Oregon Folklife Network

Alseny Yansane

2014-2015 TAAP AWARDEE

Traditional skill/art/craft: Guinean Dance, Drumming

Ethnic Background: Guinea, West Africa

Apprentice: Mamadouba Papa Yansane

Contact Information

E-mail: westafricanculturalarts@gmail.com

Describe your traditional skill/craft/art, when and why it is done, and your history with it.

I teach the traditional cultural arts from Guinea, West Africa. Mainly poly-rhythmic drumming and its dance counter-part along with the cultural significance, origin, history of these dances and rhythms and how they are celebrated today.Traditionally, there are 3-5 different djembe drum accompaniment parts, 3 distinct Dundun drum parts with their own musical variations and individual bell parts and solo phrasing that all come together to create a percussive orchestra unique to each and every rhythm.

Although there are over 40 distinct rhythms and corresponding dances from Guinea, I wish to focus on the 10 most popular. I’d like to teach proper drumming technique for all of the instruments in the orchestra, their distinct parts and how all these parts fit together to make one single, poly-rhythm. Additionally, I wish to teach all of the traditional dance steps for the corresponding rhythms, what each movement represents, how to properly dance on the beat and basic choreography for performance.

How and from whom was the tradition learned?

I mostly learned this tradition in Guinea’s vibrant arts capital, Conakry, through training with master artists and teachers in the neighborhood groups, private performance groups, folkloric troupes and ultimately the National Ballet of Guinea, Les Ballets Africains. I also received extensive training in villages throughout each distinct geographical and cultural region of Guinea during a performance tour in which I participated in intensive artist residencies.

My training began at age seven when upon my own initiative, I started to learn the traditional rhythms by imitating veteran drummers by playing recycled food storage vessels (8 inch tomato paste cans), tapping on the bottom to mimic the various drum parts.

Shortly after that, my older brother who had a group of his own started to mentor me by taking me to all of the folkloric events and ceremonies. There he showed me all of the drum parts and corresponding dance steps and had me play alongside of his group in the cultural context of each ceremony.

My training continued through participation in local and national repertory groups, individual mentorships with senior artists, inclusion in village ceremonies, folkloric events and national and international competitions and performance tours.

Why is this cultural tradition important to your community?

This cultural tradition is the heart and soul of our community; it is the very air we breathe to keep ourselves afloat while dealing with the harsh reality of being raised in an impoverished nation as well as the difficulties we’ve endured being poor, black immigrants in the United States. Our cultural arts tradition is our life line; it gives us a sense of purpose, pride and belonging to something greater than ourselves. It allows us to experience sheer joy and deep, spiritual connection to those in our communities. It is what has kept peace in our nation when wars were erupting in other countries along our borders.

Artistic services provided to the public have benefitted communities throughout Oregon by raising the level of awareness and appreciation of the Guinean arts, offering artistic platforms for exposure and employment and collaboration on creative projects. Some of these services include on-going workshops and classes, annual performances and conferences, cultural exchange programs to Guinea and school and assembly programs through 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, West African Cultural Arts Institute formerly Won Tan Nara Productions.

Artist Biography

Birthplace: Conakry, Guinea, West Africa

Birthdate: August 4, 1971

Since age seven, Alseny Yansane has been immersed in the musical and dance tradition of his native country, Guinea, West Africa. Alseny trained and performed in many competitions as a dancer, drummer, and acrobat in the dawning of the Republic’s newly won independence from France. Historically, this was a time when art and cultural appreciation and cultivation were at an all-time high and the training that artists received was rigorous and systematic. Artists had to compete on a national level annually as a way of moving up to higher levels of artistic status. these competitions were held in the heart of Alseny’s neighborhood and attracted groups from all over Guinea who represented specific art and culture from various regions and ethnic groups.

This has given Alseny a wealth of knowledge about the history and cultural diversity behind Guinean performance arts, a solid artistic foundation, and a strong drive for excellence. Alseny has worked with some of Guinea’s most reputable performance groups, including Kemoko Sano’s Ballet Merveilles and Jean Macuely’s Ballet Sanke. In 1993, Alseny was recruited to join the most prestigious of all national groups, the world-renowned Ballet Africains. Chosen to tour with them several times, Alseny has dazzled audiences all of the United States, Canada, Bermuda, and Morocco.



Lane County Tourism Grant (2011)

Oregon Arts Commission Opportunity Grant (2010)

Lane Arts Council Community Arts Grant (2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)

Diploma for exceptional work with Ballet Soleil du Afrique
Minister of Arts and Culture in Guinea, West Africa


Co-founder and Artistic Director for West African Cultural Arts Institute
January 2010 – 501(c)(3) status

Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Won Tan Nara Productions
Won Tan Nara Drum & Dance Ensemble

Founder and Artistic Director, Ballet Manufanyi
Children’s Repertory Drum and Dance Performance Group


Performer, Dance for a Reason Performance (2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013)

Choreographer and Principle Dancer, music video with Karamba Diabate

Dancer, music video with Fode Kouyate

Dancer, music video with Yaya Bangoura

Dancer, music video with Ablo

Dance Troupes

Dancer, Les Ballets Africains (1993)
International Tour, U.S and Canada, July 2004
50 Year Anniversary Jubilee International Tour, U.S. and Canada, February-May 2004
International Tour, Bermuda and Morocco

Dancer, Ballet Marveilles

Artistic Director, Ballet Sanke

Principle Dancer, Ballet Sanke