NORA BALABAN began her musical career in 1980, singing with the rock band, Pop Decay. The band performed regularly at CBGB’s, Max’s Kansas City and other NYC underground clubs.
In 1982, Nora relocated to San Francisco, beginning a musical journey that would influence her life long musical career. She first joined the band “Mapenzi”, a ten-piece “Zimbabwe Style” dance band, recording and performing with them for three years as their marimba player and singer. She then began composing pop songs based on African marimba grooves and this led to the formation of her band “Fuzz Factor”, a pop rock band fusing African marimbas with rock and roll. It was during this period that Nora heard the sound of the Timbila (Mozambique’s national xylophone). She became obsessed with this sound and after searching for recordings in record stores and radio stations she realized that she would have to travel to Africa in order to locate the source of this music.
In 1996 Nora returned to NYC. Soon after returning she was invited to travel to Ghana to study Gyil (Ghanaian xylophone), with Bernard Woma of the Ghana National Dance Ensemble. She spent two months in intensive study with Bernard and then traveled to Zimbabwe for ten months to study with Mbira Master Tute Chigamba and his family. She took daily lessons and performed at ceremonies and various functions with the family, solidifying her playing and understanding of the instruments and culture. Nora crossed the border to Mozambique several times during this trip to learn about the Timbila. This is when she met and began her study with the great master Venancio Mbande. She has returned to Zimbabwe and Mozambique several times over the last ten years to continue her music studies.
During her trips to Africa Nora began to collect beautiful instruments and crafts and upon returning to NYC she realized that many musicians expressed an interest in purchasing these instruments. She opened a store called “Tribal Soundz” and began selling these African treasures. This led to her sponsoring world music instrument workshops, concerts and events at the store.
Presently Nora continues to teach Mbira privately and in group workshops. She organizes workshops and concerts for many of Zimbabwe’s visiting Mbira Masters. She performs with her group “Timbila” an “Afrodelic Xylo Pop Band” with Banning Eyre. She composes the music for the band, plays Timbila, Mbira and sings. In addition Nora performs with Mbira NYC.
LAURI BENBLATT MA LPC has been studying and playing world music for the past 14 years, with a history of traditional Western based music for the majority of her life. Zimbabwean mbira/hosho/marimba, West African percussion, and most recently Brazilian percussion have been her main focus, and she is proud to say that she has performed throughout the US and globally. In addition to her local endeavors, Lauri travels for her work, and enjoys taking advantage of these opportunities to further her musical studies. She is a licensed psychotherapist, art therapist and is currently a 2013 masters in public health candidate. Lauri’s work in global mental health focuses on vulnerable communities in both local and international contexts.
MADELEINE YAYODELE NELSON is an educator, musician and composer who lives in New York City. Educated in Pennsylvania ( B.S., Slippery Rock University), she has taught in the public school systems of Pennsylvania and New York. Currently she works as a teaching artist in New York City.
A celebrated percussionist, Ms Nelson has performed in many parts of the world and has composed and performed music for Off Broadway Theater.
An instrument maker, she handcrafted the shekeres for the New York and London companies of the Broadway show FELA. She has recorded with Paul Simon, Billy Harper, the Jambalaya Brass Band, WOMEN OF THE CALABASH, and many others.
Ms Nelson has presented master classes in shekere playing throughout the U.S., in London, and in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. She has lectured at the Julliard School and taught master classes at the Manhattan School of Music. Ms Nelson is Founder and director of WOMEN OF THE CALABASH, an internationally acclaimed vocal and percussion ensemble. Founded in 1978, the company has performed extensively in the U.S. as well as in the British Isles, Europe, West Africa, South America, and the Caribbean.
Ms Nelson’s film credits include Marlon Riggs’ Black Is Black Ain’t and The American Bible Society’s The Visit. She has performed for four Presidents, including President Barrack Obama. Ms Nelson teaches studio classes and gives private lessons.
