Princeton University’s Music Department premieres the Timbuktu Grooves Festival this Fall 2023

  • Led by Olivier Tarpaga, Founder and Director of Princeton University’s African Music Ensembles
  • McCarter Theatre Center and Princeton University continues partnership with Tarpaga’s deeply humanist piece Once the Dust Settles Flowers Bloom on Friday, September 29 at 8PM
  • Festival to also include special performances by Malian singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara,  Percussion, and Princeton University Afrobeats Ensemble

Princeton, NJ (July 11, 2023)— Princeton University’s Music Department presents the Timbuktu Grooves Festival from September 29 – October 1 led by Olivier Tarpaga, a Lester Horton Award-winning choreographer and director of the African Music Ensembles at Princeton since 2017. The multi-disciplinary festival kicks off with Tarpaga’s humanist piece Once the Dust Settles Flowers Bloom on Friday, September 29, in partnership with McCarter Theatre Center and Seuls en Scène, Princeton French Theater Festival. The piece sheds light on refugees of Burkina Faso and the Sahel region, who were displaced after fleeing from the shadow of jihadists. Seven dancers and five musicians from Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Benin, Morocco, and France will channel the strength and beauty of this displaced population. 

On Saturday, September 30, McCarter Theatre Center presents a concert highlighting Malian singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara, wielding her electric guitar to write songs that blend Wassoulou folk music, spiritually centered Afropop, and desert blues. Singing mostly in Bambara, the national language of Mali, Diawara sings about migration, African identity, motherhood, and the struggle of African women. A veteran of the screen and stage, she debuted as an actress in the ‘90s, appearing in films such as Cheick Oumar Sissoko’s La Genèse and the Oscar-nominated Timbuktu. Since her 2011 debut LP Fatou, she’s collaborated with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Bobby Womack, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz), who co-produced her latest album London Ko. In 2019 she became the first Malian artist to perform at the Grammys, where she was nominated for “Best World Music Album” for her 2018 record Fenfo (Something to Say).

The final event of the festival on Sunday, October 1 titled Djandjoba or “The Big Gathering” transports listeners spiritually to West Africa by the calming sound of the kora, an ancient 21-string African harp, with a duet performed by master griots Wassa Kouyate from Mali and Flatie Dembele from Burkina Faso. The program will also highlight contemporary African music played by Sō Percussion, Dafra Kura band from Burkina Faso, and the Princeton University Afrobeats Ensemble.

“Timbuktu was historically an intellectual and spiritual center in the Mali empire. It’s a city of resilience which echoes the resilience of Princetonians. Our first mission is to promote the beauty, positivity, and creativity of the continent of Africa throughout the performing arts,” said Director of African Music Ensembles Olivier Tarpaga.

“It is crucial for me to represent this vast, diverse, fascinating, and sometimes misunderstood continent at the traditional and urban level because Africa is contemporary” said Tarpaga. 

McCarter and the Department of Music at Princeton are thrilled to partner together for a second year after an exciting performance with the Jazz Vocal Collective featuring Camille Thurman last February. Joining forces allows music enthusiasts to experience extraordinary, visionary talent across multiple departments together on stage. 

The Fall 2023 Timbuktu Grooves Festival is supported by the Edward T. Cone Fund in the Humanities Council

About McCarter Theatre Center:

An independent not-for-profit performing arts center located between New York City and Philadelphia—and on the campus of Princeton University—McCarter is a multi-disciplinary creative and intellectual hub offering theater, music, dance, spoken word, and educational programs for all ages that inspires conversations, connections and collaborations in our communities. We lead with our values of justice and joy, and we seek beauty in belonging. Celebrated for developing new work and winner of the 1994 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, world premieres include Christopher Durang’s Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike (Tony, Best Play), Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brother/Sister Plays, Emily Mann’s Having Our Say. Renowned artists who have appeared at McCarter include: Alvin Ailey, Yo-Yo Ma, Audra McDonald, David Sedaris, The Moth, Terence Blanchard, Roseanne Cash, the rock band Lake Street Dive, Shawn Colvin, and more. McCarter connects with the community year-round via various community reading event opportunities, digital programming, on-site classes and in-school residencies. McCarter and Princeton University share a long history of unique partnerships and creative collaborations.

About Olivier Tarpaga:

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 in 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.

Timbuktu Grooves Festival Schedule: 


Once the Dust Settles Flowers Bloom by Olivier Tarpaga Dance Project

Location: Matthews Theatre at McCarter

Tickets*:  $15-$25 available at

Direct link 

*Princeton University Students can access FREE tickets with Passport to the Arts using code PUTIGER. Tickets must be booked ONLINE with student ID. More Info on PU Student Tix for events at McCarter:   

Events, days, dates, times, performers and prices are subject to change without notice.


Fatoumata Diawara Concert

Location: Matthews Theatre at McCarter

Tickets: Start at $35 and may be purchased online at, in person at the Patron Services Office or by calling 609-258-2787. Handling fees will apply.

Direct link 

*Princeton University Students can access FREE tickets with Passport to the Arts using code PUTIGER. Tickets must be booked ONLINE with student ID. More Info on PU Student Tix for events at McCarter:   

Events, days, dates, times, performers and prices are subject to change without notice.


Djandjoba: The Big Gathering

Location: Richardson Auditorium 


$15 General / $5 Student

Direct link

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