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Customer Spotlight: Wona Womalan West African Drum & Dance Ensemble

Recently, we invited our customers to share their stories with us with the idea of communicating the diverse nature of the people and companies who use our products.

The response has been very rewarding and quite interesting! Here is one of the organizations that come from the realm of the arts.

Wona Womalan West African Drum & Dance Ensemble of Charleston, South Carolina.

We are very fortunate to have received a response from the leaders of this unique group:

Fode M. Camara, Executive & Artistic Director/Founder: “I ensure the musical selection is superb and the overall flow of the performance is outstanding.”

Shaleena Capers, Choreographer and Administrative Support: “I choreograph all the dances, which are from Guinea, West Africa, for an ensemble of 20 members.  Also, I handle creating and maintaining our website, designing the company logo and designing our marketing brochures and flyers.”

NDF: Can you provide us with a biographical snapshot?

Fode M. Camara was born into an artistic family in Conakry, Guinea, West Africa. His musical talent was recognized by the age of five when he began formal training with instruments of the djembe orchestra. He was described as a prodigy by his teachers. He achieved featured artist status in countless local productions. Elder artists throughout Guinea, Senegal and Mali, regularly sought Camara’s musical contributions.

His command of the djembe and other distinctive percussion instruments led to positions with the African ballet, Gbassikolo as Musical Director, Fatouabou Percussion as one of the lead drummers, and Fareta of Guinea as Artistic Assistant. In 1998, Camara was recruited to be the lead drummer and Musical Director of the National Circus of Guinea, an international touring ensemble. Later, Camara was recruited to Senegal’s Ballet D’Afrique Noire. Next, he embarked on a 32-city American tour as lead drummer of the widely acclaimed Mandinka Epic, a dance theater production that told the history of the Mali Empire.

Shaleena Capers has been a dancer for 25 years and a choreographer for 15 years. She has been choreographing traditional West African dances for 7 years. Shaleena began her dance training at Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center in New York at the age of three, where she studied African dance, ballet, and tap.  She continued her training in California and later Maryland where her repertoire expanded to include jazz dance.

While attending Hampton University, she studied various dance styles including those of Katherine Dunham, Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham.  Above all, her passion was deeply rooted in African dance.  Upon her return to Maryland to continue her education in psychology at University of Maryland Baltimore County, she began taking West African dance at KanKouran West African Dance studio in Washington, D.C.  Shaleena studied under renowned artists such as Assane Konte (Artistic Director of KanKouran) and Kadiatou Conte-Forte (Artistic Director of Balafon African Dance Ensemble).

NDF: How long have you been involved with this organization?

Fode has been drumming for over 25 years, and formed Wona Womalan in 2009.

Shaleena has been with Wona Womalan since its inception in 2009.

NDF: What training and education prepared you for this endeavor?

Fode was born into the tradition of playing drums. He studied under his father for numerous years and attended many of his father’s company’s rehearsals (in Guinea, West Africa) to acquire a better understanding of the music and how an ensemble should operate.  Fode’s mother often tells the story of how he “pretended her back was a drum while being carried on her back in the traditional African style.”

Shaleena continues to take Master Dance classes with artist from Guinea, West Africa and Senegal, West African such as Youssouf Koumbassa, Mariatou Camara, Marie Basse-Wiles, and Malang Bayo,

NDF: Can you tell us some of the more noteworthy experiences?

Fode has traveled internationally sharing his passion for the drum with audiences all over the world, including Europe, Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean as well as throughout the United States.

Shaleena has performed in many memorable events including Dance Africa DC in Washington, DC, Black Rock Center for the Arts, in Maryland; Montgomery County Government in Maryland and Jack and Jill of America, Inc, Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, Traditional Gullah Festival in Beaufort as well as numerous universities and colleges on the East Coast.

NDF: What do you like most about your working in this field?

Both Fode and Shaleena enjoy introducing people to the traditions of African music and explaining its meanings. For example, certain drum rhythms are used to encourage farmers while they are working in the field, or a rhythm might be played during rites of passage for boys and girls into manhood or womanhood.  Additionally, these intricate rhythms might be played at ceremonies such as weddings, the birth of a child, and many more special occasions.

NDF: What are the future plans for your group?

We are currently working with a youth drum and dance group, NIA Productions, in Charleston, SC.  NIA Productions is a non-profit organization whose goal is to share culture and tradition with the surrounding community in an effort to have a positive influence on youth.

Our plan is to continue working with these children (ages 3 to 16) in NIA Productions to encourage them to maintain the tradition of African Drum & Dance while participating in a positive experience as well as enjoying an excellent form of exercise.   We would love for our group to travel to Guinea to further our understanding of West African drum and dance.

NDF: How do you utilize Next Day Flyers products?

We are hosting a 3-day African Drum & Dance Conference in Charleston, South Carolina.   Renowned artists from Guinea, West Africa will teach drum and dance to all levels—from beginner and intermediate to advanced dancers and drummers. Promotional Flyers were created and printed with Next Day Flyers to help advertise the conference and concert.

NDF: Do you have a favorite experience that is worth recalling?

Recently, we performed in front of our peers in Tallahassee, FL.  The experience took place at an African Drum & Dance conference where Master drum and dance instructors and students from all over the country attended a 3-day intense drum and dance extravaganza.

The audience was thrilled with our performance.  It was exciting because some of our ensemble members have only been doing West African style of dance for six months and have now had the opportunity to perform on stage with artists from West Africa.

NDF: Is there an experience that you learned from?

“Always be prepared for the unexpected.  If you ever fall while performing, smile and act as if it was a part of the performance.  I am speaking from experience,” advises Fode.

NDF: Would you like to offer any words of encouragement for those new to the field?

Fode bestows this wisdom, “I encourage anyone interested in West African drum and dance to take classes held in their community.  Seek out an experienced dance instructor familiar with the West African art form.  You will only get better through practice.  Do not get discouraged if you cannot master the dance or drum technique on the first time.  It takes practice and patience, but you can do it! Remember, if you can walk, you can dance, and if you can clap, you can drum.”

NDF: Is there a message you’d like to share with our readers?

Wona Womalan means, “Let Us Come Together” and is dedicated to preserving the dance, drum and folkloric traditions of West Africa.  It is thought that playing the drums is only for fun, but it has so much more meaning.  The drum is the voice of the people.  The drum can tell a story of love, friendship, labor, battle as well as being used to express emotion, inspire others, and personify the daily actions of the people. The music and rhythm are as large a part of everyday life as conversation, cooking, or raising a family. The pulse of the music speaks to everyone, because it contains elements of life common to all people.

Visit http://www.wonawomalan.com/Wona_Womalan/Photo_Album.html for more information and photos of this inspiring group.

Fode M. Camara, Executive & Artistic Director/Founder

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