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Liberian artist Nimely Napla collaborated with Diamano Coura West African Dance Company to create an original multidisciplinary work, The Forbidden Bush, that was featured as part of Diamano Coura’s 40th and 41st performance seasons. The dance/drama was performed in an East Bay theater in 2015 and outdoors at Lake Merritt and Defremery Park in 2016.

Coming out of 20 years of war, economic hardship, and a recent Ebola epidemic, Liberia has lost many of its indigenous music and dance experts and cultural icons. Nimely Napla is one of the few living folklorists of Liberian art and culture. He also is a costume designer, set designer, musician, masquerade dancer, and master carver who is versed in at least three Liberian languages and many traditional Liberian songs. Through this collaboration, he will create a two-act work that combines instrumental and vocal music that reflects the culture of endangered Liberian ethnic groups in act one and encompasses traditional dances of the different people of the 13th Century Mandingo Empire.

Napla was trained at the Kendea Cultural Center and School in Liberia. In 1980 he joined the Liberian National Cultural Troupe and quickly rose to become its director. In 1984, Napla came on tour to the United States to perform at the Louisiana World Exposition, and a major civil war broke out in Liberia. Many members of the troupe—including Napla—gained asylum in the United States. In 1994, he formed the Nimely Pan African Dance Company, which has performed widely throughout the United States.

Founded in 1975, Diamano Coura West African Dance Company—led by director Zak Diouf and artistic director Naomi Diouf—is one of the longest-lasting African dance companies in the United States.

Photo by RJ Muna