Interviewed at his home in Columbus by Sandra Grady
9 October 2011

Olivier Tarpaga was born in Kaya, Bourkina Faso and grew up in the capitol city, Ouagadougo. His family was active in music and dance. His father was a saxophone player, so music was always around the house. There were practices and celebrations happening regularly. His father’s band played a mix of salsa, jazz, and traditional African music that had been popularized. Young Olivier learned music initially from the community and performed in informal competitions among his peers. By secondary school, he was already touring with Le Bourgéon du Bourkina Faso, a group performing both popular and traditional dance. The performers are all under age 18.

After secondary school, Olivier pursued professional training in music. In 1995, he created Dafra Drum, naming it after the most sacred river in Bourkina Faso. Dafra Drum is an ensemble performing traditionalWest African music with multiple instruments and drumming that tours five or six countries every year. In 2011, they opened and closed the Bali Spirit Festival. Although Olivier was able to manage Dafra from Ouagadougo, he came to New York City in 2002 to do a dance photo shoot. During his stay, he made a lot of contacts and grew to love the straightforward mentality of the American people. He loved how direct people were about what they feel. He had not planned to immigrate, but found it a welcome place to stay.

He met his wife while both were in New York. She was a graduate student in dance in Los Angeles, so Olivier moved there for a few years while she pursued her studies. While there, he began teaching in the World Music and Cultures program at UCLA. When his wife finished her studies, she was offered a job with the Ohio State University, where Olivier also teaches as an adjunct professor. Together, they have founded the Baker & Tarpaga Project, which is more avant garde in its choreography and explores social and political themes. Because of the different emphasis, Baker & Tarpaga tours as a separate company.

Olivier choreographs and organizes tours for both companies and dances in both. Dafra Drum has also grown to include Dafra Kura, which performs more contemporary and acoustic music found more commonly in Africa’s cities. In contrast, Dafra Drums performs more traditional music using heavier instrumentation. The dancers and musicians, who come from all over the US, are all part of one touring company and the repertoire changes depending on the interests of the audience. Olivier does not want to get stuck with an image, so he enjoys managing both groups and composing around three different musical styles. He loves the traditional material, but wants to also represent the larger African reality so he creates music and choreography that reflects this range.

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