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Faculty Bios 2024

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.

Amy Vitro

Amy Vitro

Amy Vitro is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, versed in a broad array of musical traditions and styles. She has studied with numerous masters of the shekere, djembe, and conga and has participated in many women’s drum camps and orchestras throughout North America. Amy is now deeply involved with the folkloric musical traditions of the Caribbean coast of Colombia and Puerto Rican Bomba, both rooted in West African and Indigenous traditions.

Amy is a member of several all-women percussion and performance groups in the Washington, DC metro area. She plays shekere for Bele Bele Rhythm Collective (West African), repique with Batalá Washington (Afro- Brazilian samba), and Alegre/flute/clarinet for La Marvela (Afro-Colombian folkloric). Amy also co-founded musical duo “Amor y Luz” with her partner Kutasha Silva, creating a unique blend of classical and Latin American music. Amy sings, plays flute, clarinet, guitar, ukulele, cajon, assorted hand percussion, and does song arrangements and collaboration on the duo’s original music.

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+.

Barbara Borden

Barbara Borden

Barbara Borden, drummer, percussionist, composer and teacher, began drumming at age ten. From the beginning, she understood the transformative and enlivening nature that drumming and music provide.  Her musical expression is diverse: collaborator with musicians, healers and artists internationally; member of the all-women jazz quintet Alive!; co-founder  Cloud 9 Music with Sheilah Glover, producing recordings Beauty in the Beat, All Hearts Beating, Lady of the Serpent Skirt & Portraits of Passion; teacher, drum kit, West African djembe and ceremonial drums, private lessons and groups – classes, workshops, retreats, drum circles.  She Dares to Drum, Borden’s solo, autobiographical percussion play,” told in words and music, drew critical acclaim. It was co-created and directed by Naomi Newman (co-founder of Traveling Jewish Theatre).   Borden is the subject of Emmy-award winning filmmaker David L. Brown’s documentary, KEEPER OF THE BEAT: A Woman’s Journey Into the Heart of Drumming, receiving the Runner Up Audience Award for the Best Documentary at its world premiere in the 2013 Mill Valley Film Festival.  With drumming and music as her ally, Borden continues to dedicate her life to keeping the beat of love, peace and joy alive!

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.

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

Eliabeth 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.

Julia Cepeda

Julia Caridad Cepeda Martinez

Julia Caridad Cepeda was born into the cradle of the famous Cepeda Family, a family of artisans, musicians, dancers, and composers. The Cepeda Family has devoted themselves to the preservation of Puerto Rican folklore for many years. Julia is part of the sixth generation of Bomba practitioners in her family. Her father, Jesus Cepeda, best known as El Tambor Mayor, is the director of the Rafael Cepeda Folkloric Cultural Foundation.

Julia Caridad made her debut performance in 1981 at the Center for Fine Arts in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in collaboration with the Ballet of San Juan in a piece directed by the distinguished Ana Garcia. In 1982, Julia was featured in the documentary El Patriarca (The Patriarch), which told the history and significance of Puerto Rican folkloric culture. In 1983, she traveled with her family to Washington DC where they were presented with the National Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment for the Arts granted by the Smithsonian Institute.

Julia was also a part of a cultural exchange that included Cuba’s Irakere, Rey Barreto, and the Cepeda Family on the island of Guadalupe. Since then, Julia has continued to nurture her position as a part of the Bomba tradition, along with her family, having taught dance classes, participating in collaborations, and presenting publicly with international artists including Paul Simon, Ricky Martin, Robby Dracco, Manny Manuel, among others.

In 1996, she was brought to New York to teach Bomba classes, demonstrating the various rhythms of Bomba. She also helped found the Proyecto Dos Alas (Two Wings Project). In 2000, along with her family, she toured 25 U.S states presenting Bomba and Plena throughout. Since then, Julia has been the principal instructor for the Rafael Cepeda Folkloric Cultural Foundation. Upon relocating from her home in Puerto Rico to the San Francisco Bay Area in late 2013, Julia wasinvited to teach Bomba Dance classes at Studio Grand Oakland and at Galeria de la Raza in San Francisco in 2014. She then co-founded Taller Bombalele with Bomba Dance and Music Classes in the SF Bay Area with her partner, Denise Solis.

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, 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 ( The group’s mission is to heal, transform, and witness through the power of the drum.

Michaelle Goerlitz

Michaelle Goerlitz

Michaelle Goerlitz has been playing drums and percussion since she was eight years old. After attending college in the Midwest, she moved to San Francisco in 1980 to continue her studies, which have led to exploration of Brazilian, Afro Cuban, Venezuelan, and Middle Eastern rhythms (plus American idioms jazz, R & B & funk). She was a founding member of two renowned & long-term projects, the Blazing Redheads and Wild Mango. Both groups blended many different styles which showcased Michaelles versatile percussive skills.

Among the list of people Michaelle has played with: VNote Ensemble, Venezuelan Music Project,Chelle & Friends, Wayne Wallace, Mark Levine, The Brazilian Jazz Project, Ojala, rhiannon, Barbara Higbie, Jami Sieber and Samba Rio.

