Interviewed in Columbus by Sandra Grady
9 October 2011

Balla Sy was born and raised in Dakar, Senegal. He learned the drum, or djembe, from an uncle, Bilal Kounta, who was a master of it. In 1995, he began learning dance and composition, and developed a show that travelled in Switzerland in 2000 and 2003. Meanwhile, he continued to perform with a number of groups, often playing with extended family through his uncle’s troupe, Dougon Fana. He plays drums, dun dun (base), sabar (sticks used for drums and percussion), and soruba (drums played with sticks).

In 2004, he married a Columbus native who had travelled to Senegal with Thiosanne, the Ohio-based company of another uncle, Abou Kounta. In 2006, Balla moved to Columbus to perform with Thiosanne and other groups. In 2007, he started Giving Others Resources for Education and Empowerment, or G.O.R.E.E. This organization does a number of programs and classes for the local community. These include a conference to teach dance and play drums as a way to transmit West African culture. They also do programs in schools, public venues, and summer programs.

Balla would like for G.O.R.E.E to begin touring, but he and his wife are trying to build a base of followers by teaching African dance. They have performed in Cleveland with Assane M’Baye and Washington, DC with KanKouran, and at various church programs, the Children’s Theater, and various weddings and family celebrations in the Columbus area. He teaches a drum class at Bricknell Recreation Center. In all his efforts, Balla tries to inform and uplift the community with the richness of African dance and drum that his teachers imparted to him. In addition to his Columbus-based work, Balla and his wife also organize educational trips to Senegal every year; participants learn drum and dance, shop in local markets and visit major attractions.

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