When I perform... Aeilushi

My name is Aeilushi Mistry. Aeilushi - daughter of Saint Aeilush known as Aeilushi. Mistry - are also known as Suthar, carpenters.

I practice Gujarati Folk traditional dances such as Garba, Raas, Divada, supada. This is a community. Garba (ગરબા in Gujarati) is a form of dance which was originated in the state of Gujarat in India. The name is derived from the Sanskrit term Garbha ("womb") and Deep ("a small earthenware lamp"). Many traditional garbas are performed around a centrally lit lamp or a picture or statue of the Goddess Shakti. The circular and spiral figures of Garba have similarities to other spiritual dances, such as those of Sufi culture. Traditionally, it is performed during the nine-day Hindu festival Navarātrī(Gujarati નવરા'ી Nava = 9, rātrī = nights). Either the lamp (the Garba Deep) or an image of the Goddess, Durga (also called Amba) is placed in the middle of concentric rings as an object of veneration. It is also performed wedding and other celebration. Traditionally female will wear chaniya - long embroidered skirt, choli- blouse, and dupatta - long 3 meters fabric with beautiful ornaments and hair is decorated with flowers.

Also, I practice Bharathanatyam, a traditional dance from Tamil Nadu. This dance style is more than 3000 year old. This dance performed in temple as a prayer dance. Bha - means bhav = expression, ra - means raga = melody, tala- means = rhythm , natayam = dance. Now, the time is change and dance is regularly performed on the stage. The dance form is based on 'Adavu' (steps/technique) and 'Hasthamudra' (hand gestures). Stories are performed and communicated using 'bhavabhinaya' (facial expression) and 'hasthamudra' (hand gestures). The performance starts with the prayers to Lord Ganash and worship of Lord Nataraja, Lord of dance. Cosutmes and make-up is also carefully done.The hair is usually either wrapped in a big bun with orange and white flowers wrapped around it. Or more commonly in a very long braid with flowers wrapped around. The makeup, great emphasis placed on the eyes. The eyeliner is very bold. Also, the tips of the fingers and toes are colored red. There are various costumes styles. These costumes are prepared using Kanchipuram silk and Banaras silk sarees. The jadatada jewelry is used in Bharatanatyam. It is decorated with white, red, green colored stones. The jewelry that adorns the head includes a headpiece that sits just on the hairline with a piece coming down the center. There is another headpiece which represents sun and moon, sun ornament is placed on the right side of the head, the other is the moon and is on the left. Then long earrings that are set into place at the earhole and up the length of the ear and then attached at the hair. A nose ring is worn in the middle of the nose, and can be accompanied by the usual stud on the left or right side. There are two necklaces, once short and other is long. A decorated belt is worn at the waist. And finish with tying Dancing bells both ankles.

Garba and Raas, it is a community dance, I don’t recall exactly at what age, I started participating in Garba by once joining the circle and learn dancing by following the movement. And, Bharatnatyam, I started learning Bharatnatyam at the age of nine. I still continue to practice these dances and still continue to learn every day.

I received BA degree from Gandrava University, Gujarat and Advance degree from Kerala Kalamandalam, school of performing arts, Kerala, India. To enhance her performance, she studied with numerous renowned Bharatnatyam dance gurus. In addition, to better understand and learn how different dance styles use unique movements and use of space, she studied other styles of dance such as Kathak, Kuchipudi, modern dance, and West African dance. Currently, I am associated with the Brooklyn Art Council, NY as an arts educator and performer teaching World Culture through Dance. And award 2015 NYFA Fellow Folk/Traditional Arts.

"When performing, it brings me joy and happiness. It helps me to connect people with one another. I thank myself that I am allowing myself to share my culture. It is the most satisfying moment." ~Aeilushi

In Garba, the instruments used are Dhol - a double headed percussion, kanjira - hand cymbals, harmonium, singer sings Garba folk songs base on gods and goddesses such Krishna and Parvati ma. Using household items such as sticks, earthen pots, winnowing basket in daily chores and singing folk song while doing daily chores around the house gave birth to these folk dances. Now they are know as folk dance such as Raas, Bheda dance, Supada dance, deeva dance, tipani dance. Props used in Raas - wooden stick is used, divada dance - oil lamps are held in hand and dance, Bheda dance - earthen water pot is used and dance, supada dance - using winnowing, a basket made from bamboo.In Bharatnayam, it is a storytelling dance. Stories are performed using gestures and expression. The music in Bharatanatyam is based on Carnatic classical music.In Bharatnatyam, the instruments used are Veena, Flute, Mridangam and Violin. There is a singer and the dance guru gives the Thaalam using hand symbols. The singer will sing poetry in praise of god and goddesses such as Lord Natraga, Lord Ganesh, Goddess Durga, Lord Krishna and many more. These songs are set in a rhythm and beats. Dancer and Musician work together and choreograph the dance.

