"Papa" Ladji Camara - djembe master

Papa Ladji Camara was born on 15 June 1923 in Norassoba, a village in Siguiri, Guinea. Before his birth, Ladji's grandfather revealed his fate to his parents, saying that this child would become one of the greatest drummers this world and would travel all over the world. At the age of two and a half years he began teaching learning the djembe on his own. By the time he was six years old he was one of the lead drummers playing in the village celebrations.

Image of Papa Ladji Camara

He settled in Bamako in 1946, where he farmed and drummed. He became famous there for his drumming. A girl gave him the nickname "Ladji Manama" (meaning 'Ladji the Bright') because he sparkled when he played. In 1953 Fodeba Keita, who later became the Minister of Culture of Guinea, came to Bamako to find Ladji Manama. This is how Ladji became one of the most famous soloists for Les Ballets Africains, Guinea's national ballet.

During his world tours with the national ballet, Ladji Camara made friends in New York and settled there. He joined Chief Bey, Charles Moore, Pearl Primus and the legendary Babatunde Olatunji with which he toured for 7 years. He also collaborated and toured with many artists including Nina Simone, Yusef Lateef, Mongo Santamaria, Alvin Ailey and Art Blakey. He appeared in a movie called "Liberte".

He opened his own school in New York called Ladji Camara African Dance Studio. These classes became an institution in New York. He taught drummers, musicians and dancers of all backgrounds the traditional rhythms of his country. He was known there for his great humility. He was also known for his ability to transmit joy and warmth and to really care about his students learning the rhythms and dances. His wife, Aminata Camara, reintroduced African hairdressing, food and attire to the community.

Papa Ladji moved to Pikine in Dakar, Senegal, in 2001. He died there on 23 October, 2004, aged 81, leaving 5 children and many more students and fans who called him "Papa".