Born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) |
Jean has always had a passion for the arts. He attended Ivory Coast’s National Institute of the Arts in the late 1980s, and in the early 90s studied at the Ivory Coast’s International School of Dance and Cultural Exchange. His studies complete, he was invited to New York to teach about African culture and performance. Jean accomplished a great deal artistically during his time in the Big Apple, and won several awards for his work, but while there he says he experienced racism and discrimination. Jean knew Toronto to be a diverse place where people could express their culture without boundaries, and decided to relocate to the city in 2008. In Toronto he has maintained a busy life as a teacher, musician, actor, comedian, choreographer, fashion promoter, speaker, and as the Founder/Artistic Director for a Non-Profit Cultural Organization called Akwaba Cultural Exchange. This past year Jean received a nomination at the Black Canadian Awards.
Toronto as Home
Jean works out of his home’s basement in Milton. In his office surrounded by posters and flyers for past events, as well as his collection of instruments, he does his work, planning for upcoming shows. Jean explains that his current African dance performance group is the largest in Canada, and he is excited about a project organizing fashion shows for children.
Connection with the Past
Jean is playing a djembe, a West African drum made in Ivory Coast from a hollowed tree trunk. Jean describes how people gather, dance and sing as soon as they hear him playing – and he loves this. He has been playing the drum since his early childhood, and 18 years ago he decided to pursue it professionally. Jean believes the people of Africa are born storytellers, dancers and musicians – and through these arts the people experience what he calls “our own system of education,” and it is through these songs and stories that children learn history and morality. For centuries the rhythms of the drum have accompanied the farmer cultivating his fields, the celebration of a wedding, and countless other rituals and gatherings.
“The drum is inseparable from everyday life. In traditional African society, there are no expressions of joy without rhythm.”
Jean is also a speaker with the Passages Canada storytelling initiative. Check out his profile here.