Jean Francis Varre
Sahel's creator and director was born to Senegalese and Cape Verdean immigrants in Washington D.C. He began singing at 13 years-old, at first in English, and later in Spanish and the languages of his heritage - French, Wolof, and Portuguese. A self taught musician, he plays bass, guitar and drums. Jean-Francis has toured with British soul icon Omar and Grammy nominated salsa band Gonzalo Grau y la Clave Secreta. He has performed with local rock groups Sitali and Lucy Brown, and at various Smithsonian and D.C. Arts Commission shows. Because African cultures are oral, Jean-Francis firmly believes that the Diaspora is closely linked through its shared rhythms and melodic styles. He has worked to preserve and stress this tie from the past to the present by mastering a range of musical genres, including rock & roll, soul, salsa, zouk, samba and mbalax.
Stewart Bernard II
A multi-instrumentalist and composer, Stewart began playing alto saxophone and piano when he was 12-years-old. Then he borrowed a friend's bass guitar and found his calling. He now plays double, fretless, and fretted electric basses for various ensembles around D.C., with a unique approach to rhythm, harmony and melody - combining Afro-Cuban, Afro-Colombian, blues, jazz, R&B, reggae, salsa and samba/pagode influences. Having performed with Grammy nominated artists Verny Varela and Gonzalo Grau, Stewart is the founder and Studio Engineer at GrooveAnatomy, and co-founder of Sahel.
A Nigerian-born drummer and composer, Tosin has performed, recorded and toured for the past 12 years with popular acts such as Julie Dexter, Femi Kuti, Talib Kwali, Taj Mahal, D’Angelo and Yerba Buena. He served as artist-in-residence at Strathmore Music Center and was nominated in 2008 and 2009 for Best World Music Instrumentalist by the Washington Area Music Association. Tosin credits jazz, tribal drumming and Nigerian contemporary music among his various musical influences. He is the creator of Afrikan Rhapsody, a band that merges traditional African musical idioms with contemporary music of the Diaspora such as jazz, gospel and neo-soul.
Dan Paul is a jazz pianist, pop/hiphop keyboardist and studio engineer based in Philadelphia, PA. His current projects include: The Half of It (funk/fusion quartet), Sahel (Senegalese and Caribbean music), musical director for Mike Taylor (Sony recording artist), BD Lenz (jazz guitarist), Trinidelphia (Caribbean Zouk trio), All About Me (top-40 cover band), Iqram (African pop), and City Rhythm Orchestra (classic jazz band). Recent career highlights include playing Moog synthesizer on LL Cool J's album "Exit 13", a TV appearance with Jill Scott and the Lars Halle Jazz Orchestra, and a performance with drum great Bernard Purdie at Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA. His recording studio, Ivorysmash Studios, has helped dozens of artists realize their recording goals. Dan's background is in classical piano and pipe organ and he holds a BA in Music from the University of Pennsylvania where he has worked as a jazz piano instructor since 2001.
Jabari “AuraGin" Exum, percussionist, emcee, poet, actor, director, and entrepreneur, is an electrifying performing artist born and raised in Washington, DC. He is a skilled percussionist in the West African and Latin Tradition and is a prolific writer and performer in the world of Hip-Hop. Since 1997 Jabari has also become a pioneering artist in a movement called, “Hip-Hop Theater". Needless to say, Jabari's approach to everything that he touches is unconventional since he is able to pull from so many different styles of expression. He has been acting, drumming, and rapping since he was 2yrs and has been blessed with the opportunities to receive guidance from the some of the greats in each of these artistic styles, from Mamady Keita, Grady Tate, and Djimo Kouyate, to KRS-One, Sonya Sanchez and Glen Turner.
Presently, Mr. Exum (also known as the X-Factor) is a member of the Hip-Hop duo ‘Hueman Prophets’ (USA); Farafina Kan (West African Percussion Orchestra) (USA); and HHP (South African Hip-Hop Pioneers) (SA). He is a percussion teacher, writing coach, and a full time musician and song writer, working with artist such as Raheem DeVaughn , Dr. Cornel West & The Cornel West Theory, Larry Mitchell, Tarus Mateen, Mark Cary, Maimouna Youssef, Carolyn Malachi, Dawn Avery, Federic Pena, Weedie Braimah, Michael Bowie, Chad Boseman, and, to name a few. He is the creator of the Underground Mobile Store, ‘Congo Square’ (designed to increase the accessibility of positive, independent artist from all corners of the world). A product of both the Howard University music program and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Jabari is set to release several music projects in 2011, one being ‘The Triad’ with legendary bassist Tarus Mateen. You can catch him this spring and summer on the ‘Train of Thought’ Series Circulating within the DMV area from March thru August 2011.
This French-born pianist, vocalist and band leader has been a professional musician for two decades. In the 1990s, Didier left France for a Caribbean vacation and stayed to perform with local bands on the island of St. Bart’s for the next three years. Upon meeting the Baltimore-based band that was there on tour, he moved to the United States to perform with Mambo Combo. In 1998, he started his own salsa band, Orquesta Sin Miedo, which has toured around the U.S. and abroad and released its third full album last year. “Sin Miedo," Spanish for “fearless," sums up Didier’s attitude toward music. He has mastered and performs multiple genres of music, including Latin, African, Brazilian and reggae.