Monday, November 30, 2009

NEW Solo/Dance West African Drumming CD released!

Well, now you can. James Gann had that same desire when he began West African drumming classes. The problem was that he was too intimidated to solo in class. At home he tried practicing his solo technique, but found it challenging without the accompaniment.

His Senegalese drum teacher used to say, “In order to solo well, you need to have strong accompaniment”. Now, a decade later, as a drum instructor and performer, James created this CD especially for drummers like you to help you rapidly improve your solo drumming ability with the drum accompaniment of popular West African rhythms.

“This CD will help your confidence. Feel free to find your own solo style that works for you. Give it a shot!" – James Gann

“Whenever I would attend a drum festival, I was nervous about soloing in front of strangers. Now I’m not because of this CD! I love it!” – Karen Kan

Also Great for West African Dancing!

This CD also makes a perfect practice CD for West African dancing, whether it is in the privacy of your own home or in dance class – with or without a live Djembe soloist!

Ten percent of revenue from the sale of this CD is donated to Reason2Smile,, a charitable organization that supports Jambo Jipya The Future Child School (located just north of Mombasa , Kenya ) whose mission is to educate, clothe and feed orphaned and at-risk children of Kenya .

Bonus tracks with each purchase!

You can drum at any age!

Here's young Maggie learning how to play the Dununs to KuKu with an appreciative mom, Traci, playing the djembe. James was teaching both this past summer.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wulaba Motivates ADK Marathoners in Schroon Lake

Volunteer Tony Kostecki jumped into to play with Wulaba!
While Wulaba Drum leader, James Gann, was in Africa doing an intensive training, the skeleton crew of Karen Kan, Christina and Dusty Grant, made their way yesterday to Schroon Lake for the annual Adirondack Marathon.
It was a chilly morning at about 40 degrees when we arrived so everyone was thankful they brought layers. Wulaba was stationed at mile 11, 22 and at the finish line having short break between drumming session. The first ten minutes were a bit challenging as our hands were cold and a bit stiff (karen had gloves on at first!), but we warmed up quickly.
As marathoners ran, walked or biked by, most gave us a wave, a thumbs up, a smile and a, "THANK YOU!" as we drummed them up the next hill. Given the 5:30AM wake-up call for us, I can say it was well worth it to see the difference we made!
One woman, as she ran by said in an incredulous voice, "Who ARE you guys? You are incredible!" We were surprised but obviously thrilled with the comment. My guess is that the drums reverberated among the trees and rocks to be heard for well over a mile along the course.
One man on bicycle (and later on foot) actually slowed to a stop to ask where he can buy an djembe. Luckily we had Wulaba cards for John Paul. So we hope we'll be hearing from him soon!
Once we made the move from the forest to the highway, we were in full sun and layers of clothing were peeled off. In fact, we all got a sun tan! Much to our surprise, we attracted another drummer to play with us! ADK Marathon volunteer, Tony Kostecki, general director of Seagle Music Colony, joined us for KukuKase, Kakilambe and Triba after a quick 10 second lesson from Karen.
We met our dance teacher, Johnna MacDougall at the finish line where her and her band of happy massage therapists were doing their thing for all the athletes. We also got to say a quick hello to Stuart Paton from Burlington Taiko who was also on hand with his group drumming around the last corner before the finish line.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Drum and Dance at Lake Placid Center for the Arts

Wulaba Drummers celebrated Salute to the Arts Day at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts on Wednesday August 26th together with two members of the Soma Beats Dancers, Tammy Loewy and Melanie Niemczura. On Thursday August 27th, Wulaba was on hand to present live drumming before and after the incredible film, Throw Down Your Heart, a story of how virtuoso banjo player Bela Fleck travelled to parts of Africa searching for the origins of the Banjo and playing with traditional musicians. Inspired by the film, movie-goers got to dance and try some drumming of their own during the after-movie Drum Circle celebrations at the LPCA (see above pictures). Nine year old Mistra, originally from South Africa, led the dancing.

Wulaba and Soma Beats Heat Up Will Rogers!

