“Kissidugu” means safe place or place of refuge in the Kissi language of Guinea, West Africa
The Kissidugu Foundation is committed to is to creating sustainable and equitable opportunities for individuals and communities, through civic dialogue, education, environmental & cultural preservation and the perpetuation of Guinean music and dance. We are a nonprofit organization that intends to inspire people of all colors, cultures, and backgrounds to connect to themselves, to one another, and to their community.
Founder, Gabriel Fara Tolno was born in Guinea, West Africa, spending his youth in the village of Kissidugu and Guinea’s capital city of Conakry. He began playing the djembe drum at the age of nine, performing in ensembles at the age of 15, and for nine years he was the lead drummer for Les Merveilles de Guinea (The Wonders of Guinea) under the tutelage of West Africa’s most influential director and choreographer, Kemoko Sano. This national ballet performed all around Africa and Europe, bringing Fara to the United States to perform in major theatres and Disneyworld in 1998.
[Ballet performance Image]
For the last fourteen years Fara has been in the United States sharing his culture, teaching, earning a MFA, and playing with musicians of all kinds. He has founded two different performance ensembles and teaches at numerous colleges and universities as well as teaching community drum and dance classes for students of all levels.
Fara founded Project Drum, which is an organization focused on bringing West African music and dance into schools (and other organizations) by working with students, training teachers and performing in schools. Fara has provided access to the rhythms and dance of Guinea through the Rhythm Reference Project (an online library) and Camp Merveilles, an annual nationwide music and dance conference, both of which he founded.
Fara completed his Master of Fine Arts in dance at the University of Colorado in 2012. He has taken this knowledge and found ways to relate and merge the art forms of dance and music from West African and the Western world.
[camp merveilles image]
Expanding beyond Camp Merveilles, and taking it back home had always been Tolno’s intention. In the winter of 2013 Kissidugu Foundation purchased land in Guinea and became an official non profit organization in 2014.
The Kissidugu school of traditional drum, dance and education is located in the village of Koukoude on Guinea’s coast. It is a multifaceted educational center, where Tolno and his fellow colleagues bring students from the U.S. and other countries to immerse themselves in the study of West African drum and dance. The school serves not only international students but also the Guinean community by providing educational opportunities, sustainable employment, and access to information and resources that would otherwise be unavailable. Over the last 8 years we have provided water filters, medicine, food support, solar lights, eye glasses, clothing and more.
[Image kissidugu international and Guinean students]
With the support of donors and students, Gabriel Fara Tolno and Development Director Michal Anna Carrillo have been steadily creating a thriving and sustainable school ecosystem in Guinea. Students from various communities who are passionate about dance, music culture and health have gotten on board and been invaluable in getting here.
[Image of volunteers]
Whether you are looking to try something new, move your body, become a better drummer, dancer, or are interested in learning more about african culture, the Kissidugu Foundation is an incredible resource. Through your participation and learning with us, you are helping to build The Kissidugu School and perpetuate the traditional music and dance of Guinea.
The Kissidugu School is located in the Coastal village of Koukoude in Guinea, West Africa. Situated on 5 acres, the campus includes a large pavillon where dance and drum classes and performances are held, an enclosed kitchen with covered outdoor eating, pharmacy equipped with first aid, herbal medicines, and supplements, and spacious student housing including five two bedrooms, living room, and shared bathroom units. The school also has a 10 acre farm about 1 mile away which is being developed into a diversified breadfruit agroforest where food, lumber for instrument making, and medicinal herbs will be grown for the school.
[Image beautiful wide shot of school campus]
The campus was established in 2013 and since then has hosted over 40 international students in full immersion workshops while continuing the construction of the campus’s facilities and development of the farm. While it has a yearly International student component, the school plans to open the doors to local youth for High School enrollment in 2022-23. The school will offer unparalleled education and meet one of our goals; providing employment for master musicians, dancers and educators in their home country.
Alongside the High School students, the Kissidugu ensemble and junior dance company will continue to build, network and create livelihoods for Guinean families.
In order to continue supporting the Kissidugu community, we are working on new projects which will enable us to scale our impact.
- Build 2500 ft schoolhouse with recording studio, classrooms, and conference space
- Upgrade water filtration system and catchment systems
- Supply pharmacy with antiparasitics, vitamins, and plant-powered immunoboosters and adaptogens and natural supplements.
- Implement Breadfruit Initiative- establish fruit tree nursery, agroforest installation, and develop small scale post harvest and processing facility
[Images- school house blueprints, water well, pharmacy/giving medicine, photos of the farm/breadfruit trees]
Our Goals and Timeline
- University accreditation program- international students can receive school credits for attending workshops and classes by 2025
- Full time employment opportunities for Guinean students and musicians by 2025
- Kissidugu Ensemble performs regularly and has a collection of recorded music as an additional stream of income for musicians
- Sustainable performance schedule for the Junior Dance Company, bringing in a consistent stream of income by 2025
- Farm to school- 50% of food served at the Kissidugu school will come from the farm by 2030, surplus produce sold in local market or made into value added products
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