Chi Amen-Ra

Rhythms of the Afrikan Diaspora

Official Website of Detroit Based Percussionist - Chinelo 'Chi' Amen-Ra

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Photographer: Ambyr Amen-Ra

Musician: Chinelo 'Chi' Amen-Ra

Show: Concert of Colors, 2013

Chinelo 'Chi' Amen-Ra was born into the Ngoma Za Amen-Ra New Afrikan Cultural Dance Theatre on June 16 in Detroit, MI.  Since his first concert at the age of two, his unique and electrifying approach to drumming has connected with audiences everywhere.  During his early years he was exposed to the pertinence of African drumming, culture, and liberation by his three major influences and formative teachers – his father Kamaal Amen-Ra, his mother Mama Shashu Amen-Ra, and the late Modibo Keita. Chinelo grew up immersed in a Detroit cultural community abound in the arts.

From elementary through high school, drumming became entrenched in Chinelo’s life.  At Burton International, he assisted his brothers in drumming as his mother taught the school’s Folkdance program.  He also performed on several occasions with the Art of Motion Congolese dance troupe under the direction of Karen Prall, which expanded his musical exposure as he was introduced to drumming from Central Africa – adding to his West African foundation. As a teenager Chinelo assumed the role of lead drummer with the Sabsabu Dance Theatre, and also performed at his alma mater Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School during stints in the marching band and spring concerts.

After high school Chinelo attended and graduated from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor with a Bachelor of Arts in African American Studies.  As an undergraduate he pledged Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.  It was during this period that he began to expand his artistry as a choreographer; applying his unique sense of African polyrhythm to the ‘art of stepping.’  He was voted into the position of head step master and took on the challenge of choreographing routines and preparing his fraternity brothers for performances and step show competitions throughout the state of Michigan.  Chinelo also continued with his passion for Djembe drumming, performing at U of M (Ann Arbor, Dearborn), Wayne State University, Kettering University, Oakland University, Western Michigan University, and Michigan State University.  This culminated into the honor of performing and representing Detroit artists at Ford Field during Super Bowl XL.

Chinelo credits his mother with challenging and supporting him to evolve beyond being “just a performer.”  Thus while he enjoys ‘show time’, he has an equal passion for teaching and studying his craft.  He has crossed paths with several master drummers from the African Diaspora, including Famoudou Konate (Guinea), Mamady Keita (Guinea), Epizo Bangoura (Guinea), Koto Ngum (Gambia), Kissima Diabate (Senegal), and Mama Mabiba Baegne (Congo).  In addition, he has studied intensely with the renowned Dagomba drummer and dancer Sulley Imoro (Ghana).  He has also been afforded extensive facilitation experience, including conducting drum workshops for the YMCA, as well as being invited to co-facilitate the Ujima Sasa Dance Troupe’s annual youth program in Kalamazoo, MI.  Most recently, Wayne State University brought him aboard in the capacity of Instructional Assistant in the College of Fine, Performing, and Communication Arts.

Chinelo combines all of these experiences – the knowledge and skills gained from both his formative drum teachers and his drum teachers from Africa as well as his literary studies of the African Diaspora – into a drumming style and presence unique to him.

Currently, Chi holds the position of Instructional Assistant in the College of Fine, Performing, and Communication Arts at Wayne State University and serves as Principal Accompanist and Music Director for ‘To Sangana’ African Dance Company.

 

Teaching Experience:

  • Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME) - Instructor of African Drums. Roots of Rhythm Course
  • Wayne State University – ‘To Sangana’ African Dance Company
  • Detroit Public Schools after school drum classes
  • YMCA Percussion Workshops
  • Co-Facilitater of the Ujima Sasa Dance Troupe’s annual youth program in Kalamazoo, MI
  • 21st Century Learning Programs (History of Percussion)

 

Performance Experience:

  • Ngoma Za Amen-Ra New Afrikan Cultural Dance Theatre (drummer)
  • Lead drummer with the Sabsabu Dance Theatre
  • Guest Drummer with the Art of Motion Congolese dance troupe
  • Superbowl XL (performed with Stevie Wonder, John Legend, India Arie)
  • American Cancer Society sponsored “Music Saved My Life” Tour (2012 & 2013)
  • Guest Drummer with BombaRica: Puerto Rican Performing Artists & Cultural Group
  • WDET Radio – Ann Delisi’s Essential Music Live Performance
  • Concert of Colors with Mike Ellison (2012, 2013, 2014)

 

 

Education:

  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, MI
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Senior High School – Detroit, MI

 

Training:

West African Drums

Djembe-

  • Kamaal Amen-Ra (New York/Detroit)
  • Modibo Keita (St. Louis/Detroit)
  • Mamady Keita (Guinea/Detroit)
  • Epizo Bangoura (Guinea/Detroit)
  • Famoudou Konate (Guinea/Philadelphia)
  • Kissima Diabate (Senegal/Detroit)

Dunun-

  • Kamaal Amen-Ra (New York/Detroit)
  • Famoudou Konate (Guinea/Philadelphia)

Kutiro-

  • Koto Ngun (Gambia/Detroit)

Luna, Gungon, Fontomfrom-

  • Sulley Imoro (Ghana/Detroit)

 

Central African Drums

Ngoma-

  • Art of Motion Dance under the direction of Professor Karen Prall (Detroit)
  • Mama Mabiba Baengne (Congo/Detroit)

 

Haitian Drums

Manman, Segon, Boula-

  • Louines Louinis (Haiti/Detroit)
  • Fritzner Alexandre (Haiti)

 

Cuban Drums

Conga, Bongo, Bata-

  • Baba Bill Summers (New Orleans/Detroit)
  • Bon Bon (Cuba)
  • Oniel Mantives (Cuba)

 

Puerto Rican Drums

Bomba, Cua-

  • Osvaldo Rivera (Puerto Rico/Detroit)

 

Commercial Credits: 

Take Me There with Mike Ellison for MQA. London, England

  • Filmed Late 2016/Aired Beginning January 2017

Video Credits:

  • Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History's Liberation Film Series. Music Composer for the documentary "Raz Baaba Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts: Portraits of a Revolutionary Artist"

 

CD Credits:

  • Alex Way - "Phases" (Percussion)                                   2016 Alex Way Music

 

 

  • J. Canady – “Expressions Of Me” (Percussion)            2015 AMAC Records

 

 

  • World Dance Workout CD: Live Percussion Music For Dance Volume 1 2010  (Djembe, Conga, Chekere and small percussion.