Balafon was born in Washington D.C. in 1997 out of the passion for dance that Kadiatou Conte shared with her core of dedicated students. Approaching dance as a way to share the joy of African arts and offer culturally responsive health and wellness, the performance company was involved in youth and community engagement while also mastering classic dance styles often shared on the Kennedy Center stage.
Today based out of Pittsburgh, PA, Balafon works in partnership with local artists, alumni dancers from all over the country, and master dancers and musicians from around the world. From school to communities to the theater, Balafon programs offer ways for people of all generations, backgrounds and physical abilities to discover a love for African culture and experience dancing out loud.
Bringing Mama Kadiatou’s theatrical flair gained from years touring with Guinea’s national dance company, and her desire to break the mold as one of the few women-led directors of an ensemble, Balafon skillfully blends the classic traditions of West African culture with contemporary arts and social consciousness. Elaborately colorful costumes, heart stirring live music, and high energy movement captivate, inspire and energize audiences from all backgrounds and walks of life.
Linsey McDaniel, MBA, Executive Director
Diana Purdom, Booking Coordinator
Linsey took a class with Mama Kadiatou while studying at Howard University in D.C. and fell in love with the self-expression, discipline, and cultural understanding she experienced through African dance. In her work with Balafon Linsey strives to build connections with others who are working to keep the legacy of classical traditions and the dynamic artists and teachers our ancestors offer us alive for generations to come.
Diana Eywa found Mama Kadiatou at a workshop held at The Kingsley Center and fell in love with the drum and dance culture of Guinea. In addition to performing with Balafon for Diana Eywa is a poet, lyricist, doula and mom.
Zoe Norman-Hunt, Operations & Communications Assistant
Zoë Norman-Hunt is a Brooklyn native and has been immersed in the arts since she was born. She received a BA in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College. Her desire to use her artistic voice and business sense come from watching generations of powerful women in her family who have worked their way to the top. For the past three years, she has produced, directed, and worked as a line coach for the theater community, creating innovative, adventurous, and culturally relevant work.
Fode Camara, music director
Master drummer, percussionist, folklorist, choreographer, exemplifies the new generation in the preservation of West African traditions and the influence of these traditions on the world. Born into an artistic family in Conakry, Guinea, West Africa, Camara honors his family and heritage through his expression of Guinea’s musical traditions and culture.
Chrisala Brown, dancer
Ebony Castaphney, dancer
Diana Purdom, dancer
Chrisala Brown has been choreographing, teaching and performing in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, PA, for over 20 years. Her dance background includes a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Performance from Temple University. Formal training began in Pittsburgh at the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and the Dance Alloy, a modern dance company. She has performed with the Xpressions Contemporary Dance Company, The Shona Sharif African Drum and Dance Ensemble, the Legacy Arts Project and the Balafon West African Dance Ensemble.
Ebony has been a dancer since childhood. She started with ballet and has branched into a range of studies including hip-hop, modern, Caribbean, West African and Congolese. “It brings me great joy to perform with Balafon and to see the audience smile and enjoy the show”. Her work focuses on building confidence and working through emotions by including a mixture of arts such as poetry, vocal expressions and Dance. She views her work as a form of therapy as these are the same vehicles that have helped her overcome difficulties. During her work with the youth she finds it of the utmost importance to mentor and guide youth to making positive decisions.
Diana Eywa is a Poet, Lyricist, Dancer, and Doula from Pittsburgh, PA. She found Mama Kadiatou at a workshop held at The Kingsley Center and fell in love with the Drum and Dance culture of Guinea. She has been training With Balafon for only a year and ready to take on the big stage!
YAMOUSSA CAMARA, MUSICIAN
ANTHONY & DANTE MITCHELL, percussion
Yamoussa Camara was born in Guinea in the village of Boke and started drumming at five years old with Troupe Dougousfisa. He later joined Ballet Djoliba for seven years. While performing with the First National Ballet Africans, he studied under the tutelage of Muhammad Kemoko Sano. Camara moved to America in 1992 to work for Yale University as a drum and dance teacher and now works at the University of Pittsburgh. Camara has known Mama Kadiatou since he was 10 years old and is happy to have worked with Mama Kadiatou for many years in Pittsburgh.
Anthony Mitchell & Dante Mitchell are Ibeji (twins) and have been performing West African and Afro-Latin music since the age of five. They have been formally trained in conga, djembe, and dundun percussion ensemble instruments. They've trained with many professionals and became students of Mama Kadiatou Conte Forte of Guinea, who further developed their knowledge and skills performing ballet style West African music.
NICHE FAULKNER, dancer & Choreographer
Kya Conner, Dancer & Choreographer
Niche Faulkner is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of SHAE Movement in Charlotte, NC. Having studied African Dance extensively under the tutelage of the late Mama Kadiatou Conte and Balafon West African Dance Ensemble, Faulkner hopes to not only keep West African culture and Conte’s tradition alive but also continue to expand the knowledge of and respect for the deep beauty and artistic fortitude of Africa.
Kyaien (Kya) Conner, PhD, LSW, MPH, began studying West African Dance at the age of six and became a professional West African Dancer at 14. Trained in dance forms of Djembe, Sabar, and Kutiro, she is a member of Kuumba Dancers and Drummers in Tampa, Florida; teaches West African Dance at the University of Tampa; and has taught West African dance nationally and internationally.
Peggy Harris, President :: President & CEO, Three Rivers Youth
Darrel Baldwin, Treasurer :: Co-Founder Sankofa Village of the Arts
Laverne Baker Hotep :: Klingberg Family Centers
Bryanna Gregg :: The Kingsley Center