Yes, born and raised in Navasari, Gujarat, India to parents who are also from Asian - India origin. In my Gujarati Hindu family, coming from Mistry - carpentry background, beside carpentry background, many family members were self-taught singers, dancers, and musicians. When I perform my first public performance, my family member compliment me that now we have a new dancer in our family. I respectfully give this credit to my parents. They both are artist themselves. My father who played Dilruba - a string instrument and an architect. My mother is a artist as well. She paints on glass, creates wonderful sand rangoli, great needle work and created beautiful embroidery work. Both had a keen eye is perfection and value art. When my mom was growing up she really wanted to learn dance. She completed her wish by enrolling me to dance class and begin my training in Bharatnatyam at the age of 9. I admire and respect My parents for providing this opportunity. Their support is very valuable. And such support from my husband continued and I am able to continue it further. So, yes, My family, culture, tradition and heritage play an important part of my being. The dance arts, cultural traditions and ceremonies of my Hindu tradition and India have played an important part in my upbringing and are an integral part of my being. Its memories are part of my identity and inspire my art making.

As I continue my journey, I feel, I am reaching deeper and deeper within my culture and roots. It gives me more inspiration to search more and find answers. It is my responsibility to learn my culture and pass it on. When I perform and see audience smiling and dancing, it brings a joy to me seeing the connection. When sharing culture to one another and seeing the similarity between two cultures, it is the most satisfying moment. This reminds me of a verse said in Sanskrit language:

“vasudhaiva kutumbakam” - meaning vasudha - earth; eva-indeed is’ and kutumbakam family “world is one family.”

I AM… Nomad

My birth name is Darrin. My self-name is Nomad. The Nomad is the name given to the young lion of Africa. When he leaves his home and goes off on his on to search for his kingdom. The Nomad is also the name given to hunter / warrior tribes of Africa that live outside of the world. The follow their own laws and customs. So for me, the name Nomad represents the name of a warrior, it also represents the home of my ancestors, it also tells me not to follow the foolishness of the world but to be strong in my own beliefs.

I don’t practice a performing art. I practice my culture.  As my elders grow old and pass away, someone has to pick up the mantle and continue our traditions. As a black musician, I feel it is my responsibility to learn and inherit our culture. Then I too will pass it on. So that it will never die. Culture can only be preserved by the actions of the sons and daughters of that culture. I study and perform traditional malinke drumming, balafon, and the Fulani  / Mandinka flute. I also study jazz, blues, gospel, and hip-hop music (and many of the offsprings of hip hop such as EDM).

If being playing music for about 37 years. If being studying traditional African music for about 25 years. I currently perform with Kawambe-Omowale African Drum & Dance.

“When I perform, and I look around and see people smiling, dancing, and enjoying the music, I feel a great sense of purpose.” ~Nomad

Music and sound bring people together. It is also an internal part of many people’s special moments. I have played at weddings, funerals, graduations, baptisms, retirements, and many other celebrations. And when I play at someplace like a funeral, I recognize the significance of that event to the people involved. So I focus and do my absolute best. Being there is my purpose. It is the tradition of my ancestors, it is also an honor, and of high value to be there for people in their important moment.

My family is from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. I am and African American with a strong southern lineage. I recognize that which is why I also study jazz and blues. But I also recognize that my culture didn’t originate there. I don’t know which part of Africa. That part does not matter, I will just embrace it all. If I can embrace all that is “American”, then I should be more than capable of embracing all that is African.

You are what you eat.  I have grown up with a steady diet of R&B, Blues, Funk, and Jazz. Even if I was just listening I gained a musical vocabulary. I learned to talk, speak, and feel music in a way that is indigenous to my family and cultural background. I never took hip hop dance class, or blues classes, or R&B classes. But I can perform in all of these categories of music like an after that, because it is already me. That is my soul food. When I started to study traditional African music, It was not strange to me, because it was made of the same ingredients that I have already been consuming all of my life. It was just served in a different dish.

