Artist Profiles: Fatoumata “Djeli Mama” Dembele

Fatoumata Dembele – Photo by F. Meier 2006

Fatoumata Dembele is a griot, singer, dancer. She was born in 1972 in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. She is the daughter of griot parents and thus inherited the tradition of these musical messengers by following her mother to ceremonies and rituals from the age of seven. Her father built and played the bala (balafon).

At 25 she worked full-time as a griot at ceremonies, rituals and festivities, accompanied by jembe players when she performed in the Diula language, by full orchestras (traditional or electrified) at performances sung in the Manding language.

In 1998 she took part at a music festival in Bobo-Dioulasso with her own group. After her performance she was asked to join the internationally known group Farafina as a singer.

Since 1999 she toured with Farafina all over the world. She contributed compositions of her own, sings solos and dances.

In 2000 her tours with Farafina took her from Switzerland to Portugal, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany where they also played at the world EXPO 2000 in Hannover. The same year she took part in the recording of Farafina’s CD Kanou.

In Burkina Faso she performed with her own group under the name of Tim Tim at a competition by the “Coordination des Associations pour la Lutte contre le Sida” (coordination of associations for the fight against AIDS). Among the 30 groups she won fist prize with her song ‘Sida Ka Taa’. She was invited to perform at Burkina’s main TV station and gave a concert at a reunion of doctors from her country.

In 2001 and 2002 she toured again with Farafina in order to promote the release of their CD Kanou. They toured in Switzerland, France, Spain, Italy, Germany and played in Israel at the ‘Jerusalem Freedom Festival 2002’.

Also in 2002 she took part, with Farafina, in the project Sirafaran (“crossroads”) on the occasion of the EXPO 02 at the Neuchatel Expo site in Switzerland. Sirafaran is a collaboration between the group Farafina and Swiss jazz musicians Mathieu Michel (trumpet), Bertrand blessing (drums), Dragos Tara (bass) and Laurent Estoppey (sax).

In 2003 she also performed with Farafina at the film festival “Fespaco” in Wagadugu, capital of Burkina Faso.

In the same year she recorded the song ‘Delie’ (“acquaintance”) as a duet with the famous blind musician olo Dia Kabaco. They also produced a video clip of the song which is still being on TV in Burkina Faso and Mali.

In 2004 she returned, with Farafina, to Switzerland, France, Britain (Africa Oye Festival), Belgium, Italy (Folkest 2004),Germany, Croatia, Slovenia and Tunisia.

She was also invited as the featured solo singer to record three songs on the CD Sira Fila by the group Bekadiya, a project organized by the balafon player Mamadou Diabate who lives in Vienna, Austria. With this group she performed at several concerts in Austria.

In 2005 she went back on tour with Bekadiya. She also worked with a new project together with Achim Tang (bass), Mamadou Diabate (bala) and Lukas Knoefler (drums) and performed with her own small group (Buskers Bern, a.o.).

Having been living in Switzerland since 2003 she all the same never has forgotten that she is first and foremost a traditional griot and she has been continuing to sing at ceremonies on every visit to her native country Burkina Faso (her return often impatiently awaited by her employers).

In 2006 she pursued her work with Bekadiya. She also joined the group Taffetas which consisted of Nana Cissokho (kora, vocals), Marc Lieberskind (guitar) and Christophe Erard (bass, vocals) and has recorded the CD Cam?l?on with them. In addition she gave duo concerts with her regular kora player Nana Cissokho and with her own group in Switzerland. She also produced her first CD under her own name.

Her CD Nananiba came out in early march 2007.


Artist Profiles: Burkina Electric

Burkina Electric was the first electronica band from Burkina Faso, in the deep interior of West Africa. With its main base in the music scene of Wagadugu, Burkina Faso’s capital, it was, at the same time, an international band, with members living in New York, U.S.A. and Dusseldorf, Germany, as well as in Waga. In Burkina Electric’s music, the traditions and rhythms of Burkina Faso met and mingle with contemporary electronic dance culture, making it a trailblazer in electronic world music.

Before starting Burkina Electric in 2004, band members Mai Lingani, Wende K. Blass, Pyrolator, and Lukas Ligeti had become close friends as members of Beta Foly, a group that emerged from a workshop led by Lukas and Pyrolator in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, which, among other experiments, created some of the earliest fusions of techno/trip-hop with African traditional music.

The core band consisted of four musicians and two dancers, often augmented by guests. Rupert Huber, of the well-known Austrian electronica duo Tosca, collaborated and performed with the group on selected occasions. All songs were composed and choreographed collaboratively by all group members, and the music was directed toward an audience appreciative of electronica/club culture.

