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DAFRA Drum - A West African Drum and Dance Ensemble

Olivier Tarpaga, Artistic director
Wilfried Souly, Assistant director
Cell: 323 641 7476


DAFRA Drum is a multicultural group that performs dance and drumming from the Djeli/Griot tradition of West Africa. The members of the ensemble are from Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, the Ivory Coast and the United States. DAFRA is one of Burkina Faso’s most sacred Rivers.  DAFRA Drum proudly shares the cultures of the ancient Manding Empire through music and dance.  

Mission Statement

The diversity of the ensemble creates a rich musical repertoire full of rhythmic and harmonic delights that stimulate audiences from different backgrounds. Many of DAFRA’s members are immigrants in the USA and their every day work in the USA revolves around presenting their diverse cultural and artistic traditions within a traditional, contemporary and sacred context through music and dance. This phenomenal performance group’s goal is to bring people together to investigate tolerance and diversity and to draws in audiences from diverse communities to celebrate the rich diversity of West African music and dance.


The name Dafra come from one of Burkina Faso’s most sacred River in the city of Bobo Dioulasso where you found sacred fish and healing opportunities. 
Created in 1995 by dancer-drummer Olivier Tarpaga, DAFRA Drum was at that time a comic and theatrical group composed of three members. In 1998, after it’s first European tour, DAFRA become an Ensemble with five musicians and two dancers mostly from Burkina Faso’s acclaimed performance group “Le Bourgeon du Burkina”. From 1999-2002 DAFRA grew to more ten members.
In addition to the live music, DAFRA’s dancers perform energetic traditional steps and repertory from the village’s traditional ceremonies.  In the West African tradition of call and response, the audience will participate in the performance by learning some of the songs, rhythms, and dance steps.
The Ensemble toured at numerous festivals and theaters in the world performing for thousand of peoples including: 

California, 2005-2008

  • The World Festival of Sacred Music at the Museum of Latin American Cultures in Long Beach and the Honoring the sea event at the Santa Monica Beach.
  • The Santa Monica Festival in front of 4000 audience members.
  • The Noah’s Ark exhibition for young audiences at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles since summer 2007 to present.
  • The Big World! Fun! Performance series at the glamorous Ford Amphitheater
  • The LA’s Best After School program community Jam at Royce Hall (UCLA) and the famous Kodak Theater (Hollywood)
  • LAUSD, and private middle and high schools 
  • Numerous Hollywood private events.

International, 1995-present

  • Numerous performances in Burkina Faso
  • Bamako, Mali
  • Multiple tour in France including Paris, Marseille, Jazz festival and Maison de la Culture of Amiens, Rouan, Lyon, Aix en Provence, Cahors, Toulouse.
  • Africa Festival in Freudenstadt 2001, performances in Stuttgart 2000, Germany 
  • London and the Wales, UK
  • Numerous performances at the Tam Tam Macadam Festival in Alma, Chicoutimi, St Hyacinthe, Montreal, St Hilaire in Quebec, Canada 
  • Lycee Felix Eboué, Cayenne in French Guyana
  • Tokyo Olympic Center, Japan
  • ASWARA, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Perth & Augusta, Australia
  • Olivier Tarpaga’s solo performance at Tel Aviv University radio station, Israel
  • Olivier Tarpaga’s solo performance at the National Radio, Gaborone, Botswana

The ensemble is now located in Los Angeles California and is still working with internationally acclaimed members and guests living in Burkina Faso.

Dafra Drum Members

Depending on the demand, Drafra Drum can perform with a minimum of 3 artists to a maximum of 18 artists including musicians and dancers.

Olivier Tarpaga, Composer & Choreographer
Djembé, Tama, Calabash

Wifried Souly, Lead Dundun
Dundun (Kenkeni, Sangban, Dundumba), Calabash, Tama

Aboubacar Kouyaté, Griot
Djembé, Tama, Calabash

Souleymane Soro, Griot
Balafon, Djembé, dundun

Esther M. Baker-Tarpaga, Dancer
Djitafié, Maracas

The instruments

The principal instrument of Dafra Drum is:


The Djembé in Susu language is a wooden carved, goat or cow skin covered hand drum, shaped like a large goblet, and is played with bare hands. According to the Bamana people in Mali, the name of the djembé comes directly from the saying "Anke dje, anke be" which literally translates to "everyone gather together", and defines the drum's purpose. 
Dafra Drum also plays numerous West African traditional instruments including: 


As griot culture is a hereditary caste, the Kouyaté family has been called the keepers of the balafon. The balafon is a resonated frame, wooden keyed percussion idiophone of West Africa. Striking the tuned keys with two padded sticks produces the balafon sound.


A kora is and ancient instrument built from a large calabash cut in half and covered with cow skin to make a resonator. The sound of a kora resembles that of a harp and has 21 strings. Kora players have traditionally come from Griot families who are traditional historians, genealogists and storytellers who pass their skills on to their descendants.


The Dioula of Burkina Faso claim this instrument was originally played by the hunters caste and had six strings. Modern ngoni in Burkina are made of calabash instead of wood and have eight, ten or twelve strings
The ngoni looks like a guitar, its body is made of hollowed-out wood with dried animal (often goat) skin stretched over it like a drum. In the hands of a skilled ngoni instrumentalist, the ngoni can produce fast rapid melodies. In recent years some great young instrumentalists have developed the technical range of the ngoni. 

Dundun drums 

The dunun (DOO-noon) family of West African bass drums creates the rhythmic and melodic foundation for many Malinke rhythms. The dunun is a membranophone percussion instrument consisting of a hollow tubular wood body, cow skin head on both ends, rope tensioning system, is struck with a stick, and often is accompanied by a bell (kenken). Each of the three dunun has a specific rhythm and role to play in the ensemble, and has a specific name.The largest of the three is dundumba, which has the deepest voice and typically plays phrases that accentuate the rhythm's foundation and interact melodically with the sangban. The sangban is the middle-size drum, is tuned to mid-frequency that matches the tone of the djembe, and often plays a lead role in creating the core identity of the rhythm, with specific calls and variations that communicate to the dancers. The smallest of the family is kenkeni, which has the highest voice best suited to keep the pulse, or downbeat, of the rhythm. Each distinct part played by dundumba, sangan, or kenkeni typically has a bell pattern related to the drum pattern.

Tama/Talking Drum

Talking drums are hour-glass shaped with two heads (made from lizard (iguana) tuned by straps that connect the heads with each other. They are some of the oldest instruments used by West African Griots and their history can be traced back to ancient Ghana Empire. A highly sophisticated genre of griot music is centering on the talking drum


The Djitafié is made out of a half calabash gourd and the egdes are attached with Coris seashells that resonates when the instrument is shaken. Women in West Africa play the Djitafié as an accompaniment instrument.

The maracas used as and accompaniment instrument and the calabash used to play nomad rhythmic such as the Peulh ethnic group also called Fula in Western and Northern Africa.

Who is the Djeli/Griot?

A djeli or griot is a West African poet, praise singer, and guardian of oral traditions. The griot has a deep knowledge of local history and cultural traditions. Although they are popularly known as 'praise singers', griots may also use their vocal expertise for gossip, satire, or political comment. Through music the griot is able to extemporize on current events, chance incidents and the passing scene. Griots today live in many parts of West Africa, including Mali, the Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, Western Sahara and Senegal, and are present among the Mande peoples.

