Our team is comprised of talented, collaborative, and inspiring individuals who embody our core values and bring African culture to life through their work. By connecting with diverse audiences, we are able to share the universal influence of African rhythms and melodies across different backgrounds, ages, and cultures.
Meet the team who makes it all possible!
Djembe Master Drummer
As a Djembe Master Drummer for Crocodile River Music, Issa Coulibaly is a key performer in our workshops, school residencies, and drum circles, providing educational entertainment and lessons to audiences of all ages and skill levels. Issa began studying the djembe and djun-djun in his home city of Bamako, Mali when he was only 11 years old. He then took his talents on the road and earned his reputation as a vocalist and mesmerizing performer while touring Africa and Europe. Today, Issa continues to travel from Maine to Puerto Rico, facilitating retreats and performing as the lead drummer and musical director for a variety of African dance troupes, including Crocodile River Music’s own Didakan. His CD debut,“Foliba,” highlights his flamboyant playing style and original arrangements of traditional songs.
As the Artistic Director at Crocodile River Music, Ron Murray produces, arranges, leads, and performs many of our workshops and performances, helping to bring forth the vibrant culture of Africa. Ron has studied guitar with world-class musicians such as John Williams, jazz giants Joe Pass and Pat Martino, and flamenco virtuosos Paco Pena and Mario Escudero, and is one of the few professional guitarists specializing in the seven-string guitar. Ron lends his flamenco-fueled guitar skills and multi-lingual vocals to a bossa-flamenco fusion group he founded called Vuelo. Prior to Crocodile River Music, Ron taught guitar at the New England Conservatory of Music, business at Berklee College of Music, and performed as a flamenco-dance accompanist at Wesleyan University.
Balla Kouyaté, Balafon Virtuoso, is one of Crocodile River Music’s concert and educational programming performers, bringing his background in music and oral history to life for audiences. He learned his instrument, the balafon, from his father, who is the guardian of the world’s first balafon which dates back to the 13th century and is recognized by UNESCO as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. With his deep musical history, Balla is widely considered to be among the greatest balafon players in the world today and can play two balafons effortlessly at one time. Balla has been featured on over 45 albums, including Angelique Kidjo’s Grammy-nominated “Oyo” and Yo-Yo Ma’s Grammy-winning “Sounds of Joy and Peace."
Dance, Percussion, and Vocals
As the first graduate of Crocodile River Music's Cultural Ambassador Training Program, Antoinette Mutuyimana personifies CRM's mission to develop career paths for young African refugees. Antoinette was born in Tanzania and came to the U.S.A. in 2007 to escape the strife and violence that was prevalent at that time in East Africa. She attended Worcester Public Schools, graduated from North High School, and subsequently became a volunteer at A.C.E (African Community Education) where she was recruited by Crocodile River Music to help teach drum and dance workshops. Her natural talents and outgoing personality made her a favorite among the students, and she quickly earned a spot in CRM’s performing ensemble playing percussion, singing, and dancing, and is now a valued full-time member of the CRM family.
In 2011 Zach Combs founded Crocodile River Music after returning from an inspirational fellowship in West Africa. As the Director of Crocodile River Music, Zach works to bring the music, art, and culture of Africa to New England and beyond in an effort to bridge the cultural gap. Zach is responsible for helping to oversee musicians and performances, book world-music productions, and develop educational programs and corporate leadership events. As a skilled drummer and performer himself, Zach performs in educational presentations, drum workshops, dance classes, and theater performances, and shares his skills through an instructional video he produced on djembe music titled Mali Djembekan. Zach majored in Anthropology at Connecticut College with a minor in African Studies and a focus in Elementary Education.
Born in Senegal, West Africa, Thierno Camara studied classical piano and flute as a child, which led him to play piano in an American pop band called Laser. At age 15, Thierno put his own Afro-pop band together and began his songwriting career. When the bassist of his group left the band, Thierno learned the bass out of necessity, but soon realized that the electric bass was his preferred instrument. A few years later, he formed Sora, a group that utilized traditional West African musicians and sounds. His skills and talent did not go unnoticed, and he was soon freelancing and touring the world with some of Africa’s greatest stars, including Moussa Ngom, Cheick Lo, Kine Lam, and Thione Seck. Settling in New York City in 1998, Thierno performed and recorded with noted jazz artists Ornette Coleman, Greg Osby, and Cornelius Kreusch. Thierno joined Crocodile River Music in 2015 and is now in demand as both a bassist and recording engineer. He recently released his first CD album.
As the Outreach Manager of African Arts in Education (a charitable nonprofit founded by Crocodile River Music), Dianne Mather plays an integral role in forming relationships with individuals in the community in an effort to spread the word about the mission of the two organizations. Dianne is the point person for all residencies, concerts, and appearances, and enjoys gathering feedback from attendees. After connecting with the founder of Crocodile River Music, Dianne helped to develop African Arts in Education in an effort to bring African art, music, and culture to schools and community groups. Having previously worked in various corporate roles for over 20 years, Dianne brings business experience to her role, which has helped African Arts in Education grow exponentially from its pilot year to a now-thriving program.
Talking Drum, Calabash, and Vocals
Idrissa, one of our vibrant performers, works to convey the importance of African culture through his musical talents. Idrissa’s interest in music has been an integral part of his life: He learned to play tama—a type of African drum—in his hometown of Mopti, Mali around the same time that he learned to walk. After spending his childhood performing at weddings, baptisms, and other events, Idrissa landed in New York, where he quickly began attracting attention and developing his musical career with Crocodile River Music.
Steel Pan and Percussion
Ché is a founding member of Crocodile River Music who works to inspire audiences with his percussion, cajon, and steel drum performances in Trinidad 2 Timbuktu and as part of our calypso band, Crocodile Island. Performing on an array of percussion instruments from many cultures, he inspires students and members of the community by demonstrating the origins and influences of African art. His musical career has led him to open for Jimi Hendrix, jam with the Grateful Dead at Woodstock, and play with Handel’s Messiah, and his record led to years of playing for Middle Eastern dancers and an eventual performance with Babatunde Olatunji’s Drums of Passion. Ché can also be found gigging with jazz, calypso, West African, Brazilian, Middle Eastern, and Irish ensembles, and working with the following organizations: Arts for Learning Connecticut, Clark University Theatre Department, and Connecticut College Dance Department.