Just call him ‘Joh’

April 25, 2009

Anyone who has seen Brandeis’ African Dance Club perform is aware that there is a very present force onstage besides the dancers. Although this person often sits upstage, behind the colorful and rhythmic array of performers, his presence is never diminished nor understated by this. The phenomenal drummer whom many of you have often been entertained and inspired by is Sidi Mohammed Camara or, simply ‘Joh’. Since African Dance Club is an active club on the Brandeis campus and because our club would not be able to function without his talents, I would like you to know a little more about the man behind the curtain or, in this case, behind the dance.

Joh was born in Bamako, Mali in West Africa. He began studying traditional dance and drumming at the age five and was influenced greatly by the artists and musicians of his community. Interestingly enough, his family, specifically on the paternal side, originates from the Camara ancestry that ruled in Mande Society. However, his mastery of music and dance really came from his mother, Fanta Kamissoko, a well-known Jali. Jalis, who are also known as Griots. These people are highly respected in their traditional society for their various skills as singers, storytellers and advisors.

Joh has multiple award winning dance companies and teaches in many places besides Brandeis, including other universities in the Boston area. With these various dance and performance troupes, specifically Troupe Sewa, Troupe Mande, Troupe du District de Bamako, and Percussion Fabla, he has toured the Republic of Mali and many countries in West Africa. Joh is the principal choreographer of Troupe Mande and Troupe Sewa and they are now considered to be among the most renowned performance groups of their kind in the world of West African dance and drumming. After coming to the United States in 1995 Joh has also taught at universities that include Brown, Princeton, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Berklee School of Music, and Boston University. He has also collaborated with the Boston Ballet, Boston Symphony Youth Orchestra and Choir, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

Joh, while teaching at Brandeis and so many other places, enables Mande culture, language, music, and dance as well as those of neighboring Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Senegal to be incorporated into the lives of so many people in a meaningful and memorable way. He has enhanced the lives of peoples of various backgrounds and cultures within and outside of Brandeis by encouraging cross-cultural exchanges. In this way he has promoted the study and active participation in the cultural arts on an international level. African Dance Club is very grateful to have Joh as a part of our club and we hope you can appreciate the fantastic choreographer and musician who is the backbone of this important cultural club at Brandeis.

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