded 1235, once one of the world’s largest. Wealthy in gold and salt, the empire had an army second only to the Mongols’ and over four hundred cities, including the great Middle Eastern-African cultural center, Timbuktu. Mandingo musical and spiritual tradition is known for its griots, poets who pass down history through song, and for its exquisite music on drums and banjo-like kora.

The djembe hand drum is carved from one piece of wood and has an animal-skin head. It also descends from the Mali Empire—traditionally housed in a shrine, used only for ceremony. In the 1950s, Les Ballets Africains, Fodéba Keïta, and the National Ballet of Senegal brought the djembe on tour, and now it inspires musicians and dancers around the world. It is the drum that talks, the drum that opens hearts. For Sande Bush, a kingi log drum speaks a language of the forest.


DANCE ORIGIN: South Africa, West Africa
GENRE: Traditional
TITLE:  Tribute to Nelson Mandela
ARTISTIC DIRECTORS: Naomi Diouf (Diamano Coura West African Dance Company), Thamsanqa Hlatywayo (Jikelele Dance Theater)
CHOREOGRAPHER: Ouseynou Kouyate
DANCERS: La Tashia Bell, Tamika Davis, Kine Diouf, Dedeh La Foucade, Bis-Millah Loving, Kimi Scott, Ousseynou Kouyate, Marcus Cathy, Christopher Scott
MUSICIANS: Dr. Zakarya Diouf, Madiou Diouf, Mohammed Kouyate, Darian La Foucade, Nimely Napla
SINGERS: Naomi Diouf, Coco Kelly, Veronica La Foucade, Sieyenne Windross

“It is music and dancing that make me at peace with the world, and at peace with myself.” —Nelson Mandela

When Nelson Mandela passed away in December of 2013, people around the world felt a deep collective grief. And we also felt a collective gratitude for Mandela’s astonishing leadership in an essentially peaceful revolution against apartheid, and for his tireless work against racial division as first president of a democratic South Africa.

The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, in partnership with Dancers’ Group and San Francisco Grants for the Arts, honored Nelson Mandela on his birthday—July 18th—presenting a traditional homegoing ceremony and tribute to this beloved leader. Under the rotunda at San Francisco City Hall, all were welcome to join this program of praise, singing, dancing, and drumming.


- A procession of outstanding African drummers led by Festival co-artistic director CK Ladzekpo, including many of the same musicians who drummed so powerfully for Mandela’s appearance in 1990 at the Oakland Coliseum.

- Thamsanqa Hlatywayo, artistic director of Jikelele Dance Theater, led the singing of the South African national anthem.

In English, the words are:

God bless Africa
Let its horn be raised,
listen also to our prayers,
Lord bless us, we are the family of it
Lord bless our nation,
Stop wars and sufferings,
Save it, save our nation,
The nation of South Africa
Ringing out from our blue heavens,
From our deep sea’s breaking round,
Over everlasting mountains,
Where the echoing crags resound,
Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom
In South Africa our land.

- Jikelele Dance Theater led a traditional South African Praise.

- A sacred offering, including a libation, and brief tributes from dignitaries.

- Finally, Diamano Coura West African Dance Company presented three African dances celebrating Chief Mandela’s life and transitioning—choreographed by Ouseynou Kouyate of Senegal, with musical directorship by Dr. Zakarya Diouf.

The first piece is Kebebourama, traditionally danced in honor of the king or chief, with the griot singing his praises and he dancers and musicians celebrating his life. The second piece is a Liberian dance, with powerful ancient spirits gracing the stage in full-body masks. In the final piece, the drumbeats rise, inviting everyone to join the high-spirited dancing—in celebration of the extraordinary blessing of Nelson Mandela’s life.


GENRE: Traditional
TITLE: The Leopard Ballet
: Naomi Diouf, Dr. Zakarya Diouf
Ibrahima Diouf, Naomi Diouf, Nimely Napla
MUSICIANS: Dr. Zakarya Diouf (lamba, djembe), Madiou Diouf (nder, djembe), Naomi Diouf (vocals, sasa) Mory Fofana (djembe), Coco Kelly (gbongbon), Mohammed Kouyate (djembe), Darian LaFoucade (dance captain/gbongbon, dundun), Lia LaFoucade (gbongbon), Kiazi Malonga (dundun)
DANCERS: Tavita Bass, LaTashia Bell, Marcus Cathy, Tamika Davis, Danielle Delane, Stefon Dent, Ibrahima Diouf, Kine Diouf, Jamila Fuller, Jessica Harden, Tamika Harris, Zion Harris, Ebony Henderson, Patrice Henderson, LaDonna Higgins, Antoinette Holland, Kelly Kouyate, Dedeh LaFoucade, Bismillah Loving, Nimely Napla, Christopher Scott, Kimberly Scott, Stephanie Wilson

The Leopard Ballet is an excerpt from a Liberian dance drama of the same name, from the folklore tradition of the Vai Tribe. The story takes place in a village threatened by a leopard. When the king’s daughter is killed by the leopard, he calls his best hunters to hunt down the terrifying animal, offering as a reward his other daughter in marriage. Thus begins the danced battle with the leopard, and the piece ends in a community celebration of victory.

