Olivier P. Tarpaga Director of African Music Ensembles

Olivier Tarpaga (USA/Burkina Faso), is a Lester Horton Award-winning choreographer/director of the African Music Ensembles of Princeton University. Tarpaga has performed and taught music and dance regularly in more than 50 countries throughout Africa, Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania.

Since 1998, Tarpaga has composed and performed contemporary and traditional music and conceived dynamic dance theater works, touring internationally and the US with an impressive roster of collaborators and commissioning partners: including The Hollywood Bowl, the Ford Amphitheater (Los Angeles), The New Delhi Sacred Music Festival (India), The World Cultures Festival (Hong Kong), The Bali Spirit Festival (Indonesia), Festival de Jazz d’Amiens (France), Kelly Strayhorn Theater (Pittsburgh), Harlem Stage, The Joyce Theater, REDCAT, Crossing the Line Festival, Jacob’s Pillow, Action Danse Festival (Morocco), Charleroi Dance Biennale (Belgium), Natanda Dance Festival (Sri Lanka), The Drama Center (Singapore), and Session House (Tokyo). 

Tarpaga’s music and dance works have been described as “unforgettable” by Los Angeles Times and “extraordinary” by The New York Times. His major works include Once the dust settles, flowers bloom (2023) When Birds Refused to Fly (2019), Declassified Memory Fragment (2015), Not Because You’re African (2010), Disorder Inside Order (2008), Sira Kan (2007), and Tin Suka (2001). His commissioned works include Only One Will Rise (2022) for the Limon Company, Wind of Nomads (2017) for Malaysia’s internationally renowned HANDS Percussion, Resist-Resurge: Traces of Hope for Maya Dance Theater of Singapore, and The way of sands (2012) for the Temple of Fine Arts in Perth, Australia.

Born in Kaya, Burkina Faso, Tarpaga followed in the steps of his father Abdoulaye Richard Tarpaga, co-artistic director of the 1960s Orchestre Super Volta. At the age of sixteen he was selected as an actor, dancer and drummer for Burkina Faso’s acclaimed company “Le Bourgeon du Burkina,” which performed at numerous festivals and theaters throughout Africa, Europe, and South America. Tarpaga is the founder and artistic director of the internationally acclaimed Dafra Drum (1995–present), which plays traditional Manding music, and Dafra Kura Band (2011–present), which plays contemporary African music. He is also a co-founder of Burkina Faso’s internationally acclaimed Compagnie Ta (2000–2004) and Philadelphia-based Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project (2004–present).  

Between 2007–2008, Tarpaga collaborated, recorded, and performed with rock star Poe in Los Angeles, CA. Tarpaga was recommended to Poe by Hollywood composer Danny Elfman (who has produced soundtracks for The Simpsons, Good Will Hunting, Spiderman 2, Doctor Strange, Alice in Wonderland, and other films and shows). Elman has presented Olivier’s music at private events in Malibu and in Hollywood with celebrities in the movie and music industries in attendance. 

Tarpaga also has played live and recorded with Grammy-nominated drummer Steve Perkins (Jane’s Addiction, Porno for Pyros) at Capital Records in Hollywood. He has collaborated with recording engineer Jim Mitchel (who has worked with Michael Jackson, Guns and Roses, and Billy Bob Thornton) in Los Angeles. In 2010, Tarpaga collaborated with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, performing multiple shows at the Garden theater of the Hollywood Bowl.

Tarpaga plays numerous instruments and is an expert in the calabash, djembe, and dundun drums. Over the years, he has developed and taught his own sophisticated drumming solo technique inspired by grand masters Adama Dramé and Amadou Kienou.

Between 2004–2017, Tarpaga served as faculty of music or dance at UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures (CA), the University of the Arts (PA), the Ohio State University (OH), Kenyon College (OH), Denison University (OH), and the University of Iowa (IA). 

Between 1999–2022, Tarpaga also taught as a guest artist at Yale University; Stanford University; Brown University; Cornell University; the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; the Western Australia Performing Arts Center in Perth; the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts; the National Academy of the Arts (ASWARA) in Malaysia; the Tokyo Olympic Center; the Goodman Arts Centre in Singapore; the Russian Cultural Center in Tanzania; the National Theatre in Kampala, Uganda; Maitisong Festival in Botswana; the Aboki Ngoma festival in Yaoudé, Cameroon; the Action Danse Festival in Casablanca; the French Institut in Rabat and Meknes (Morocco), Dakar, Senegal, and Madagascar; the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, l’Université Technologique de Compiègne in France; the Lycee Francais in Madrid; and the United Nations International School (Hanoi).

In 2011, Tarpaga directed an acclaimed collaboration between Dafra Drum and the Kryasta Guna Gamelan ensemble for the opening ceremony of the Bali Spirit Festival in Bali, Indonesia. In 2008, he was invited to re-interpret Beethoven’s ninth symphony with West African instruments in a sold-out concert with British singer Billy Bragg and numerous guests at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, CA. 


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