On Saturday August 22nd, they performed on stage at the Will Rogers retirement community. Retirees on foot, in wheelchairs and with oxygen tanks came to watch as did children and other community members. Despite the multitude of fans in the room and on stage, Wulaba and Soma Beats drummers and dancers worked up such a sweat that the pre-alarms went off (fire alarms) because of the temperature rise in the room! Although somewhat reserved, a few Will Rogers residents got up the courage to shake their bootie and dance. Everyone, of course, enjoyed the "kids dance" where the kids got up on stage to strut their stuff. Nine year old Mistra, a member of the junior dance troupe was there to encourage all the kids.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

African Dance Classes at LPCA

African Dance Classes Lake Placid Center for the Arts
17 Algonquin Drive Lake Placid, NY
Tuesdays 7-8:30PM
June 9th to August 4th, 2009
Class Fee: $15/class
Multi-class discounts available
For more information:

James Gann of Wulaba in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise

James Gann, born in 1973, was a "free-range" child, unfettered by convention. His mother raised him in a small California biker-hippie community. He was to navigate his way through a number of obstacles before finding the right beat for the rhythm in his life.
Looking back, James remembers his younger years as a fun era, surrounded by musicians, art, some degree of discipline and a large degree of freedom. At age fourteen, he moved to Lawton, Okla. to be with his father and stepmother. Living in the city in an over-sheltered, highly restrictive culture was a radical change. He tried his best to behave, but found nothing he did was considered acceptable. Earlier, at the age of five, his mother had introduced him to drumming. He loved and practiced it for many years but after his move to Oklahoma, found it a skill which was neither approved of nor encouraged. Hard as those years were, he stuck it out through the 12th-grade. He tried to please his father, who was a drill sergeant in the military, but never seemed to do the right thing.
James had little interest in school but was an excellent athlete and much admired for his skills in ROTC classes. Partly for his father's sake, he had planned on joining the military after graduating. To James's surprise, his father, a Vietnam veteran who had known his share of suffering and indeed loved his son very much, talked him out of it. Instead, James was sent off to the National Education Center in Phoenix, Ariz. to study graphic arts. Sprung loose from the restraints of his Oklahoma home, he soon fell into the drug scene, his grades plummeted, and he dropped out of school a year-and-a-half later.
Returning to California, he adopted the gypsy life, rather enjoying the varied experience of living in different places. When he met a girl named Tara, life turned around. They went out together for two-and-a-half years before marrying in 1995 and settling down in Salinas. He stopped all drug use, took a job at UPS and another as a part-time roofer, made good money and had a nice home. The two of them were quite religious, joining first the Church of Christ and later the Pentecostals. Not quite satisfied with what he found, he slowly dropped away from formal religion. Today he says that he has found a stronger relation to God and one that is more joyous than he experienced in earlier years.
In 2000, still in California, James felt a certain lack of purpose in his life. Accomplished in several areas such as snowboarding, art and drumming, he excelled in none. Walking to the mailbox one day, he put it out to God: "I want to be really good at something." A few days later, it came to him what that something was - he wanted to become a master drummer. He found a mentor by the name of Abdulaye Diallo, a West African master drummer from Senegal who "took him under his wing." James bought a drum and upon going to Abdulaye for lessons, discovered the drum he bought had once belonged to his teacher. It seemed a good omen. Abdulaye, seeing talent in James, pushed him hard. At first it was real agony, his hands hurt, his shoulders and arms burned. But he persevered, advanced quickly, became passionate about West African drumming and grateful to his mentor for sticking with him and pushing him toward greater achievement. Unfortunately his wife, Tara, was not so enthused about his drumming. It gave her a headache every time he played.
The marriage, already sagging, ended two years later; the drumming did not. James pursued it with intensity for six years, doing some teaching and playing in his mentor's band, Casamance, named for the place he came from in Senegal.
Then, in 2005, walking to the mailbox again (was it something about communicating?), he spoke to God. "I need a partner, a woman with whom I can share mutual interests, one who is spiritual and one who does not get a headache when I play my drums!"
Once more, his wish was granted. Karen Guenette, a Lake Placid resident, was in California for a workshop on intuition. She met James when he was teaching an outdoor drumming class. Having learned to listen to his own inner rhythm, James now sensed that he had finally found the right person. On that beautiful day in July, Karen, following her own intuition, sat down to drum along. From that moment, the relationship grew, continuing by phone after Karen returned home. Six months later, in January 2006, James packed his belongings and moved east to join her.
Now living in Lake Placid, both their lives have expanded. Karen is a dedicated and accomplished figure skater who shares James's love of drumming, playing with him in performances. James, exceptional athlete that he is, learned to figure skate. Amazingly, in 2008, they skated together to take a Gold medal in the silver pairs level at the Nationals Skating Championships. They truly share one another's passions.
Today, James has been awarded two grants, gives lessons in West African drumming and collaborates with a colleague, Johnna McDougall, a West African dance teacher. He teaches in schools and at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. Community is important to him. He reaches out to children and adults alike, encouraging them to join him in the joys of drumming and dance. He has performed at JEMS in Jay, NCCC in Saranac Lake, Pendragon, the Saranac Lake Art Walks, the Winter Carnival Rotary Show and was honored to play this year at the opening ceremonies for the Empire State Games.
When he runs his drumming workshop at St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Center, he happily shares the rocky road that finally brought him to fulfillment. In 2006, he traveled to Senegal to improve his West African drumming technique; he looks forward to returning again in September. He also plays with Jamie Whidden's Capoeria group, an African-Brazilian dance and acrobatic art. Enthused and bubbling with energy, James has indeed finally found the right beat in his own life. --- Based on an interview with James Gann. Caperton Tissot can be reached at