JIM PUGLIESE is a drummer, percussionist and composer His performing experience is diverse. As a freelance percussionist he is in much demand and has performed with The New York Philharmonic Horizon Series (guest artist), New York City Ballet and soloist or performer on numerous new music and jazz festivals in Europe, Japan and the USA
Jim grew up listening to and playing soul music and rhythm and blues. He went on to study percussion with Raymond Des Roches and by the age of eighteen he had recorded the music of Edgar Varese and Charles Wuorinen for Nonsuch Records. He continued performing and or recording new music with John Cage, Lukas Foss, Kent Nagano and Philip Glass. He spent twelve years as a member of Dean Drummond’s Newband and The Harry Partch Ensemble, studying and performing microtonal music. During this same period he developed an interest in Afro-Cuban music and studied drumming and rhythm with Master Drummer Pablo Landrum.
For the last twenty years, while living in the east village of New York City, Jim has been improvising recording and touring with many of downtowns most prominent composer/improvisers including John Zorn, Marc Ribot, Zeena Parkins, Bobby Previte and Anthony Coleman. He has recorded on over ninety CD’s of new music, jazz, rock and movie soundtracks.
In 1993 the new music group Newband recorded his composition FREEZE for the Mode recording label. In 1998 Jim was selected as Artist In Residence at Harvestworks in NYC where he recorded his solo CD “Sonic Soul”. On November 23rd, 1997 Avant released the first cd for his collaborative trio Easside Percussion with Christine Bard and Michael Evans.
His latest project “Phase III” is a continuation of his ongoing quest to combine his diverse performing experiences into a single new sound with its base in rhythm. The music skirts and shifts along the edges of free improvisation, deep groove and New Music. The music reflects Jim’s ongoing quest to explore the powerful, enlightening and spiritual secrets of drumming and is inspired by his recent association and work with Nii Tettey Tetteh, master musician from Ghana, with Milford Graves, learning drumming and healing through the heartbeat and his study of the spiritual songs of the Mbira Dzavadzimu from Zimbabwe.
Jim’s latest CD “Live @ Issue Project Room NYC” just won “Best New Release of 2008” in “All About Jazz NY”. His other current projects include a collaborative band “IDR” with Marco Cappelli, exploring the relationship between Southern Italian Folk Music and Improvisation and his current project “Big Easy”
SUSAN RAPALEE has been an enthusiastic student of mbira since 2007 when she began studying with Erica Azim. Her understanding of the music and culture has been further enriched by exposure to Zimbabwean masters who periodically come to New York to teach. These have included Patience Chaitezvi, Forward Kwenda, Musekiwa Chingodza, Caution Shonhai and Cosmas Magaya. Susan joined mbiraNYC in 2009 and continues to benefit from the musical guidance of the group’s senior members.
While a relative newcomer to the music of Zimbabwe, Susan has been involved with traditional African and diasporic music since 1993, with particular focus on drum and song styles of the Afro-Cuban genres of Yoruba, Congo and Dahomey. She has performed nationally since 1994, and is active in New York City as a performer of folkloric and ritual music. She has played and sung for weekly Afro-Cuban dance classes since 1998. She is featured on several recordings, most recently as “akpwon”, or ritual lead singer, on “Drum and Song for the Orishas” by Okan Iloro, a women’s batá ensemble. Since 2008, Susan has been a member of Oyu Oro Afro Cuban Experimental Dance Ensemble under the direction of internationally recognized Cuban ethnologist and choreographer Danys La Mora Pérez. She also performs with Alakande! Spread Joy!, a women’s percussion ensemble blending the musics of Africa, the Caribbean and America.
Her training comes from work with respected percussion teachers in NYC including Madeleine Yayodele Nelson, John Amira, Orlando Fiol, Ayinde Nakata, Iyedun Ince and Caru Thompson, among others. She has also been fortunate to study in Cuba with masters of percussion and song including Francisco Minini Zamora of Grupo AfroCuba de Matanzas, Bertha Armiñan and other members of Ballet Folklorico Cutumba of Santiago de Cuba, and professors from Instituto Superior de Artes, in Havana.
ISABEL ISABELLA Is a Percussionist. A Londoner, and before moving to New York, part of several bands; co formed all female funky/rock band. Involved in Rock Against Racism. Performed and studied throughout Europe, North and West Africa, Australia, Caribbean, Cuba, Central America, Brazil, and in New York City! playing Funk, Jazz, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, African; Musicals, even acting! on Broadway, Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway, with the famous, and not so famous. Excited about two new projects, South African vocalist group; and a Children’s Ensemble.