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Faculty Bios 2022

Adwoa Kudoto

Adwoa Kudoto is from Cape Coast, Ghana (West Africa).When Adwoa grew up in Ghana, drumming was considered a taboo for women. Adwoa has been able to break down these barriers and misconceptions surrounding women and drumming arts. In 1999 She was recognized and awarded the title as the Only Versatile Female Master Drummer in Ghana. Adwoa is very passionate about drumming and teaching and has traveled to Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the U.S. sharing her culture. Adwoa embraces everyone on different levels of drum experience. She loves to teach and believes drumming is healing and also brings us all together in love. Adwoa has also dedicated her life to helping orphaned young boys and girls by teaching and performing with them at birthday parties, weddings, graduations and many other community events. Her celebrated group, Nyame Tsease African Traditionals, travels both locally and abroad to teach and perform.


Amikaeyla Gaston

Amikaeyla is an amazing vocalist and percussionist who comes from the Washington DC area. She has studied, recorded with, and shared the stage with many award winning artists, including Take 6, Sweet Honey In The Rock, Baba Olatunji, Mickey Hart, Gil Scott Heron, Wyclef, Ubaka Hill, Ferron, Vicki Randle, Linda Tillery, Chris Williamson, and Pete Seeger.

Proclaimed as “one of the purest contemporary voices…” by National Public Radio, powerhouse Amikaeyla embraces the best of many types of music: from Bel Canto, Funk & Bossa Nova to Blues, Sacred Chanting and Soul, Afro-Cuban and Jazz.

Before moving to the SF Bay area in 2007 Amikaeyla recorded her debut album Mosaic (2004), which received national acclaim, and earned her eight Washington Area Music Association Awards, or Wammys, including Best Jazz Vocalist, Best Jazz Recording, Best Urban Contemporary Vocalist, Best World Music Vocalist, Best World Music Recording, and Best Debut Album. Amikaeyla was named DC’s best female composer in 2006 & 2008, and was also honored with first prize for Best World Music Composition from the 2010-2011 Maryland State Arts Council.


Arisika Razak

Arisika Razak

Arisika Razak, RN, NM, MPH is an Associate Professor of Women’s Spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS),  where she has also served as Director of Diversity, and Women’s Spirituality Program Chair. She presents at numerous conferences on the subjects of multicultural feminisms, women’s health and healing, and embodied spirituality and movement. Arisika has led empowerment workshops for women for over 30 years and spiritually based workshops for women, men and beings of diverse genders for over a decade. For over 35 years she has been a spiritual dancer who integrates teachings based on diverse spiritual traditions, contemporary liberation struggles, and women’s health, healing and transformation into the language of movement and dance.

She has achieved local, national and international recognition as an educator, artist, and practitioner. Her film credits include: Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth which showcases the life and work of Alice Walker; Fire Eyes by Soraya Mire, the first full length feature film by an African woman to explore the issue of female genital cutting; and Who Lives Who Dies a PBS special on health care services to marginalized and underserved populations.


Ava Square 

Ava M. Square

A performance artist (choreographer/musician/actor), writer/poet, documentary filmmaker, and teacher, Ava’s creativity is fluid and fulfilling. A lover of multimedia, she often incorporates her poems and writing in her dance and music performances and has appeared in numerous short films and film productions. The writer, director, and editor of two films, AVOTCJA and SACRED SPACE, Avotcja’s film SACRED SPACE, featuring Long Beach’s Earthlodge Center for Transformation’s founder & chief steward, Queen Hollins, was highlighted at QWOCFF 2012 and purchased by Cabrillo College for their library in 2013.

A recipient of two grants from the California Arts Council, Ava created Spirit Theatre of Dance Company as well as Spirit Theatre Dance Studio (STDS) offering a vast array of classes, programs, and events to the community. Her studio received the East Bay Express newspapers “Best in the Bay” award two years running and was featured in two seasonal television commercials for sponsors, Bay Area Black United Fund and KTVU.

Ava currently works for the Health and Human Resource Education Center (HHREC). She is the mother of four and grandmother of 3+.


Avotcja (pronounced Avacha)

Avotcja

Avotcja is a card carrying New York born Music fanatic/sound junkie & popular Bay Area Radio DeeJay & member of the award winning group Avotcja & Modupue. She is a lifelong Musician/Writer/Educator/ Storyteller & on a shamelessly Spirit driven melodic mission to heal herself. Avotcja talks to the Trees & listens to the Wind against the concrete & when they answer it usually winds up in a Poem or Short Story. For this Festival my Workshop will be on La Palabra Musical, The Music Of The Word, the Rhythm that speaks in us & through us & our responsibility in using this most sacred of gifts wisely. I want to unlock a waterfall of poetic metaphors as strong as any Rhythm you’ve ever heard played on the Drum & see where it take us!!! I’m ready, are you?

