Omelika Kuumba is known worldwide as a drummer, dancer, choreographer, musical arranger, cultural arts educator, co-founder and artistic director of Giwayen Mata. She is making history. As one of the founders of Giwayen Mata, which means Elephant Women, Omelika takes to the stage in a storm; but she is a quiet, peaceful woman in her everyday presence – a powerful woman in a petite package.
Avis Delana Bynum, was born in Brooklyn, NY and moved to Atlanta to attend Spelman College where she excelled on the Spelman synchronized swimming team, was very active in student government, and is a proud member of the class of 1981. She has studied under the direction of master dancers and percussionists in this country and abroad, especially in Senegal, West Africa. Her teachers included the renowned Torkwase Osunlade Fatunmise, former dancer with Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, Ill., founder and artistic director of Barefoot Ballet Children’s Dance Ensemble, co-founder and artistic director of Barefoot Ballet Manya, and co-founder of GIWAYEN MATA. She continued her studies with Marie Basse (Senegal), former dancer with Senegalese Ballet, founder and artistic director of Maimuna Keita West African Dance Company; Assane Konte (Senegal), former dancer with Ballet Africaine de Diebel Guee, founder and artistic director of KanKouran West African Dance Company; Youssouf Koumbassa (Guinea), former principle dancer of Ballet Djoliba; Djian Tie (Ivory Coast), former dancer with the National Ballet of the Ivory Coast; and a dancer in Ibrahima Cisse’s African Dance Company (Senegal).
Some highlights of the career of Omelika include performing at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA; teaching choreography at Trollwood Performing Arts School in North Dakota; and teaching music and choreography in Stuttgart, Germany; Hastings, England; and Bermuda.
Omelika is an Instructor of African dance forms at Spelman College and directs Ashietu, the Sisters Chapel African Dance and Drum Ministry at Spelman. In order to expand awareness and appreciation for African dance and music, she is an instructor and workshop leader and lecturer of music and dance at many high schools throughout the city of Atlanta, DeKalb County, Fulton County, and Clayton County. She has taught a master class for the Alabama Arts Council and at various private schools including Mt. Vernon Baptist Academy in Atlanta and First Steps School in Decatur, GA.
Giwayen Mata and Omelika have performed in several national music and dance productions including Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, National Black Arts Festival, WOFABE, National Women’s Music Festival, and DanceAfrica Festivals in Atlanta, Denver, New York, Dallas and Chicago. She has been a consultant for the Atlanta Public Schools Gifted and Talented Program and the National Black Arts Festival.
She performed as the percussionist in the popular Suzi Bass Award-winning theater performance of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf under the direction of Jasmine Guy. Her commercial and television credits include being a featured guest on several cable television programs and being a percussionist for an American Cancer Society Anti-Smoking Campaign with Mike E. She appeared as one of the African dance teachers for women on the Real Housewives of Atlanta series on Bravo Television. Omelika has played with vocalists including Dionne Farris, Goapele, Laurnea, Navasha Daya, Wunmi, Doria Roberts, Donnie, and Rahbi.
NBC Television’s America’s Got Talent recognized the talents of Omelika and GIWAYEN MATA when they were selected as a first round winner in the third season. In addition to other awards that she has received with GIWAYEN MATA, Omelika is the recipient of awards from Women of Multi-Ethnicity and Nationality and USA Magazine; Fulbright Scholarship for studies in Ghana, West Africa, as well as the Ruby Gem Drama and Dance Student Departmental Award at Spelman College.
To her credit, Omelika is listed in Who’s Who in Black Atlanta. Omelika is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. East Point/College Park Chapter, the Spelman College Alumnae Association, and Phi Beta Delta International Honor Society at Spelman College. She recently received the Atlanta African Dance and Drum Community Award 2015 for Favorite Director in recognition of her contributions; and she also received the Kwatakye Award from RIZE Community Church in recognition of 22 years of outstanding service.
There is a heritage that Omelika is leaving to carry on her legacy in her family through her daughter, Zanaida Wakatama and her granddaughters, Saajidah Wakatama (two years old) and Sahrayaa Ashanti (the youngest). Her daughter, Zanaida often performs with GIWAYEN MATA, and Saajidah takes the stage whenever she has a chance to show off. They make quite an impressive sight and a tremendous sound on the African drums. Omelika says, “My younger granddaughter, Sahrayaa, just started standing and she is already bouncing and nodding her head to the rhythms.”
Avis Delana Bynum changed her name to Omelika Kuumba in 1983 because she had a yearning for her motherland and a petition on her heart to further express her African roots. At a tender age, she was beginning to realize her purpose in life. What an insight! Some of us search our whole lives and never discover our purpose. Her resolve was to bring the message of Africa and African culture to the masses though dance. And she did it. She never lost her focus. She has fulfilled her purpose. She leaves her legacy. Her children understand their heritage. Bless you Giwayen Mata. You have made history.