Kúkátónón has grown into an award-winning performing arts organization with tremendous help from our talented and dedicated Teaching Artists who share their love of African dance and music with the children in the Troupe.
Mama Rolia Manyongai-Jones
Ne’nee’ke’teh and Kúkátónón’s founder, Mama Rolia Manyongai-Jones was born and raised in rural Liberia, where she was taught traditional dance by the village elders. She completed her B.S. in Education and Health and earned an M.A. in Multi-Cultural Education. For 25 years she taught at Woodlawn Elementary School.
Mama Rolia transitioned from her position as Kúkátónón’s Artistic Director at the end of June 2016 into a new contracted role called Ne’nee’ke’teh (Big Woman in the Village) in October 2016, to provide culturally authentic guidance and mentorship to the children in the dance troupe during our 10-month program and performance season.
We are grateful for the 35+ years that Mama Rolia has dedicated to teaching dance to children!
ms. Dana Shephard
Ms. Dana Shephard is the Artistic Program Manager of Kúkátónón. Born and raised in NE Portland, Ms. Dana is committed to her community, and strives to enrich the lives of others through music and self-expressive dance. She entered the world of professional dancing as a core performer for the Northwest Afrikan American Ballet Company, with whom she toured locally and internationally for 12 years. She is a core member of Sebe Kan Drum and Dance.
Ms. Dana teaches and choreographs West African dance, and was trained in hip-hop, jazz, and ballet. She founded the High Steppers Drill & Dance Team through the Blazers Boys & Girls club, and co-founded the Urban Arts Dance Company, where she served as the Artistic Director for over 7 years. She regularly conducts community dance workshops, and donates her choreography and time to schools and charitable organizations.
baba Hakim Rashad Muhammad
A drummer for Kúkátónón for over twenty-five years, Baba Hakim is a Portland native who has been playing percussion since the age of nine. He received his training in West African-style drumming from Senegalese master drummer Medoune Yacine Gueye (aka “Papa Dame”), and traveled to Dakar to immerse himself in the cultures and traditions of African drumming. Back in Portland, he performed with the Northwest Afrikan American Ballet.
Baba Hakim has played for Jefferson High School African dance classes for over twenty years, and for the last fifteen, has been spending his summers playing and teaching at Camp Caldera and YMA (Young Musicians & Artists). He currently teaches a class in African Drumming at da Vinci Arts Middle School, and has his own youth drumming ensemble, Baramakono. He also finds the time to dance with Sebe Kan, a local dance troupe started by his good friend and fellow drummer Mr. Sekou. He is a Hip-Hop artist and producer, and a former member of the rap group the U-Krew. In 2012, he and his fellow U-Krew band members were inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.
Mr. Derrell Sekou Soumah Walker
Mr. Sekou is a Portland, Oregon native and a strong presence in the West African Drum and Dance community. He is the perfect blend of drum and dance; Western and West African. He effortlessly inhabits the highest levels of Mandingue drum and dance, and blends these skills with his American roots and a deep knowledge of the Mandingue culture.
The embodiment of these traits combined with a natural gift for teaching and mentoring make Mr. Sekou one of a kind. Africans and non-Africans alike respect him worldwide. This is reflected in his starring as both a dancer and a percussionist in Moustapha Bangoura's Tinkanyi instructional dance videos in 2003. In 2004 Mr. Sekou received his teaching certification from Mamady Keita and Tam Tam Mandingue, followed by a teaching diploma in 2008.
He began his dance career in 1998, after several years of training as an athlete. The path from athlete to dancer is an unusual one. As a result of thousands of hours spent training and competing in track & field and baseball, Mr. Sekou possesses a grace and power in dance that is rare, particularly amongst American-born African dancers. He continues to refine these skills through performing and teaching dance all over the United States and internationally in countries including Scotland, Singapore, Mexico and Bali.
Baba Catón Lyles
Baba Catón is an accomplished Pacific Northwest artist who is a night club and concert favorite. As both a musician and actor, he has engaged and enriched his community with his performances. He has been featured on national and international television.
In 1986 Baba Catón received a gold record award for co-writing “You Put Me in a Trance” for Nu Shooz on Atlantic Records. He has worked as a musical sideman in many genres, from jazz to gospel, new age to R&B, rock to big band, salsa to performance art. Baba Catón currently performs with a number of local bands, including Afincando and the Roseland Hunters.
For over 30 years, he has been a dance accompanist, working with school districts, dance educators, and world-renowned choreographers. He specializes in traditional West African and Afro-Cuban styles of hand drumming, and was the accompanying and lead djembe drummer for nearly 20 years with the internationally acclaimed Northwest Afrikan American Ballet.
Baba Catón has served as an adjunct faculty member with many colleges and youth organizations, among them PSU, Reed College, the Grace Institute Art Camp and Friends of the Children. At present, he is a paraeducator working with special education students for Portland Public Schools, and is a faculty member with Young Musicians and Artists and Caldera. He is a founding member of Kúkátónón.
Ms. Mari Juras
Kúkátónón is thrilled about our partnership with The Portland Ballet, through which we found our Kúkátónón Ballet teacher, Ms. Mari Kai Juras. A native of the Pacific Northwest she received her early training at Portland Youth Ballet with Chris & Lynn Tabor and under the early tutelage of Diane Zink and Tresa Cooper. Ms. Mari’s professional training includes Ballet Austin and Alonzo King Lines Ballet Training Program. In August 2016, she performed at the 2016 International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Ms. Mari began her teaching career under the Pedagogy program in Austin, Texas under Ballet Austin. After completing the program she continued to teach for Ballet Austin in the studio and in their outreach program. When living in San Francisco, she joined the Alonzo King LINES Ballet outreach program, traveling to local schools to teach ballet and contemporary. Since moving back to Oregon she continues to teach at many studios; working with students of various ages, covering creative movement to adult classes in Ballet, Jazz, Modern and Contemporary. She continues to expand her dance knowledge working with local dance companies, including Eowyn Emerald and Dancers and skinner|kirk DANCE.