When I perform… Muslimah

I have always had a love for dance but was restricted from dancing until I was an adult. However, I am also an artist in other genres: I sing, write short stories and poetry, I also paint using watercolors but mostly charcoal. I have had only a couple of photography events. I also played the clarinet and most recently the guitar and of course drums (mostly dundun). I did theater years ago and even participated in an Indepent Film. ( I had enough hours to qualify for SAG) but I do not pursue acting.

I have done West African Dance for 22 years. I started briefly in Tucson but when I relocated to Phoenix I found the class after attending Sister Circles in the Valley and was later asked to audition.

I am a Contracted Artist of Kawambe Omowale for 18 years now and have been a Contracted Artist and Board member with the Cultural Arts Commission for approximately 8 years.

My personal relation with dance is emotional and Spiritual. I am grateful that I am even able to dance and the performing is secondary. This is helpful since having an authentic energy and maintaining integrity and respect for the dance and meaning are very important to me.

thwacpep - muslimah


“When I perform… I often feel it is a way of praise and an opportunity to connect others as well as honoring my ancestors.” ~ Muslimah

As an African-American who has yet to travel to the Continent all we have been able to do is research. We found out that I do have a Great, Great Grandfather that was from Nigeria. And when I first meet any new African Sisters and Brothers they tell me that is in my face. Of course there is supposedly Native blood, Blackfoot but that is not confirmed.

I gained an affirmation I guess, some validity for what my passion has been. It is obvious that I am of African descent but certain characteristics or interests that I have always felt a drive for was supported by my family and the research in where we as a People come from. I believe our DNA is the foundation for science and art but also in its respect for nature and community. I am not limited to names others try to give me such as Hippie, Socialist, Humanitarian, etc. I am a Daughter of Africa and that transfers into my artistry since I am representing myself and the ones before me; attempting to be my best self.

I AM... Yasser

Yasser is an Egyptian name, it means - with ease.I was born in Alexandria, Egypt on the coast of the Mediterranean. I learned to dance as a child from my uncle who led a semi-professional dance group that performed at weddings and local community events. When I was 18, I studied with the Alexandria Folk Dance Group, the State dance company that offered a training program for promising young dancers. After only one year, I was invited to join the professional performing company and toured with them internationally.

I have performed on public television and large-scale national celebrations for prominent celebrities including the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak. I worked with the company for ten years before joining the National Folkloric Dance Company of Egypt. I participate on national tours with this group for almost two years. During this time, I became a master of Tanoura or the Whirling Dervish dance: a style inspired by a meditation associated with the mystical religious order Sufism – originating from present-day Syria and Turkey.

I later founded the Egyptian Celebration Company in 2001. Its goal: to present the rich culture of Egypt and the Middle East to people around the world. Collecting talented dancers, musicians, and artists, Yasser presents the folkloric dances/music of his heritage infused with modern streaks of inspiration.

When I perform, I feel like I am bringing my ancestor's presence to my show.  ~Yasser Dawish

The Egyptian Celebration Company can be seen at heritage festivals, schools, universities, television programs, weddings, nursing homes and private parties. Recent appearances include Good Day New York (Fox 5), and The Riverside Theatre (NYC). The Company also provides educational workshops and demonstrations/performances and travels Nationally and Internationally. Yasser is a currently a resident Folk feet Artist of the Brooklyn Arts Council.


When I perform... Tafa

The Name Tafa, was given to me on one of the many trips made to West Africa with Kawambe- Omowale. It is basically and Arabic given name The name is an epithet of Muhammad that means - The Chosen One. It is a very common male given name throughout the Muslim world.

West African Drum and Dance. Most of the performances pieces come from parts of West Africa. Most of the dance pieces represent traditions and events that have taken or take place within communities.

I have been a part of Kawambe - Omowale for over 30 plus years

The dances from west Africa are more grounded with a connectedness to the earth in many of the pieces.

My ethnic origin is African American, going back 4 generations from Mississippi and South Carolina as best I can tell. Prior to that is the African American story often told about existing in the South.

Some of the things I have gained artistically and culturally is a realization that people are basically the same around the world, celebrating, important events and birthdays that have come to be meaningful within cultures.

"There is a sort of freeness  and self-expression that comes with the drumming." ~Tafa

I AM... Paulom Mistry

“I am Paulom Mistry. Paulom is a Sanskrit name and it means Indra- leader of Devas. (Deva in Sanskrit means divine, heavenly like in God). Indra is also considered deva of rain and thunder.”

