About Balafon

Balafon Arises

Officially formed by Kadiatou Conte-Forte and her Washington, DC students in 1997, Balafon is a creative partnership among several artists who masterfully blend the natural elegance of traditional West African dance and music with amazingly heroic athleticism.

A Celebration of Culture

Guided by the Artistic Directorship of Kadiatou Conte, a native of the Republic of Guinea, the ensemble brings to the stage an exquisite celebration of classical West African song, music, and dance reflecting more than 30 years of experience in the world of African performance arts. With its intricate display of choreography and elaborately colorful costumes, Balafon is a breath of fresh air on the contemporary African dance scene offering a unique perspective on West African tradition and culture. A definite must see!

A balafon

What’s In a Name?

The keys of the balafon are made from dried shea butter tree wood. Gourds are placed under the keys to amplify the sound which is produced by striking the two keys with two padded sticks.

Board of Directors

Peggy Harris, President
President & CEO, Three Rivers Youth

Linsey McDaniel, Secretary
Nonprofit Development

Kadiatou Conte-Forte
Founder, Artistic Director

Shabaka Perkins
Sankofa Village for the Arts

Mensah Wali
Kente Arts Alliance 

"Mama" Kadiatou Conte-Forte

Kadiatou Conte-Forte is the Artistic Director of Balafon West African Dance Ensemble, which is comprised of many of her students and colleagues from her years of teaching.  Kadiatou is a consummate teacher and motivator; she believes that dance makes one stronger physically and mentally and is a source of healing and balance in one’s life. Her belief in God and prayer has allowed her to touch the lives of many people of all nationalities and walks of life!

As a young girl born in Conakry, Guinea, West Africa in 1955, Kadiatou loved to dance and sing. In 1970 she was selected to join Les Ballets Africains, the national dance company of Guinea. She became one of the premiere dancers in Les Ballets Africains and Ballet Djoliba. From 1970 to 1985 she traveled and performed around the world for heads of state and sold out audiences in Moscow, France, Belgium, England, Brazil, Spain, Japan, Australia, the United States and nearly every country in Africa. As a performer she served as a cultural ambassador for Guinea. While on tour in the United States she fell in love with the people of the U.S., especially the African-American community. She left the United States hoping to return one day to teach, young and old alike, the culture of her country.

In 1985 Kadiatou returned to the United States, coming to Washington, DC to fulfill her dream. Affectionately known as “Mama Kadiatou,” she has become a major force in the African arts community, serving as bridge between the Guinean and the Washington, DC community. She has worked as guest artist/choreographer with the following companies:  Melvin Deal and the African Heritage Dancers and Drummer, Kankouran, Djeli Djimo Kouyate and Memory of African Culture, Wo’se African Dance Ensemble, Andrew Cacho Drummers and Dancers, and also with the legendary women’s group Sweet Honey in the Rock!

Kadiatou has taught African Dance and Culture at Howard University, George Washington University, University of Maryland, Duke Ellington School of Performing Arts, Model Secondary School for the Deaf at Gallaudet College, Carnegie Mellon University, as well as youth at The Neighborhood Academy and public and private elementary schools throughout the region. Kadiatou currently teaches a range of programming to enthusiastic students in Pittsburgh, PA.

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