The next time you and your friends are discussing all the great things about Pittsburgh, throw out the name of Yamoussa Camara.Born in the village of Boke, Guinea, in 1966, Mr. Camara grew up to become one of West Africa???s premier drummers. He moved to the United States in 1995 and has lived in West View for six years.
Tonight, Mr. Camara will be presenting an African Drum Workshop at the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination in Bloomfield. For $15, you will be able to follow the beat of a professional drummer, the way generations of Africans have been taught.
"I have been playing the drum
all my life," Mr. Camara said. "I started a long time ago in Guinea, where it was an obligation. Everybody had to learn the culture and go to school for it. I became a good drummer and they took me into Les Ballets Africains."
Mr. Camara apparently doesn't like to toot his own horn. The truth is, he became a protege of Mohamed Kemoko Sano, the artistic director of Les Ballets Africains, and became the youngest lead drummer in the history of the group. He performed in Europe, Africa and the United States and his drum-playing is featured on several CDs.
"Then, in 1995, I decided to stop working for the government and start working for myself," he said.
Welcome to America! According to his resume, Mr. Camara "taught drum and dance at Yale University for 10 years and has traveled the U.S. teaching, performing, choreographing and polishing presentations for various dance ensembles."
He now teaches classes at Carnegie Mellon University, as well as twice-a-year sessions at the Irma Freeman Center.
His instrument of choice is the djembe.
"In Guinea, [long ago] we didn't have electricity, and the djembe was used to direct the military, to let them know where the enemy was and where they were coming from," Mr. Camara said. "It's made out of wood. You cut the tree and dig the inside out and soak a goat skin on put it on top and sew it with a rope."
There are three types of djembe drums. The bass (which produces a deep sound), the slap (which is a sharper, louder sound), and the tom (which is lower).
To Mr. Camara, the language of the djembe is not restricted to Africa. It is as universal as a heartbeat.
"It's a healing process," he said. "I have had people in my drum class 75 years old, and they love it. I try to bring the community together. That's my goal. Heal the problem, whatever that problem is. Try to forget that problem and try to move on in the right direction.
"[It appeals to] anybody who can move. Even people in wheelchairs at the nursing homes I visit. They love it. It makes me feel so good to see them happy."
But there's more to this than just feeling good. Its cultural impact is a positive thing.
"It also helps young people stay out of trouble," Mr. Camara said. "That's what I do here, too. Work with the kids and help them to focus on the good things."
Mr. Camara and his brother, Mamadouba Mito Camara, will be joined at the Irma Freeman Center tonight by Aboubacar Amo Soumah. The event is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and everyone is welcome.
If you can't make it tonight, stop by Saturday at 7 p.m. for African Night. For $15, you are treated to African food and there will be a show with everyone in the audience playing drums.
Try to beat that.
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456.