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Wulaba and Soma Beats First Summer Performance in Jay, NY

Wulaba Drumming & Soma Beats African Dance Saturday June 6th, 2009 Time: 6:30 pm At the Amos & Julia Ward Theater Located at the Green in Jay Admission: $5.00 Join us next Saturday for our first summer performance on stage at the Amos and Julia Ward Theatre (Jems Group) in Jay New York!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wulaba and Soma Beats Rock the NCCC International Festival!

Soma Beats dancers, led by Johnna MacDougall, debuted two new dances: SoKo and Yankadi-Makaru. The SoKo dance, choreographed by Johnna MacDougall, was meant to signify the "cutting of chains" from captivity to freedom. It represents the freedom of all human-kind and is a rejoicing of that transformation. Dancer and yoga instructor, Mimi Wacholder Frantz, brought back the dance of Yankadi from her trip to Mexico where unexpectedly, there was an African dance class. The Yankadi dance is the dance of seduction. Flowing movements and lots of "hip" make this dance sensuous and playful - a courting dance of sorts. Then without warning, Yankadi becomes Makaru, a spirited fast-paced dance where traditionally the "couples" that have formed during Yankadi, dance at a feverish pace together. One of the highlights of tonight's performance at the North Country Community College International Festival was the Community Dance done to Kakilambe, a dance of healing celebration, where the audience is invited to participate, as well as the Circle Dance where free expression inside the "circle" reigns. Children to adults enjoyed the rhythms and shook their bodies to the delightful sound of the drums! videos to come!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wulaba Rocks the 1980 Olympic Arena for the 2009 Winter Empire States Games Opening Ceremonies

We had a one and a half minutes of fame in front of thousands of people (our biggest audience so far) last Friday February 20th for the opening ceremonies of the 2009 Winter Empire States Games. Mimi Frantz, one of our African dancers who happens also to be a skating coach, choreographed the number on ice. First Lost Dog, a local band (with Nick Loewy, who also plays with Wulaba from time to time), began the night with the Northwood Women's Hockey players performing their high spirited number. Then we transitioned to figure skating where Wulaba played Maraka Don. The Olympic Skating School skaters performed an exciting number. On hand for Wulaba were James Gann, Karen Kan, Candy Merritt and Dusty Grant (on Dununs). We were "amplified" for the first time ever in the large 1980 arena. Despite the large crowds, Wulaba wasn't too nervous. The spotlight was pretty interesting - but we were in our own little worlds drumming our hearts out for one and a half minutes! After we were done, Lost Dog started up again for the speed skaters that came out and did their number. We finished off with a "Jam" session at the end. All in all, we had a really fun time! Hey, and one of our other dancers, Jackie, was actually part of the camera crew! Hope she got us on film!

More Photos of Wulaba and Soma Beats from the Rotary Variety Show

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wulaba Drum and Soma Beats performs for Saranac Lake Rotary Show

Wulaba and Soma Beats performed for the first time at the 2009 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Variety show hosted by the Saranac Lake Rotary. We were the first professional group to perform after the "court" performed and we got everyone up off their seats and clapping or dancing to the beat of the drum! The teenagers who were performing their own dance number quickly jumped out of their seats to dance along with Soma Beats. Wulaba performed Kakilambe as the Soma Beats dancers danced up to the stage in the 624 capacity seating-only event. We then debuted BAO. The stage was narrow because of the equipment out at the front so the dunun sticks actually hit some of our dancers during Bao! Luckily no one was injured :o) Then Johnna MacDougall, choreographer, joined the dancers to do DJOLE. The energy was HIGH and it set the stage for great performances that night including Inisheer and the Dustbunnies and Long Hairs, two other professional groups. All in all, we had a fabulous time! We are just waiting for copies of the video!