Much electronic dance music, even in Africa, still seems to employ the same rock and funk rhythms that have been used in Western pop for the past 50 years. Burkina Electric challenged this convention, enriching the fabric of this music by using different rhythms, equally danceable but rarely heard. Many of the songs were built upon ancient rhythms of the Sahel such as the Mossi peoples’ Waraba and Wennenga, little-known even in Africa outside of Burkina. The dancers, whose choreographies combined elements of the traditional and the modern, invited listeners to discover that these exotic rhythms groove at least as powerfully as disco, house or drum & bass!

The group also created new rhythms influenced by traditional grooves, and used sounds of traditional instruments and found sounds and soundscapes recorded in Burkina in unusual ways. It is truly African electronica, both experimental and entertaining. The performance is further enhanced by the use of live-manipulated video.

Award-winning singer Mai Lingani, a star in Burkina Faso because of her unique voice and charismatic stage presence, sings in Mossi, Diula, Bissa, and French. Wende K. Blass, one of Burkina’s premier guitarists, contributed soulful guitar melodies. Electronicist/VJ Pyrolator was of Germany’s most inventive pop musicians and a top producer ever since the days of the “Neue Deutsche Welle” some 25 years as a founding member of bands D.A.F. and Der Plan, while New York-based drummer/electronicist Lukas Ligeti received commissions from groups such as the Kronos Quartet and the Bang on a Can All Stars.

Burkina Electric was formed for a tour in Austria in 2004. In May 2006, the group performed at the Festival Jazz Ouaga in Burkina Faso and released its debut album, “Paspanga”, in Burkina Faso. Two video clips, produced for Burkinabe TV, received heavy play in Burkina Faso and surrounding countries.


Reem Tekre EP (Atatak, 2007)
Paspanga (Cantaloupe, 2010)


Artist Profiles: Badenya les Freres Coulibaly

Badenya les Freres Coulibaly

Formed in Nuna, located in northwestern Burkina Faso, Badenya les Freres Coulibaly are part of a family of griots (musician storytellers, also known as jali and jeli in West Africa) and are members of the Bwa ethnic group.

Originally composed by the twins Lassina and Ousseni and known as les Freres Coulibaly, the group grew up to 8 members of the Coulibaly family and are called Badenya les Freres Coulibaly.

Lassina and Ousseni traveled for the first time to Europe in 1989. Invited by the “Atelier of Ethnomusicology” in Geneva to teach African percussion and dance. From there, they traveled to Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands and the UK. The public was instantly conquered by their natural ease, their radiation, which emanated from these young musicians freshly arrived from Burkina Faso. Their togetherness seemed perfect an inalterable, no disagreement seemed possible between them.

After this first tour, they returned to Bobo-Dioulasso and the year after, the twins came back with their elder brother, Souleymane, called Solo, who had initiated them to music.

Invited to the Montreux Jazz Festival they performed under the artistic direction of Quincy Jones for an evening with Miles Davis. In reaction to this success, Claude Nobs and Quincy Jones invited the trio for 2 additional nights and they got to play with Georges Clinton, Georges Benson, Al Jarreau, Toots Thielmans, the rappers Kool Moe Dee, Mel Mellow and many others.

In 1991-1992, the W.H.O. (World Health Organization) asked Lassina & Ousseni, and Solo to compose a song in French, dedicated for the opening ceremony of the “World Day of AIDS”. Les Freres Coulibaly played for la Fondation Sacem in Paris for the “Night of percussion” with Michel Portal, Daniel Humair, Mino Cin?lu and David Friedmann. Their concert was welcomed with warmth and admiration and was a remarkable start onto the Parisian scene.

In 1993, Solo, Lassina and Ousseni released their first album Anka-Dia. They flew to Tunisia to teach percussion and the next year, flew to Spain, (Madrid and Barcelona) to be part of an African festival with Salif Keita, Cesaria Evora, Khaled and Johnny Clegg. Then les Freres Coulibaly were invited by Baaba Maal in Senegal for his tenth anniversary in the music world. There they met Peter Gabriel and shared several exceptional performances with Youssou N’Dour.

1997- 1999: On tour and preparing their next album they were invited to perform for a series of concerts Tribute to Rhythm with the great tabla player, Zakir Hussain and the former Kodo drummer, Leonard Eto.

2000-2001: Release of the second album “Seniwe (Solidarity) with the entire family. The promotional tour for the album took the group to America, Israel, Malaysia, Germany and Austria. The following year they flew everywhere in Europe and in June, Carlos Santana invited the band to perform with him at the Letzigrund stadium in Zurich.

In November 2002, Ousseni Coulibaly passed away in Geneva, after a long disease. His great loss severely affected the band, and particularly his twin brother, Lassina. Deeply saddened, they went back to Burkina Faso, bringing with them their deceased brother, to burry him in his home land.