The story is a folktale written in 1970 by Liberia’s prominent novelist Bai Tee Moore. It’s based on a similar event from ten years before in a village of the Vai people (Moore’s own community) of Cape Mount County in Liberia. Moore worked at the Ministry of Culture and the Liberian National Cultural Troup turned his folktale into a living piece of folkloric ballet, now a national treasure. He spoke often about the significance of honoring indigenous Liberian culture. Upon his death in 1988, Liberian author and politician Wilton Sankawulo wrote, “The best tribute we can pay to the memory of Bai Tee is making our culture part of our daily life, for culturally we are dressed inborrowed robes . . . to replace these alien garments with ones of our own making…”

The Vai people use whole body ceremonial masks that transform dancers, signifying another being has entered the dance. In this piece, the leopard mask shows movements of the animal and signals that the dancer is taken over by its spirit. White chalk is a sign of purity and blessing, worn by hunters for protection.

The music is traditional, and it is specific to harvest, animalistic representation, and celebration, calling everyone together.

The Leopard Ballet was learned from Nimely Napla, and re-staged by Napla and Naomi Diouf with additional choreography by Ousseynou Kouyate and Ibrahima Diouf and some aspects from Dr. Zakarya Diouf’s Serrer tradition. Costumes are by Nimely Napla, and music is by Madiou Diouf, Dr. Zak Diouf, Mory Fofana, Mohammed Kouyate, and Darian LaFoucade. The piece had its U.S. debut this year at Oakland’s Malonga Center for the Arts.



Dance Origin
Lorma & Gio, Inititiation & Masked Dances
2012 title: The Breaking of the Sande Bush
Nimely Napla
2012 MUSICAL DIRECTORS:  Madiou Diouf and Nimely Napla
2012 DANCERS: LaTasha Bell, Marcus Cathey, Tamika Davis, Ibrahima Diouf, Kine Diouf, Naomi Diouf, Jamila Fuller, Diony Gamoso, Tamika Harris, Zion Harris, Patrice Henderson, LaDonna Higgins, Antoinette Holland, Dedeh Jaimah, Bis-Millah Loving, Christopher Scott, Johnathan Secrease
Dr. Zakarya Diouf (sangba), Madiou Diouf (sangba/kingi), Mohammad Kouyate (sangba), Darian LaFoucade (gbe-gbe-ge), Nimely Napla (kingi), Richmond Wiggins (sangba/Kingi), Stephanie Wilson (saa saa).

2009 Title
2009 Costumes/Staging:
Nimely Napla
2009 Dancers:
LaTashia Bell, Tamika Davis, Stefon Dent, Esailama Diouf, Ibrahima Diouf, Kine Diouf, Naomi Diouf, Fikpee Flomo, Diony Gamoso, Paul Griffith, Ebony Henderson, Patrice Henderson, LaDonna Higgins, Antoinette Holland, Dedeh Jaimah, Kelly Kouyate, Sekou N’Diaye, Nimely Naplah, Djien Tie, N’Deye Penda Toure, Stephanie Wilson
2009 Musicians:
Madiou Diouf, Dr. Zakariya Diouf, Bli Bi Gore, Josh Jacob, Mohammed Kouyate, Darian LaFoucade, M’Bay Louvouezo, Gbassay Zinneh 

The Breaking of the Sande Bush is a rite-of-passage dance of the Lorma ethnic group. It comes from one of Liberia's more remote regions—Lofa County, in the northeast mountains. The Lorma have two secret societies which initiate and care for their members—poro for males, and sande for female. Young Lorma girls are taken from their families to a Sande Society or Zardaygai—a center of learning—in the bush. There, they are guided by zoe, spiritual leaders of the female society. Maintaining total secrecy from men, they learn how to cook, dance, and sing; study biology; and learn how to conduct themselves as women. This zaazi dance, as it is called in Liberia, celebrates the girls return to their parents and their initiation into adulthood. Under the eye of the zoe, the girls display their skills.  