DAUGHTERS OF THE DRUM, A Poem By Avotcja, 2014


Ayanna Gallant

Ayanna Gallant is a multi-instrumentalist, voice actor, sound healing facilitator, and mom based in the Washington D.C. area. She has been teaching music for 20 years to students of all ages. Ayanna finds joy in making music with people around the world, helping others find their voice, and believes that music is the best part of humanity. She performs with Marsha and the Positrons (children’s indie music) and is the co-director of The Bele Bele Rhythm Collective, a sisterhood of women drummers who perform and share a passion for rhythms of West Africa and beyond.


Carolyn Brandy

Carolyn Brandy

Carolyn Brandy has been drumming for over 45 years. She has been instrumental in bringing women to the spirit and healing of the Drum. Carolyn is the Artistic Director of Women Drummers International and co-creator of the Born to Drum Women’s Drum Camp. She was also the founder of the Bay Area’s favorite marching band, Sistah Boom in 1981. In 1976, Carolyn co-founded the popular band, Alive! that toured the nation for almost 10 years and has 4 recordings to its credit. She has worked in the SF Bay area for many years as a composer, performer, teacher and cultural worker.

Carolyn is an expert in the folkloric drumming styles found throughout the island of Cuba. She has been a practitioner of the Yoruba-based Cuban religion, Regla de Ocha, also known as Santeria, since 1976. She was initiated as a priest of the religion in Havana, Cuba by Amelia Pedroso in 2000.

Carolyn has led six successful cultural tours to the Island of Cuba to study Folkloric music. She organized workshops in Havana, Matanzas, Jovellanos, Cienfuegos, Camaguey, Santiago De Cuba, Guantanamo, and Baracoa, where the groups studied with masters of Afro-Cuban drumming and dance.


CJ Grossman

CJ Grossman

CJ Grossman has a Masters in Fine Arts from CCAC, and exhibits her mixed media works internationally. She specializes in book arts and has taught thousands of adults and kids how to make books of all kinds.  CJ also creates altars, large paper cuts and artwork for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and other occasions. This has become part of her spiritual practice. 


Debbie Fier

Debbie Fier

Debbie Fier has over 35 years of experience as a performing vocalist, drummer, pianist, composer, percussionist, and teacher. She has studied numerous drum styles for over 30 years, including Afro-Cuban and West African rhythms, focusing deeply on the rhythms and instruments of the Middle East and N. Africa. She drums and performs regularly with the Sabah Belly Dance Ensemble and the band Safra, as well as with a variety of music groups, dancers and poets, in educational, musical, and spiritual settings. Debbie continuously uses music and drumming to build bridges between different cultural and spiritual communities. Her passion for rhythm and music is evident in the energy she brings to her craft, creating an environment for safety, playfulness, and exploration for her students and the other musicians and dancers that she collaborates with. She teaches body percussion and drumming throughout the bay area, coaching people on how to tap into the power of drumming and rhythm as both a meditation and a healing tool, and performs regularly on dumbek, riqq, tar and djembe.

Over the past 10 years, she has found a home at Kehilla Community Synagogue as a spiritual leader through drumming, where she has been named the “Heartbeat of the Service”.  She teaches classes called “Drumming as Prayer”. Her original compositions are available on five recordings: In Your Hands, Firelight, Coming Home, Arise, Kehilla, Inspirational Music of Kehilla Community Synagogue, and her most recent recording WATERWAYS, featuring soothing handpan with the beautiful artistry of Jami Sieber, co-producer and gorgeous cellist.

. All are available on itunes! For more info visit her website.


Denise Solis

Denise Solis

Denise Solis is an activist, labor organizer, and musician who has been living in the Bay Area since 2002. Denise began working in the Latino/a cultural arts community in 1999 at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center as a Program Coordinator in San Antonio, Texas where she is from. Upon re-locating to the Bay Area in 2002 she worked for Teatro Campesino and La Pena Cultural Arts Center before making a shift to labor and community organizing in 2003. Denise began studying the Afro Puerto Rican musical tradition of Bomba in late 2004 at the Bomba and Plena workshop at La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley and with Román ‘Ito’ Carrillo, she has also learned from and sought after learning and experience through collaboration with Bomberos and Bomberas in Puerto Rico and the Diaspora. Denise has also more recently come under the mentorship and continues to learn from, Jesus Cepeda, El Tambor Mayor. Denise is one of a few female lead drummers (Primo/a) or Subidora) in Puerto Rico and the Diaspora within the Bomba genre.