Anka-Dia (1993)

Séniwè ‎(Trace, 2000)


Artist Profiles: Valeri Dimchev

Valeri Dimchev

Valeri Dimchev studied at the Folk Music school-Shiroka luka and Music Academy-Plovdiv, specializing in tambura. He is a professional teacher, tambura player, and composer.

Valeri Dimchev’s music – originally composed or traditional is deeply rooted in the melodic and rhythmic tradition of Bulgaria. His music is based on playing traditional melodies in a traditional way and also leading the possibilities of the tambura beyond the tradition using contemporary approaches of playing, improvisation, and harmonization.


The Bulgarian Tamboura (American Recording Productions, 2001)
Sooner… Later… (2001)
Joy as a Teardrop (2005)


Artist Profiles: The Bulgarian Voices-Angelite

The Bulgarian Voices-Angelite

The Bulgarian Voices-Angelite are 24 singers from all different parts of Bulgaria who have been trained in traditional Bulgarian music as well as in Western art music. They are able to merge the tone color and vocal techniques of the Bulgarian traditional music with the complex musical structures of new composition. Thus it is often difficult to determine whether Angelite is a classical or a folk choir –perhaps the Bulgarian Voices are more than the sum of both traditions. Concert tours have taken the choir around the world to the USA, Mexico, Japan, India, and practically all Western and Eastern European countries.

The Bulgarian Voices-Angelite have been working with Bulgarian conductor Nikolay Merdjanov since 1994. Following his study of piano and conducting in Sofia and Italy, he received his diploma from the music academy in his home town of Plovdiv. As conductor of the mixed Choir of Bulgaria, Merdjanov won numerous international choir competitions in Austria, Germany and Italy. He has won the first prize in the competition of the choirs twice – in Nenterhausen, Germany, 1991, and in Varna, Bulgaria in 1993. Since 1994 he has been the conductor of The Bulgarian Voices – Angelite.


Cathedral Concert (JARO, 1987)
Mysteries (JARO, 1991)
Melody, Rhythm & Harmony (JARO, 1993)
From Bulgaria With Lover (JARO, 1995)
Live in Kobe (1996)
Fly Fly My Sadness, with Huun Huur Tu & Moscow Art Trio (JARO, 1996)
Mercy for the Living (JARO, 1998)
Mountain Tale, with Huun Huur Tu & Moscow Art Trio (JARO, 1998)
Angels Christmas (JARO, 2003)
Balkan Passions (JARO, 2001)
Legend, with Huun Huur Tu & Moscow Art Trio (JARO, 2010)
Angelina (JARO, 2013)
Passion, Mysticism & Delight (JARO, 2017)

Passion & Tales (JARO, 2007)


Artist Profiles: Salif Ali

Salif Ali (Sasho) was born in Kurdzhali in 1961 of Turkish Romani ancestry. He joined Ivo Papazov’s band Trakiya in 1983 and toured with them in Europe, North America, and Australia. He also toured in the United States with the Yunakov Ensemble as part of the 1999 Gypsy Caravan, and in 2001 performed with Papazov in the Bang On a Can Festival at the Brooklyn Aacademy of Music.

Salif comes from a musical family; his father played tupan (two-headed drum), his grandfather played clarinet, and he learned to play drums from his brother. Salif is known for his high energy, wild temperament, and brilliant solo improvisations.


Artist Profiles: Pirin Ensemble

The Pirin Ensemble was established in 1954. A professional artistic formation, spreading the beauty and charm of Bulgarian folklore heritage and expressiveness around all world continents – Europe, North and South America, Africa, Asia, Australia.

The Ensemble has performed in 60 countries, with more than 6,500 concerts and attendance of 6,000,000 visitors. It has also produced many audio tapes, video films, and CDs. Over 60 different types of refined national costumes, are worn by its artistic groups.

Pirin is an ensemble, representing the musical and dancing folklore of the Southwest Bulgarian ethnic regions, and the whole of Bulgarian ethnic community, on stage.

Comprising three major artistic units – a women’s a cappella choir with soloists, a dancing group, and a folklore orchestra, its programs combine authentic folklore samples with author’s songs and dances on a folklore basis.

The Ensemble enriches its repertoire by choir performances of Bulgarian Orthodox music. It accomplishes research and registration activities, and brings old authentic folklore samples back to life on stage.

The Chief artistic director and conductor of the Pirin Ensemble for many years was prof. Kiril Stefanov.


