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Master drummer brings the beat to Steamboat

Fara Tolno and his brother Etienne have a passion for sharing their West African culture with the world. (Courtesy photo)

Master drummer and dancer Fara Tolno will return to Steamboat Springs next week to teach two nights of community drum and dance classes hosted by Steamboat’s African Dance and Drum Ensemble, Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp and Steamboat Dance Theatre. Joining him are fellow Guinean masters Etienne Tolno, who is his brother, and Mami Camara.

The trio, who are all from Guinea, West Africa, will teach mixed-level classes, designed for both beginner and intermediate dancers and drummers.

Tolno, who has been to Steamboat many times over the past two decades, said he is looking forward to returning.



“I have built a family in Steamboat,” he said. “It’s a wonderful community, and it’s amazing to see people really open their hearts to something new.”

Growing up in Guinea, Tolno began playing drums at age 9. As a teenager, he studied under Kemoko Sano, one of West Africa’s most influential directors and choreographers. Tolno was the lead drummer for “Les Merveilles de Guinea” — “The Wonders of Guinea” — before coming to the U.S. in his early 20s. He completed his Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Colorado where he had the opportunity not only to study many forms of dance but also to teach the dances of his own culture.

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Fara Tolno, West African master drummer and dancer, will teach two community classes next week for all levels. (Courtesy photo)

“Drumming and dancing is so important because it’s a universal culture,” Tolno said. “In any celebration you have music and song and dance; this connects us to ourselves, our mind, body and spirit. It helps people to connect with each other. That’s why I feel like it’s so important to share with the world.”

Tolno’s brother Etienne will join him for the classes in Steamboat. In Guinea, Etienne is a professional musician with a profound knowledge and passion for percussion. He has been practicing music since he was a teenager, playing with many professional companies such as Sole Africa, Kissidugu Ensemble, Samata De Guinea and, like his brother, Merveilles De Guinea. Etienne came to the U.S. for the first time in 2019 with a passion for sharing his culture.

“It’s amazing to have my brother here with me, working to share this knowledge with the world,” he said. “It makes me so happy to come together as a unit to share our knowledge.”

Mami Camara will join the Tolno brothers in Steamboat Springs after making her American teaching debut last month at Camp Merveilles. (Courtesy photo)

After arriving in the U.S. just last month, Camara will join the Tolno brothers in Steamboat. A dancer since she was a little girl, Camara dropped out of school after her father died when she was just 6 years old. It was an aunt who encouraged her to pursue dancing and find her passion.

“She told me to go for what you love,” Camara said.

If you go

What: Community drum and dance classes

When: Drum class, 5 to 6:30 p.m. and dance class, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 23 and Tuesday, Aug. 24

Where: Louis Horst Studio at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp

Cost: $15 per class, payable by cash, check or Venmo at the door

She did just that, becoming a full-time teacher at Tolno’s Kissidugu Foundation School in Guinea. She made her American teaching debut at Camp Merveilles in Gunnison where she received rave accolades from the community of longtime West African dance students.

The classes will be held Monday and Tuesday in the Louis Horst Studio at Perry-Mansfield. An all-level West African djembe drum class will take place from 5 to 6:30 p.m., followed by an all-levels West African dance class from 6:30 to 8 p.m. both nights. Drummers should bring their own drum, and dancers should wear comfortable clothes and be barefoot.


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