Yahaya Kamate | West African Dance

Artist’s Bio:

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.

Yahaya Kamate at City Lore:

“From Africa to NYC via Mississippi”

Yahaya Kamate is a West African dancer and drummer. In this residency, he explores the movement, rhythm, sequencing, and social-historical context of several West African dance styles, as well as their connections to American dances such as Hip Hop and Charleston. Some of the dances students will explore include Gumbe, a celebration dance from Gambia performed when a new village chief is elected and when fishermen bring home their catch; Menjani, a traditional dance from Guinea celebrating the rite of passage into adulthood, and Wolosodon, a traditional dance from the Mande community in Mali. Yahaya often connects the residency to what teachers are doing in the classroom, such as a book they are reading. The residency culminates in a performance and families are often invited to attend and celebrate with the students.

What students and teachers say about Yahaya:

Yahaya’s classes is something every student looks forward to. They can all participate and it’s great to see them memorize the dances and remember them the following week. They learn quickly and Mr. Yahaya guides them. – Teacher at P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights

Some of the little students have had Mr. Yahaya already in previous years so they really look forward to his classes. The students even practice on their own, I see them do the dances. The students in ICT classes usually follow along too and integrate with the class. – Classroom assistant at P.S. 69



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