Asheville musicians rally to support beloved West African family

Adama Dembele (right) at his family's West African home and music school before it was demolished by the Ivory Coast government.

Asheville’s music community is coming together to support one of the city’s most beloved percussionists in the wake of a tragedy that befell his family in Ivory Coast, West Africa.

Adama Dembele moved to Asheville several years ago from Ivory Coast and has since made a name for himself as a member of Zansa and many other groups. He was drawn to the area after befriending several local musicians who traveled to his family home to study music.

In fact, the Dembele family compound in the Abobo neighborhood of Ivory Coast served as a bridge between Asheville and West African dancers and musicians for over a decade, helping cultivate a strong local African-influenced music scene. Just one example: Members of Asheville band Toubab Krewe spent time studying music there with the Dembeles long before they gained international acclaim.

Unfortunately, that cultural bridge was recently lost when the Ivory Coast government demolished the Dembele family home and accompanying Djembeso Drum & Dance Education Center. Ivory Coast officials cited eroding ground and unsafe conditions as reasons for the involuntary demolition of the neighborhood. But members of Zansa sent out a statement calling the action “a human rights violation” and are trying to draw local and national media attention. The news was posted at World Music Central but has not gained more international headlines “because the people in this impoverished area of Abobo have little to no access to modern technology and thus no way to speak up,” according to the Zansa statement.

This is the site of the Dembele family compound and Djembeso Drum & Dance Education Center after government officials bulldozed it.
This is the site of the Dembele family compound and Djembeso Drum & Dance Education Center after government officials bulldozed it.

Meanwhile, “hundreds of people were pushed out of their homes with one week’s notice and given no temporary housing, shelter, or monetary compensation,” according to Zansa. “Many families and children are now living on the streets. Government officials have told people that ‘they are on a list,’ but haven’t said where or when they will rebuild their homes, or even if they will rebuild.”

To raise funds for the Dembeles to help them rebuild their home and music center, a “Soumu” is being held in Asheville Feb. 19. “Soumu” is a West African term used to describe an all-encompassing party of music, dance, food and art.

The event will be held at New Mountain, featuring performances from Zansa as well as Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba. Traditional African food will be available for purchase by local Chef Soce and attendees can shop in an “African Marketplace” of native wares. Plus, it’s a family-friendly event where children can create African art in a special kids craft area.

A portion of the proceeds will go to help the Dembeles.

More details:

Soumu at New Mountain
Dinner Served at 6:00 p.m.
$12 in advance/$15 at the door
Children under 12 are half price
Children under 5 are free
Tickets on sale at


The Dembele home had long been a place where Asheville musicians and dancers traveled to study West African arts. Pictured right: Ryan Reardon of Zansa
The Dembele home had long been a place where Asheville musicians and dancers traveled to study West African arts. Pictured right: Ryan Reardon of Zansa


On Monday, Jan. 26, Zansa sent out the following update announcing a tax deductible fundraising campaign to rebuild the Dembele music compound:

Asheville Musicians Band Together and Launch Campaign To Rebuild West African Music Education Center and Home

700 years of musical lineage is in jeopardy in Ivory Coast, West Africa. Asheville musicians, led by the band Zansa, have banded together to help rebuild the Dembele family home and Djembeso Drum & Dance Education Center in Ivory Coast, West Africa after it was recently destroyed by their government. Members of Zansa, along with many other local Asheville musicians, and other supporters of Asheville’s West African community are raising funds to help the Dembele family continue to grow their musical legacy. We need to rebuild this house and music compound not just for this generation, but for generations to come.

Donations can be made to the rebuilding efforts via the newly launched Indiegogo campaign: Thanks to LEAF Community Arts, a nonprofit that supports arts education around the world through the LEAF International program, your donation is tax deductible. Adama Dembele has been a teaching artist through LEAF for four years, sharing his music and culture with hundreds of young people across Western North Carolina.

The Dembele household is a culturally significant resource within the community. The family has been sharing their music here for centuries. The fact that Adama is a 33rd generation musician means that his family has been passing on their musical heritage and culture for nearly 700 years. Their household, known as Djembeso, which translates to House of Djembe, has been a mecca for musicians throughout West Africa, Europe, the United States, and beyond who have traveled there to study music. Currently, the family is unable to continue passing on this wealth of cultural knowledge, and we need your help. Your generous donations will go directly to help the rebuilding process and make it possible for this legacy to continue!


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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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