Artists Biography

The Artistic Director

Olivier Tarpaga is a Dancer-Choreographer, Musician, Storyteller and actor originally from Burkina Faso. Born in Kaya, Burkina Faso, Tarpaga followed in the steps of his father Abdoulaye Richard Tarpaga, director of the 1960’s orchestra “Super Volta”. Tarpaga plays numerous traditional instruments and is an expert of the Djembé drum.
At the age of fourteen he was selected as an actor, dancer and percussionist for the acclaimed artistic ensemble "Le Bourgeon du Burkina", under the artistic direction of award winning writer Theodore Kafando and musical direction of master Griot Amadou Kienou.
In 1995 he founded DAFRA Drum Ensemble in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.  As the artistic director, he has directed many musical projects and performances for internationally renowned events and festivals such as the World Festival of Sacred Music in Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Festival, the Amiens Jazz Festival in France, Tam Tam Macadam Festival in Alma, Quebec, the Ford Amphitheater in Los Angeles, the Royce Hall theater (UCLA) and the Hollywood’s Kodak Theater. In 1999 he become a member of Amadou Kienou’s “Ensemble Foteban” with whom he toured numerous times in Europe.
With DAFRA Drum, he has recently performed and recorded with Rock Start POE BALL at Capitol Records in Hollywood.
In 2001, Tarpaga toured in Italy as a lead drummer for internationally renowned Burkina Faso musician George Ouédraogo and has also played percussion for the late Kora master, Keba Cissoko of Les Ballets Africains in New York, Les Merveilles de Guinea and Martin Fernandez Jazz Ensemble (France) and Sylvain Leroux of Fula Flute.
In 1999 he will become the lead djembé drummer of  “le Bourgeon du Burkina”.   He represented Burkina Faso as a drummer with the company in front of numerous African and European presidents at international events such as the 1998 France-Africa Summit, The United Africa Conference, and the Pan African film Festival “FESPACO.” 
Since 1995, Tarpaga has collaborated, performed and taught dance and drumming in seventeen countries on the continents of Africa, Europe, North and South America, Asia and Australia. Based in Los Angeles since 2004, Tarpaga co-founded the Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project and is currently a lecturer at UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures.

Assistant director

Wilfried Souly (Willy) is a choreographer, dancer, drummer and Taekwondo expert originally from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. 
Known in DAFRA Drum as “the strong man with the big drum”, Willy is a djembé drummer and an expert of the Dundun Drum (Kenkeni, Sangban & Dundumba). He is a founding member and assistant director of DAFRA Drum and have been touring internationally with the ensemble numerous times in over eight countries since 1999. He is the recipient of numerous grants and awards and was a choreographer and co-founder of internationally acclaimed contemporary dance  “Compagnie TA”.
His studies of traditional Manding music, dance and storytelling started in early 90s with the very acclaimed artistic ensemble "Le Bourgeon du Burkina", Under the artistic direction of writer Theodore Kafando and musical direction of master Griot Amadou Kienou. He is currently living in Los Angeles and teaches West African dance and drumming For the LA’s Best After School Program, the Project Heart and has been a guest teacher and drummer at UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures since January 2007.

The Ensemble

Aboubacar Kouyate is a master Djembe drummer who currently performs and teaches throughout the US. He was born in Conakry, Guinea into a family of Griots, traditional musicians and oral historians. Aboubacar began his musical training on the balafon at the age of five with his father Ibrahim Kouyate. In 1996 he became a master drummer with les Ballets Merveilles de Guinea and performed extensively throughout Africa, the US and Europe. In 2002 he helped establish the Drum Café in New York City.

Soro Gnenemone Solo was born in Ivory Coast into a family of musicians. He began playing the balafon at age seven and picked up the drum at age eleven. After joining Jolema, an Abidjan based dance company, Solo began touring professionally in many countries such as South Africa, Belgium, Germany, France and Holland. In 2000, Solo founded and directed “Tu Petit”, and joined and the Ivory Coast’s national dance company. In 2001, he moved in the USA where he worked with the UniverSoul Circus, Disney World in Orlando, Hermando Vasquez Mexican Circus and is currently teaching drumming for LA’s BEST, an after-school program

Esther M. Baker-Tarpaga, choreographer, dancer and filmmaker, has a B.A. from Bowdoin College in French and Anthropology and an M.A. in Dance and M.F.A. in Choreography from UCLA’s World Arts and Cultures Dept.  Her most recent work, Dar Es Salaam, premiered at the Celebrate Dance Festival at the Alex Theater.  She currently is an adjunct faculty where she teaches dance, yoga, and lectures at Cypress College and Rio Hondo College.  In 2007 she was commissioned to set new choreographic work on Djoliba National Ballet in Conakry, Guinea and a dance theatre piece on students at Cal State University Los Angeles.  Her solo “Abre D’Adaptation” won best choreography for the Los Angeles Emerging Above Ground Festival in April 2007.  In 2006 she was invited as a Cultural Envoy through the U.S. State Department to teach and perform in South Africa  (Heart of the Arts), Botswana (Maitisong Festival), and Burkina Faso (Dialogue De Corps). She is co-founder of Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project (www.btdanceproject.com), which has performed and taught throughout the USA, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Senegal and South Korea. She implemented and led UCLA’s first summer study abroad program in Senegal at Germaine Acogny’s Ecole de Sable.