I started self-learning Indian folk drum called dholak (a double-headed drum played with bare hands) by watching and imitating other players during a festival or gathering. Then the Rock bug hit me and I started learning drums (American drumset or as they call it Trapset). Played Rock n Roll in local bands. Further on, I studied drumset and related rhythms a bit more formally, at Drummers Collective and privately in New York City. Later on re-found the love for Indian drums and rhythms and started exploring folk rhythms on Indian folk drum Dhol (a cylindrical double-headed drum, played with sticks and sometimes with bare hands). This drum used to provide rhythmic accompaniment for folk dances. The urge to explore classical and traditional rhythms of India is very strong and I am currently studying traditional South-Indian rhythms on mridangam drum (again a barrel-shaped double-headed drum) – considered to be one of the oldest and sacred drum of Indian culture. The drum is used to provide rhythmic accompaniment during temple ceremonies, accompany other musical instruments as well as Indian classical dances.

Since I have explored different types of drums, I have spent and spend different amount of time behind each drum type. However, my overall journey for rhythm exploration and learning started more than 30 years ago and continues to this day. I don’t think I will ever stop exploring rhythms and rhythmic instrument because I don’t want to stop doing what I love the most.

I run my own part-time/seasonal drum school in Gujarat, India under the name Lotus Drum School and also teach drums as a visiting faculty at local music schools in Gujarat, India. In Brooklyn, I work through Brooklyn Arts Council’s Art-in-Education program and Folk Arts program as a Teaching Artist / Performer and teach / perform at Public School after-school programs or conduct workshops at schools and other arts organizations and festivals.Lotus Drum School and also teach drums as a visiting faculty at local music schools in Gujarat, India. In Brooklyn, I work through Brooklyn Arts Council’s Art-in-Education program and Folk Arts program as a Teaching Artist / Performer and teach / perform at Public School after-school programs or conduct workshops at schools and other arts organizations and festivals.


“Performing and sharing my love for rhythms is a very spiritual, healing and satisfying experience for me. Even if there is no drum in my hand, my hands and fingers are always moving and drumming out new ideas on arm of a chair or table top or my knees.”

And for this “not a good habit in public” I have got the stare, the eye, the frown and head swaying from people (known and unknown) around me. But my take on this “bad habit” of mine is People click their thumbs on smartphone and drum out sounds, I drum on my knees or chair or table.

I like drums and percussion of different cultures. I collect things that help me make rhythmic soundscape. Depending on what I am performing or for what purpose I am playing drums, accessories may vary from simple and colorful scarf adornment to brass temple bells, bird whistle, rain stick, shell/seed pod shakers, frog croakers, stainless steel plates/spoons and other items that when struck with stick sound pleasing to my ear.

I was born and brought up in Vadodara, Gujarat state, India to parents who are also of South Asian Indian origin.

My last name is Mistry. In certain parts of India, the last name indicates family trade, profession, business, vocation. Mistry means Craftsman. My ancestors (paternal and maternal) were carpenters and worked as temple carvers, furniture makers. Recently we came to know that probably there was somebody in the maternal ancestral lineage who were musical instrument makers. I need to research it and find out, but just hearing this info started making all the sense about my obsession to find nitty-gritty nerdy details on how a particular drum is made. In Gujarati language (my mother-tongue) our ancestors were called Suthars (carpenters). The community of Suthars were also known as followers and descendants of Lord Vishwakarma – the master builder craftsman for the Gods. Lord Vishwakarma laid the treatise for building temples, houses and various objects including all the tools to be used by the Craftsman community. The word Mistry is said to be derived from the Portuguese word Mestre (master craftsman). Portuguese came to India before the British and French. In the context of Mestre / Mistry, my ancestors were wood working craftsman/builders morphing into Architects. We are 7 architects (3 generations) in the family, including myself. And after 13 years of delving into architecture, I ventured out into rhythm making. My younger brother is a sculptor and a potter and professor of ceramics and pottery and a performing artist. And my late Mother was learning Indian string instrument Sitar and underwent training for singing. She had a beautiful voice that we all miss today.

I think the most important thing I have learned from my family’s background is perseverance. Perseverance is a necessary ingredient, especially in the field of arts. My Mother taught me to be patient and things will come to you when the moment is right. Rushing will take you off-track leading to frustration. So be happy in the journey, rather than just concentrating on the end result / destination. From my father, I learned to observe with keen eye as it leads to more learning.