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Alakande! Spread Joy! is a women’s percussive and vocal ensemble that spreads joy by way of music, dance, song, and verse from the African Diaspora.  The word “Alakande” is an original creation by its founder and musical director Joan Ashley.  Alakande means “Let’s go Spread Joy!” with hopes that the music created by the group will “Spread Joy” in the lives of its listeners.

Their performance takes audiences on a musical journey around the globe to such places as West Africa, Cuba, Brazil, Haiti and the United States.  Members of the ensemble play instrument indigenous to the many countries they visit such as Djembe, Songba and Djun Djun drums from West Africa, Conga drums from the Caribbean, and Iron Bells of Cameroon and Brazil.  The artists in Alakande have diverse backgrounds and contribute a wide range of professional experience to the group as a whole.  Collectively they have over 50 years of performing experience throughout Africa, Europe, The Americas and the Caribbean. 

The company’s most recent performances include The Brooklyn Museum’s  Target First Saturday:  Fierce, Phenomenal Women (where there was standing room only), Jazzy Mondays at For My Sweet, African and African American Cultural Enrichment Program at Walter B. Howard Elementary School, The Dwyer Cultural Center,  Survivorship Saturday in Harlem, St. Augustine’s Church,  Afro Roots Night at Goddard Riverside and Theater MIST Harlem. They also played at the inaugural ceremony for the former New York Public Advocate, Mayor Bill De Blasio.

By playing a variety of percussion, the ensemble Spreads Joy and rhythmically transports audiences to the lands of the instruments they play. 

founding musical director of Alakande! Spread Joy! is a percussionist, vocalist, educator , and composer.  A veteran performer, who has toured internationally, brings with her a profound understanding of many magical instruments which is her great appeal to diverse audiences throughout the globe.

Ashley has shared the stage with internationally renowned musicians and performers such as Hugh Masekela, Max Roach, Roy Ayers, Odetta, Sweet Honey In The Rock, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis.  Additionally, she has toured with the enchanting musical “Edutainers” Women Of The Calabash, Opus Dance Theartre Company,  Ase Drumming Circle and Edwina Lee Tyler and A Piece of the World.  Ashley has created a variety of original compositions with a wide range of sounds and percussive effects, including a performance piece with visual artist Faith Ringgold. 

Ashley’s vast performances include appearances in notable venues across America such as, The Apollo Theater,  Lincoln Center , The Village Gate, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Symphony Space, The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, The Walker Arts Center, The Brooklyn Museum,  Zellerbach Hall, IMAC Theater, Prospect Park Band Shell, and Jacob’s Pillow.  Her collaborations with other musicians, poets, storytellers and dancers are a highlight of her career that brings her not only great fulfillment but also great inspiration.


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 Barack Obama. Ms Nelson teaches studio classes and gives private lessons.




has been a performer, student and enthusiast of 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 for the stage, for dance classes, and in ceremony. She is featured on several recordings, including the 2012 release "Drum and Song for the Orishas" by Okan Iloro. Since 2008, Susan has been a member of Oyu Oro Afro Cuban Experimental Dance Ensemble under the direction of Danys “La Mora” Pérez.Her training comes from work with respected teachers in NYC including Madeleine Yayodele Nelson, John Amira, Orlando Fiol, Ayinde Nakata, Iyedun Ince, Caru Thompson and Elizabeth Sayre, among others. She has also been fortunate to study with Cuban masters of percussion and song including Francisco Minini Zamora of Grupo AfroCuba de Matanzas, Bertha Armiñán and other members of Ballet Folklorico Cutumba of Santiago de Cuba, and professors from Instituto Superior de Artes in Havana.Since 2007, Susan has been an avid student of the mbira of the Shona people of Zimbabwe and performs its traditional spirit possession music with mbiraNYC. Her Zimbabwean teachers include Chartwell Dutiro, Cosmas Magaya, Musekiwa Chingodza and Patience Munjeri.Susan has been helping to spread joy with the women of Alakande since 2010.

About Us


is a percussionist from Columbus, Ohio, living in New York since 1982. She was a long-time student of the African-Caribbean Master, Montego Joe, and was a member of Montego Joe & Friends from 1987 to 2010. With them, Tracey performed at the Museum of Natural History in Music of Two Worlds and a presentation for African History Month. Tracey has expressed her African-Cuban style with Jazz vocalist, Mari Toussaint and Heritage, at the African Poetry theater and African Street Festival; the Nat Dixon Quartet; Narratives Performing Company; Daughters of the Drum; the AIDS prevention video for Latinas, “Rompiendo el Silencio/Breaking the Silence”, produced by the HIV Center and Sandra Elkin; the live WBAI broadcast of the “Palm Wine Drinkards”, New York Public Theater; percussion ensemble “Skin and Gourd” and the ASE Drumming Circle. Tracey has also performed with the dance company PAKA (Passing Ancestral Knowledge Along) and was the group’s only female drummer.



is a multifaceted musician who combines traditional African instruments and musical forms with contemporary influences. Marsha can be heard on Women of the Calabash’s recording, The Kwanzaa Album. She was the featured vocalist with The Neo-Bass Jazz Ensemble singing bebop, swing and big band music in concert and on recordings, including Bird Lives! Through the Neo Bass Ensemble, Hit It! and Bebop meets Bass. She sings and plays the music of Africa, Latin America, North America, and the Caribbean with vocal/percussion group, Alakande! Spread Joy! and the Clave Latin/Jazz Project. Marsha holds a B.S. in Theatre Arts from Marygrove College in Detroit, MI.





is a native of Harlem with a BS in Dance from SUNY Brockport. She is the Artistic Director of Indigo Arts, a unique family based company that provides music, dance and storytelling from the African tradition, for all occasions. Caren began her professional dance career in upstate New York, first with Garth Fagan’s Bottom of the Bucket, But…Dance Theatre, and then with Lois Welk, Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane of the American Dance Asylum. Her training expanded from modern and improvisational dance to African/Caribbean dance with Pearl Primus and Percival Borde. Her return to NYC launched her fully into West African dance with the Chuck Davis Dance Company, Forces of Nature Dance Company, Iyataiye, and Harambee Dance Company. Coming full circle, she has repeatedly appeared with the improvisational performance piece, “From the Horses Mouth” created by Tina Croll and James Cunningham. In March of 2012 Caren was part of the launching of Alakande! Spread Joy! an all women’s percussion ensemble under the direction of Joan E. Ashley which premiered at the Brooklyn Museum. In 2006 she began performing with Ase Drummers under the direction of Phyllis Bethel. In 2005 her union with Women Of The Calabash, founded by Madeleine Yayodele Nelson, brought her singing and percussion to Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Town Hall and Symphony Space.



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