Denise has taught workshops since 2010 at the Women Drummers International’s yearly Born to Drum Camp in Northern California as well as their special Drum Sundays workshops on featured Sundays in the Bay Area. She is also teaching Bomba Percussion and Song classes and playing for the Bomba Dance classes (Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced levels) at Studio Grand with, Bomba dance teacher Julia Cepeda under their project, Taller Bombalele, on Sundays in Oakland and on Wednesday evenings at Galeria de la Raza in San Francisco and is the director of the class performance ensemble Grupo Taller Bombalele.


Elizabeth Sayre

Elizabeth Sayre

Elizabeth Sayre is a percussionist and musicologist who has performed, published articles about, and organized events around Afro-Latin, Brazilian, and African music since 1990. She is a freelance musician, teacher, researcher, writer, and translator/interpreter.  She relocated to the Bay Area in July 2012 and has been playing and teaching batá and other percussion, and accompanying classes and performances with Arenas Dance Company.

In Afro-Cuban music, she has studied with John Amira, Orlando Fiol, Amelia Pedroso, Lazaro Pedroso, Michael Spiro, Michel Aldama, and Orlando Alvarez Gonzalez, in Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, and in Havana and Matanzas, Cuba.

In Spring 2013, she co-organized Ojalá’s trip to the Festival del Caribe in Santiago de Cuba. !Ojalá¡ is an 8-woman ensemble that fuse Afro-Cuban and Brazilian percussion with African American roots music.


Jeni Swerdlow

Jeni Swerdlow

San Francisco Bay Area percussionist and registered art therapist Jeni Swerdlow, MA-ATR is a dynamic and engaging facilitator, trainer, presenter, and performer. Founding DRUMMM Rhythmic Events in 2000, her interactive, hands-on group drumming programs have engaged many thousands of participants at a wide variety of events in the U.S. and abroad. Swerdlow is a REMO endorsed drum circle facilitator, trained HealthRHYTHMS facilitator, and lifelong student of West African drumming and world percussion. Swerdlow is best known for her innovative strategies and playful attitude that foster teambuilding, support wellness, enhance celebrations, and strengthen community for event participants of all ages and backgrounds. More info on Bay Area Drum Circles and Drumming is located here.


Mabiba Baegne

Mabiba Baegne

Mabiba Baegne is an internationally acclaimed teacher, drummer and choreographer of traditional and contemporary African Dance. Mabiba was born in Congo Brazzaville and initiated into dancing by her grandparents at the age of eight.

Mabiba is an inspiring drummer. In addition to her Congolese dancing, Mabiba has studied West African dunun drumming with master drummer Famoudou Konate in Guinea and she was the first woman to teach this form in the United States. Mabiba is also an acclaimed singer and has toured and recorded with Salif Keita, master drummer Mamady Keita, and Samba Ngo.


Mar Stevens

Mar Stevens, on west African drums (djembe and djuns)

Mar Stevens, drum warrior, connected with her inner rhythms as a child drumming on her grade school desk. She began her drum journey twelve years ago with Master Drummer, Afia Walking Tree, of Spirit Drumz. The Drum transformed her life and continues to inspire and heal her.

She continued her study of West African rhythms by attending the Fore-Fote drum camp in Guinea, West Africa. She studied with Master Drummers and dancers on the Island of Roume, learning songs, dances, and rhythms.

Mar teaches and loves sharing the rhythms of West Africa with community. She performs in the ensemble, Sistahs of the Drum, a Bay Area group of Women of African descent (www.sistahsofthedrums.org). The group’s mission is to heal, transform, and witness through the power of the drum.


Regina Wells Rashida Oji

Regina Wells is a full-hearted singer whose voice and presence touches people deeply. She has been singing all of her life, from her youth leading Catholic folk masses to venues large and small around the USA. She has shared the stage with Linda Tillery, Carolyn Brandy, Edwina Lee Tyler, Santana, rhiannon, Bobby McFerrin, Melanie DeMore, Toshi Reagon and her own band Rashida Oji and Middle Passage and Ojalá.

Today Regina walks a path of service and ministry to elders and people suffering from chronic pain, depression, anxiety, addiction and Alzheimers as both a Rosen Method Bodywork Practitioner and Movement Instructor. She is strengthened by her initiation into and practice within the Regla de Ocha tradition.


Sena Kugbega

Sena Kugbega

Sena Kugbega is from Cape Coast, Ghana, (West Africa) and has been teaching drum and dance since she was 13 years old. As a young girl growing up, she always knew what she wanted to do. Sena Kugbega has also travelled with her mother, Award winning only female master drummer in Ghana Adwoa Kudoto, throughout the US teaching and performing in Washington, New York, Atlanta and California,etc. Sena was always willing to learn; learning how to have fun drumming and dancing. Dancing has always been part of her life and she does it with enthusiasm and joy. Sena is an excellent teacher and her classes are always fun with lots of room for plenty of laughter!


