Yahaya Kamate | West African Dance
Photo by: Tom Pitch
My name is Yahaya Kamate. I was born and raised in the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire – the Ivory Coast. My country has many languages and I grew up speaking Malinke, the tribal language of my region. I learned French in school because Côte d’Ivoire is a former French Colony. I am the ninth oldest child of my father’s thirty. He had four wives. For most of my young adult life, I spent time going to school in the city of Abidjan. Although my Dad was a trader living in the city, I would spend school breaks on a farm in my his village to helping my uncle plant igname (yams), maïs (corn), and patate (sweet potatoes). Sometimes when I was hungry, I caught squirrels and birds with a slingshot and cooked them over a wood fire for food. After my meal I would meet my friends and we would dance and tell stories under the moonlight. Although it was good fun, I would often find myself in trouble with my Dad because I would usually get home after bedtime.
After these times with my friends, I became interested in dancing and playing the drum. One day I decided to go to an audition to be part of the National Ballet of Côte d’Ivoire. It went well and I was accepted into their school. Soon I was hurrying between regular high school and dance school. We toured all of the West African countries that surround the Ivory Coast – Guinea, Mali, Burkina-Faso, Ghana and Liberia. I lived in Ivory Coast until I was 25, studying, performing, and teaching dance and drums.
I began to tour as a dancer internationally and went to France, Greece, and Holland. I enjoyed traveling and wanted to perform in the United States. When attempting to get my visa, I was required to perform my steps and movements at the U.S. Embassy to prove I was really a dancer. Once in the U.S., it was sometimes hard to fully express myself as I came from a French-speaking country where we didn’t learn much English in school. I found myself gaining fluency through conversations with friends, watching TV, listening to the radio, and reading books. Learning English has really helped me dedicate myself to the work I like to do best, teaching and entertaining through drumming and dancing.
What students and teachers say about Yahaya:
Check out Yahaya’s teaching and practice in City Lore’s Sharing Traditions video; wherein artist Yahaya Kamate speaks to the importance of community and cultural exchange within his institute.
Yahaya and drum ensemble at a lively, “Root, Routes & Rhythms” assembly program at PS117Q in Jamaica, Queens