African Arts in Education is proud to bring some of the world’s most accomplished African artists to our audiences as well as young, emerging artists who are being given a voice. Our programs delivers the best in drumming, traditional African instruments, dance and art that bring the magical continent of Africa to life!
Zach attended Connecticut College, majoring in anthropology with a minor in african studies and a focus in elementary education. It was there, that he was first drawn to West African music and culture, when Abdoul Doumbia visited campus as a guest professor. That encounter led Zach led to successfully compete for the prestigious and highly competitive Watson Fellowship, which funds travel and research for a full year outside of the United States to exceptional graduating seniors. Inspired by the traditions of music he learned as an undergraduate, Zach chose Mali, West Africa to live and study for his year abroad. There, he worked with master drummer Ibrahima Sarr and conducted research on Malian culture in Bamako, the capital of Mali.
Since then, Zach has been working to develop a cultural bridge between U.S. and West African traditions. As a skilled drummer, he has produced “Mali Djembekan,” an instructional video on djembe music. He also organizes and performs in educational presentations, drum workshops, dance classes, and theater performances featuring musicians and dancers from the U.S. as well as Mali and other West African countries. Between 2005 and 2011, Zach founded and ran Ridgewood Contracting, LLC, which specialized in equestrian facilities and residential construction. As operations and financial manager, he was responsible for cost estimating, contract negations, payroll, sales, marketing, and follow-up.
Ron has enjoyed a four-decade career as a performing artist, arranger, bandleader, teacher, and producer in the United States and around the world. His outstanding career demonstrates his musical eclecticism. He is one of the few professional guitarists specializing in the seven-string guitar, and he performs jazz, classical and flamenco styles. His latest project, Vuelo, is a bossa-flamenco fusion band featuring jazz-drummer great Arti Dixson.
Ron is available for performances of any size and format. He specializes in corporate and campus events. Ron has studied guitar with world-class musicians, including John Williams, jazz giants Joe Pass and Pat Martino, and flamenco virtuosos Paco Pena and Mario Escudero. He is an expert arranger for singers, currently working as music director for tenor Dominic DePasquale and for swing-jazz stylist Christine Cooney. He is also an experienced teacher, having been a faculty member at the New England Conservatory of Music and Berklee College of Music, and a flamenco-dance accompanist at Wesleyan University.
Dianne has been with African Arts in Education since the very early stages. Before the program officially got its name, she took classes with master drummer Issa Coulibaly at the Gallery of African Art in Clinton, Massachusetts. She had been in the corporate world for more 20 years and wanted a move into a career that was more fulfilling and closer to her interests. She was enlivened while being surrounded by and the connection to two of her greatest loves: music and art.
After speaking with Zach Combs and hearing about plans for African Arts in Education, a new partnership was formed. Her experience with the many aspects of business has contributed to the growth from its pilot year to a now-thriving program.
Dianne’s role as Outreach Manager fulfills her desire to form relationships with individuals as well as the community. She also works behind the scenes to make sure that the office runs smoothly. Her unofficial title is Office Queen!
While Dianne doesn’t get to see all of the performances, she treasures the videos, pictures and comments that come back from the schools. She attends when she can, saying its makes all the hard work worth it to see the enthusiasm and smiling faces on the students and teachers. It has even been known to bring tears to her eyes!
Issa is a master djembe drummer, originally from Mali, West Africa. He earned a reputation as a vocalist and mesmerizing performer while touring Africa and Europe, before coming to the U.S. Here, he plays “Sungurubani,” a song performed as a dance of courtship for young women. Issa is available for performances, workshops, residencies, and drum circles that are educational and fun for musicians of any age and range of experience.
Issa began studying the djembe and djun-djun when he was 11 years old, in his home city of Bamako, Mali. He continues to travel from Maine to Puerto Rico, facilitating retreats and performing as the lead drummer and musical director for a variety of African dance troupes, including Crocodile River Music’s own Didakan. His CD debut, “Foliba,” highlights his flamboyant playing style and original arrangements of traditional songs, and amply demonstrates his solid vocal skill.
Balla, originally from Mali, West Africa, is a djeli, a musician and oral historian in Malian society. He learned his instrument, the balafon, from his father, who is the guardian of the world’s first balafon, which dates from the 13th century and is recognized by UNESCO as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Balla is available for main-stage concerts as well as educational programming.
Balla is widely considered to be among the greatest balafon players in the world today. A virtuoso, he plays two instruments, to get a chromatic scale, allowing him to play any genre of music in any key. His speed is astounding as he moves effortlessly between the two balafons, delivering his signature roulements and complex improvisations.
Balla has been featured on at least 45 albums, including Angelique Kidjo’s Grammy-nominated “Oyo” and Yo-Yo Ma’s Grammy-winning “Sounds of Joy and Peace.” He has also collaborated with Mamadou Diabate, Susan McKeown, Vusi Mahlasela, Roswell Rudd’s MALIcool ensemble, and Schlicht’s Tempore.