Ladji Camara

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One of the greatest of Guinea's djembe players, Papa Ladji Camara brought the musical traditions of West Africa to the international stage. A former member of Les Ballets Africans de Keita Fodeba and…
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One of the greatest of Guinea's djembe players, Papa Ladji Camara brought the musical traditions of West Africa to the international stage. A former member of Les Ballets Africans de Keita Fodeba and the National Ballet de Republic of Guinea, Camara has gone on to play traditional African music with drummer Babatunde Olatunji, Haitian music with Pearl Primus and the Constance Santi Dance Company, and jazz with flutist Yusef Lateef. Camara began his musical career at the age of 16, performing in Paris for seven years with Les Ballets Africans under the direction of Keita Fodeba. He rejoined the group in 1953, appearing with the group in a 1958 film of their performance in Rome. He continued to work with the ensemble after they changed their name to the National Ballet de Republic of Guinea following Guinea's independence in May 1960. He toured with the group in the United States, Canada, and Europe for the next two years. Returning to Senegal in 1962, Camara appeared in the film Libertie and performed with the Ballet Negro Dance Company. Camara has maintained a strong presence in the United States. While on tour with Les Ballets Africans in January 1959, he met influential African American drummer Chief Bey, with whom he would jam until the wee hours of the morning at the African Room at 44th Street and 7th Avenue. The same year, he met and was befriended by Charles Moore. Temporarily moving to New York in 1962, Camara launched a dance company in the Bronx. Bey's daughter was one of his first students. Together with Moore, he began to perform in schools, libraries, and museums in New York and New Jersey. Accepting an invitation to join Olatunji's band in 1963, Camara remained with the group until 1971. He remained active in his homeland as well, performing and teaching a master class at Nan Dinzulu from 1966 until his retirement in 1990.