Sheree Seretse

Sheree Seretse

Sheree Seretse, Director of the Anzanga, Shumba Youth and Zambuko Marimba Ensembles has been teaching, studying and performing for over 40 years. Affectionately known as “mama marimba”, Sheree’s passion and drive for Zimbabwean Marimba music shines through the five recordings she has produced and numerous other recordings on which she has made appearances.

Sheree received her initial training through renowned musician and composer Dumisani “Dumi” Maraire. She has facilitated many workshops around the country and has toured extensively around the globe.

Sheree believes that marimba music is accessible to everyone.


Sue Kaye (Suki)

Sue Kaye (Suki) has been playing conga drums, Ngomas, and other percussion for 35 years. Originally from New York, Suki has studied with many master drummers from the Congo, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Trinidad, and more. She has played with a variety of groups including Montuno Groove, Omeyocan, Zakiya Hooker, Samba Ngo, Bole Bantu, Azucar con Ache, and Rita Lackey and friends.

The styles she plays are a mix of African, Caribbean, Latin, Jazz, both folkloric and popular styles. Suki has also been a dance accompanist and educator, and she is happiest when playing drums!


Susu Pampanin

Susu Pampanin

Susu Pampanin has explored and studied all types of percussion instruments and styles of music, but her talent is especially evident in her work in Middle Eastern drumming. Susu is well known for her virtuosity in Arabic drumming and is highly respected by the Arabic professional music community.

She has traveled world-wide and has worked and recorded with many artists and groups, including Wild Mango, Keith Terry and Crosspulse, Stellamara, Jazayer, BlueNile, Vince Delgado Quintet, Susu and the Cairo Cats, Holly Near, and ASWAT, an Arabic musical and vocal ensemble.

Her first album, “Susu and the Cairo Cats, Live at the Giza Club” was released in 1990 and was followed by her solo album, “Susu Pampanin, Hands of Time”  in 2001. She also recorded a CD in Egypt, in 2013, Nostalgia, with the world renowned Safaa Farid Egyptian Band.

Susu teaches regularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as all over the US in specialized workshops. She also has taught and performed at many esteemed events such as the SF Ethnic Dance Festival, Mendocino Middle Eastern Music Camp, Born to Drum Camp, the San Francisco International Arts Festival and the World Drum Festival.

Born To Drum Spotlight on Susu Pampanin! (watch the video) You can also find Susu on many DVDs as the percussionist for various internationally known belly dance instructors.


Vicki Noble

Vicki Noble

Vicki Noble, co-creator of Motherpeace, is a radical feminist healer, author, independent scholar and wisdom teacher. Born in 1947 and raised in Iowa, she awakened to the Goddess and Women’s Spirituality on her arrival in Berkeley, CA in 1976. Through a shamanic healing crisis, she opened psychically to the healing, art, yoga and divination processes that led to the creation of the Motherpeace tarot images. Since then she has written numerous books, including Motherpeace (1983), Shakti Woman (1991), Ritual and Practice with the Motherpeace Tarot (1998/2003), and the Double Goddess(2003). With Miriam Dexter, she recently co-edited an anthology, Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement: Elders and Visionaries (2015).

Vicki has developed a powerful public ritual healing process, in which participants perform hands-on healing in the context of drumming and chanting. She teaches and lectures internationally, and has led tours of women on pilgrimage to sacred Goddess sites around the world. She taught for two decades in Women’s Spirituality Masters Programs at CIIS and New College in San Francisco, and finally at ITP/Sophia University in Palo Alto,CA. Since 2006, much of her time has been spent teaching regularly in Italy, where most of her books have been published in Italian, and she has developed a following of women who study and practice her adapted Tibetan Buddhist Dakini practices.

Vicki is a professional astrologer with a focus on Goddess archetypes and healing for individuals or couples. In her readings (on phone, Skype, or in person) she utilizes natal, transit, and progressed charts. As a mentor to women, Vicki facilitates private tutorials in Santa Cruz, California, for those interested in teachings and practices of Goddess spirituality, Motherpeace Certification, Matriarchal Studies, and Female Empowerment.

Since 2001, she has adapted and customized Tibetan Buddhist Dakini practices for her students of Goddess spirituality, who come for three to five days of intensive one-on-one learning. Vicki lives in Santa Cruz near her daughters (Robyn and Brooke) and son Aaron (the subject of her 1994 book, Down is Up for Aaron Eagle), plus three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. When she isn’t working or babysitting, she watches whales in the Monterey Bay, gardens and keeps bees.