The ceremony celebrates differences— between women and men, forest and village, and invisible spirits and visible maskers. Dancers in full-body masks embody the spirit of the African bush and of the community. The ZaaZi (the first mask to enter the stage) is the girls' guide and protector; it announces their readiness to leave and dances to celebrate their achievements.

The young women wear thread skirts woven on a hand-held loom. Beads around their waists represent protection and show their status. Dangling threads hide the girls' faces, as no one except family should see them. The white chalk signifies purity.

Diamano Coura's percussionists evoke Lorma's traditional sounds: a cow horn announces the masked dancers; an uncut gourd laced with seeds—the sa-sa or kpokui—imitates various forest birds. The kingi log-drum communicates directly with the dancers and the "masks": it provides signals for movement and its beats emphasize specific gestures. It is understood that the kingi drum speaks a language, and the initiates must learn the Kingi language before graduating from bush school. Musicians also play the badige or sagban drum and the gbe-gbe-ge bass drum.

The origin of The Breaking of the Sande Bush is unknown, as the secret Sande Society has no written history. Artistic Director Naomi Diouf studied the dance with Nimely Napla of the National Cultural Troupe in Liberia and in Oakland, CA. The company, in apprenticeship, researched and trained intensively in movement and song. It was performed in 2006 at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in Oakland.


DIRECTOR: Dr. Zakarya Diouf
SPECIAL GUEST: Jacqueline Burgess-Hall as the Goddess
DANCERS: Andrezia Andrade, LaTashia Bell, Antoinette Chase, Tamika Davis, Stefan Dent, Esailama Diouf, Ibrahima Diouf, Kine Diouf, Naomi Diouf, Ebony Henderson, LaDonna Higgins, Shaquila Ingram, DehDeh Jaimah, Shanita Jones, Darian Lafoucade, Johnathan Secrease, N'Deye Penda Toure, Tamisha Williams, Stephanie Wilson, Jah-Yee Woo, Alicia Zakon
Musicians: Olafemi Akintunde, Madiou Diouf, Dr. Zakarya Diouf, Mbor Faye, Samba Guisse (tama/talking drum), Josh Jacobs, Mohammed Kouyate, Darian Lafoucade

This original work by one of the Bay Area’s foremost West African dance companies, explores a personal journey and its universal expression in ritual. It blends traditional West African dance with contemporary American influences and features both traditional and pop music from Senegal and Mali. This dynamic suite has four scenes, beginning with, JUSAT, which represents the cyclical stages of life’s trajectory. The piece uses traditional West African dance and music as its focal point, which is enhanced by contemporary moves and music.

The next scene, The Birth, is based on an old myth. Mawa, in a thunderous conversation with his demi-gods, sends his strongest, most beautiful, goddesses down to earth to give birth to the children and nations of Africa. The demi-gods bequeath her the power needed to accomplish this; a piercing scream is heard as she brings forth the children. The third section, called The Initiation, speaks to the joy and pride experienced by a mother and father when their children have grown up and returned from the secret society as respectable young men or women. Their esteem is both for their children’s coming of age and also for the veneration of the family’s ancestral divinities and connection to nature.

In the closing scene, The Harvest depicts the time in a parent’s life to give back to the young people for being so courageous. The community harvests its best crops in preparation of a grand celebration lasting several days with enough crops harvested and animals killed and prepared for the feast to satisfy everyone’s appetite.

This new work was made possible in part by funding from the San Francisco Foundation.


: Naomi Diouf
DANCERS: Brian Alexander, LaTasha Bell, Tamika Davis, Esailama Diouf, Ibrahima Diouf, Kine Diouf, Jamila Fuller, Jessica Harden, Ladonna Higgins, Liz Lafoucade, Alisha Norwood, Yeni Rivera, Christopher Scott, Johnathan Secrease, Deniena Sherman, Tamisha Williams, Jay-Yee Woo
DRUMMERS: Djembe: Olafemi Akitunde, Dr. Zakarya Diouf, Madiou Diouf, Moshe Milon, Dundun:Josh Jacob, Darian Lafoucade

In Diamano Coura’s historical re-creation, the Kakilambe and his counterpart, fertility goddess Nimba – Mother of the Earth, are called upon for assistance to restore balance to a village. The dance depicts a young woman becoming possessed by an overpowering entity. Her lifeless body is revived through dancing, cleansing and offerings to the Kakilambe spirit. When his spirit is appeased, the Nimba mask, depicted as a huge towering bird with large breasts, is summoned to make the women and land fertile. A grand celebration concludes the ceremony.

Back to top