Neena McNair

I first experienced drumming as a child at local pow-wows. Women were not then allowed to sit and sing at the drum. I was drawn to dance in my teens, and through my 20’s I danced many styles. In my early 30s I was introduced to Congolese dance and drum. It was everything I had been searching for dancing to live drumming Heaven!

During that time I was also introduced to a Native American women’s drum circle. I was captivated! I have been singing and drumming in native women’s plains-style drum circles for almost 30 years now.  Feeling the power and responsibility of these times, I feel so fortunate to have come full circle! I invite you to the circle, we co-create, when we gather at women’s BTD.

Ouida Lewis

Ouida Lewis

Ouida Lewis educator and percussionist/hand drummer, was a lecturer at Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, Jamaica for a decade. She teaches traditional rhythms of her island home Jamaica, the original sound of the Reggae genre, West African Djembe and intense drum technique classes. She is also a tap dancer and personal trainer. She teaches both children and adults in an effort to pass on the knowledge of the evolution of Jamaican music. Ouida says, This is important to me as I realize that people are becoming less aware of the origins of our music and the enormous rich culture it spans from, thus losing a sense of self. Together with a group of educators we hold and teach the history of the traditional Jamaican folk forms. It is a long-time dream of mine to share Jamaican traditional rhythms outside of Jamaica. Ouida has been teaching at Hillel prep school in Kingston for over17 years. Her latest project is working with the Child Resiliency Programme stationed at the Mountain View Primary and infant school in Kingston working with troubled children using the power of the drum to pass on self mastery, focus and patience

Qween Hollins

Queen Hollins

My name is Queen Hollins. I am a Queer Elder Activist Grandmother! I am the Founder of the Earthlodge Center for Transformation Spiritual Community in Long Beach, CA. The Earthlodge centers Black Southern Indigenous practices, and embraces and encourages all indigenous practices.

We practice healing justice that creates pathways to wellness by hosting a variety of ceremonies that are connected to Nature and that provides opportunities for individual and communal wellness on mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual levels. To learn more about our community, ceremonies, online and in person classes, and to hear about my new book, Earth Doula, please visit: 

Regina Wells (Rashida Oji)

Regina Wellls

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.

Sahar El Khatib

Sahar El Khatib fell in love with West African drumming and started to play the Djembe drum in 2010 in Lebanon. She then traveled to Guinea West Africa to learn under the great grand master Mamady Keita in 2011. Drumming has given Sahar an international platform, performing with many West African drummer enthusiasts and lovers of the Manding culture. In 2016, her passion for drumming led her to the world’s best percussion shop in Santa Cruz, California, called Drumskull Drums. The minute Sahar arrived in Santa Cruz, she knew it was home. She received an Artist Green Card that has allowed her to continue living out her passions right here in Santa Cruz.

In addition to working at Drumskull, she worked with the Arts Council of Santa Cruz as a Teaching Artist. She taught young adults in after school programs how to play West African drumming all over Santa Cruz County. She gives weekly drumming classes for beginner and intermediate levels at Drumskull Drums. She’s been drumming for more than 12 years and continues to learn under many West African Artists and Master drummers such as Bolokada Conde, Babara Bangoura, Fode Bangoura, and as many workshops, she can attend in the Bay area and beyond. 

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 traveled 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 and Zambuko Marimba Ensembles has been teaching, studying and performing for over 50 years. She has also directed 3 youth ensembles  Shumba, Simba and Ghazi. 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 is currently teaching students K-8 and facilitating workshop throughout the country.

Sheree received her initial training through renowned musician and composer DumisaniV“Dumi”VMaraire. 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)

Sue ‘Suki’ Kaye , originally from NYC and now living in the Bay Area has been a percussionist playing congas, ngoma, barril, kalimba and more since 1976. She has been deeply influenced by many amazing teachers studying the music of the Congo, Cuba, Puerto Rico,Ghana, Brazil, Trinidad and more!. Over the years she has performed with several bands including Azucar y Crema, Samba Ngo, Montuno Groove, Zakiya Hooker, Liquid Girlfriend, Taller Bombalele, Rita Lackey and presently with Key Elements Latin Jazz Ensemble that has an album released entitled Arrival. She has had the pleasure of sharing the stage and opening shows for such well known artists as King Sunny Ade, Sheila E and Babatunde Olatunji.

 Suki is also an experienced dance accompanist playing for both classes and performances. She is an educator and has taught preschool, elementary school, and after school programs with kids for many years, as well as conducting drum workshops for both adults and children . She also enjoys writing and arranging music and of course playing drums and being creative with other musicians.

Trinity Watkins

In 2020 Trinity became a certified Kundalini Yoga Teacher studying under Krishna Kaur and in 2021 became certified to teach youth through the Yoga for Youth Program developed by Krishna Kaur. Through the practice of Kundalini Yoga we work with the natural connection to the breath and life force energy inviting the mind to relax and be receptive thus allowing the movement of our bodies to remember and release. A typical Kundalini yoga class is comprised of three parts: an opening chant (known as “tuning in”) followed by a brief warm-up for your spine, a kriya (which is a sequence of postures paired with breathing techniques), and a closing meditation or song.