Magical Voices of Bulgaria (1994)
The Voice of Pirin (Balkanton, 1995)
The Legendary Bulgarian Voices (Arc, 1996)
Ray Lema Professeur Stefanov et les Voix Bulgares de l’Ensemble Pirin (Tinder, 1997)
Pirin Folk (KVZ, 1998)
Folk Bouquet: Pirin Pearls (Balkanton, 2000)
Zapei, Zemya (Balkanton, 2002)
Variegated Folk Kaleidescope (2003)


Artist Profiles: Neshko Neshev

Neshko Neshev has been playing with Ivo Papazov (his cousin) for several decades in the legendary band Trakiya, which he helped found. He is a master of the Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian, Romanian, and Romani [Gypsy] repertoires and has won numerous prizes for his virtuosic playing at festivals and international competitions.

Of Turkish Romani ancestry, Neshko was born in 1954 in the town of Kurdzhali and began playing accordion at the age of nine, learning from his father, a well-known clarinetist who accompanied the best singers of the time. He also attended music school.

Neshko is an accomplished composer and arranger as well as performer, having created hundreds of compositions.

He toured with the Yunakov Ensemble as part of the 1999 Gypsy Caravan. He also works for the House of Culture in Kurdzhali, teaching children, leading several ensembles, and writing orchestrations. Several years ago he was honored with a gala 25th anniversary concert, and a documentary film was made about him.


Shareno Horo (Gega, 2008)


Artist Profiles: Milen Slavov

Milen Slavov is a composer, arranger, performer, teacher, and vocalist.

Born in Stara Zagora in the Thrace region of Bulgaria, he began playing accordion at the age of seven. He graduated from Bulgaria’s most prestigious musical training institute, the Philip Koutev Music School in Kotel, and then studied at the Musical Pedagogical Conservatory in Plovdiv. He is a skilled master of accordion, keyboard and tambura. He plays and composes in Bulgarian traditional, contemporary, improvisational, Eastern European, and gypsy styles.

Slavov began his performing career in 1984 as a “wedding” musician, requiring the highest level of professionalism and virtuosity. As a teacher of tambura at the Koutev School, Slavov wrote original works designed specifically for his students, a practice he continues today. His compositions are still taught at the Koutev School. In 1994 the school honored Slavov by adopting a photograph of him with singer Zhivka Papancheva as their official school emblem.

Slavov has composed music for the folk ensembles Detelini, Zagore, and Lisetz. In 1992 he founded Trio Nazdravica, making numerous appearances on Bulgarian radio and television. Slavov’s recording credits include composing, arranging, conducting and performing on Nazdravica’s Poluh ot Strandzha (1994), Kitka ot Strandzha (1995), and Samodiva (1997).

In the U.S. he released the solo recording Steep Path in 1998, the CD/Book Richness of Music in 1999, and From the Old Millenium in 2000.

Milen Slavov’s awards include the 1994 Songwriting Award from the Chudomirovi Praznici Competition, the Outstanding Student Award from the Koutev Music School in 1994, and a Gold Medal for Folk Song Performance from the 1981 Koprivshtica National Folk Festival.

Slavov moved to the United States in 1997 and has performed throughout the country. He served as Music Director and Composer for San Francisco-based Westwind International Folk Ensemble.

Slavov was guest teacher of the UCLA Ethnomusicology Department for the 98/99 academic year. In 1998 he was Guest of the Community at the EEFC’s Mendocino Balkan Music and Dance Workshop. He has performed in California with Yuri Yunakov (Bulgaria’s most famous saxophonist), Grammy-winning vocalist Kremena Stancheva, Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble, Khadra, and at the California Academy of Sciences, the Cotati Accordion Festival and the East European Accordion Masters. The California Arts Council granted Milen Slavov the 1999/2000 Performing Arts Fellowship in Musical Composition.


Passing With the Time: Popular Bulgarian Folk (2005)
Bulgarian Trail (2016)


Artist Profiles: Lot Lorien

Lot Lorien is a Bulgarian world fusion and progressive folk band. The group came into existence in 1997. The creators of the band, Kiril Georgiev and Zlatomir Valchev, were inspired by J.R. Tolkien’s books and thus came the name of the group. Lot Lorien’s compositions, both original and interpretations of some traditional songs, combine elements from Bulgarian, Balkan and world folklore.

By presenting traditional music in a contemporary format the band makes it more accessible to people from all around the world. Lot Lorien’s sound is further enhanced by the use of standard and non-standard instrumentation, such as electris and acoustic guitar and bass, violin, female vocals, drums, percussion, glockenspiel, tapan, jembe, darbuka and others.

Lot Lorien line-up:

Kiril Georgiev – electro-acoustic guitar, baglama (saz), lod, mandolin, text and composition
Zlatomir Valchev – drums, percussion, darbuka, tupan, jembe, glockenspiel
Petar Pavlov – bass
Galina Koicheva – violin
Bora Petkova – vocals, percussion


Eastern wind (2002)
Live in Ohrid (2003)


Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion