leaf blog
Meet our Current LSS Resident Teaching Artist Team!

LEAF has the opportunity to impact youth beyond the festival experience. Support from LEAF artists and festival-goers allows LEAF to provide resources where art and culture are neede in schools and communities. We are thankful for our talented artists. These classes meet 1 - 2 times weekly throughout the school year!

                                     Lisa Zahiya
- Hip Hop Dance

LSSBurtonLisaBhangraGirlsLisa owns her own dance studio in downtown Asheville, Studio Zahiya, which offers classes in styles ranging from belly dancing to bhangra to hip-hop. Lisa has been working with kids in LEAF Schools & Streets programs since 2008 – the same year she won a competition to earn the title of “Tribal Fusion Bellydancer of the Universe.”

Lisa is dedicated to supporting LEAF's outreach programs. In 2012, Lisa led LEAF’s annual Benefit of Culture fundraiser. The event raises money for both LEAF Schools & Streets and LEAF International. In Decemeber 2012, Lisa hosted a “Winter World Dance Spectacular” through Studio Zahiya, with proceeds benefitting LEAF Schools & Streets.

“I want them to feel the awesomeness of standing on stage and being recognized for their work,” she says. “I want them to have moments of pure joy in their day when they are dancing." To learn more about Lisa, please see her website www.lisazahiya.com.

Imhotep - New Orleans Drum Line  

  • NCAC LogoColorDelta House Life Development of Asheville, Inc. ~  Co-sponsored by Delta House and a Grassroots Arts Program Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Also supported by the Benefit of Culture.
  • Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center ~ Supported by the Grassroots Program Grant.

LSSImhotepGrantYouthPerformJNImhotep is a Mardi Gras Indian from New Orleans, LA, who relocated to Asheville. He is passionate about carrying on the musical traditions of his New Orleans culture. Imhotep teaches song and drumming to local youth. He is also a drummer in a number of bands, including the "Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk" band, Sirius B., and Rising Appalachia. When Imhotep is not teaching, rehearsing or performing he works for Alternative Roots, a group that provides support to artists by helping them find venues. He also works for Red Zebra, a company that creates drumming exercises for corporate team building. Imhotep has been a resident teaching artist for LEAF Schools & Streets since 2005.

Christine Garvin - Salsa Dance


Christine Garvin is a dance teacher and performer based in Asheville, NC. She teaches Hip-Hop, Bhangra/Bollywood, and Jazzy Showgirl and directs the troupe Les Femmes Mystique. Along with being a LEAF Schools and Streets resident artist and TAPAS artist, she also teaches at Asheville Catholic School and ArtSpace, and volunteers with the dance team at the Swannanoa Women's Correctional Facility. When she's not dancing, she's educating and writing about holistic health and body image, or taking naps. Find out more at christinegarvin.com.

Jonathan Santos - Poetry/Spoken Word

  • Asheville Middle School - In Real Life after-school program (IRL) ~ Supported by the French Broad Food Co-op.

LSSKidsPerformwithSantosSmilesSinger/songwriter, lyricist and guitarist, Jonathan Santos is rooted in the force of positive change! Known on stage as ‘Santos’, his soulful and poetic lyrics in conjunction with his acoustic melodies make for an introspective, soothing and soul-penetrating musical style.  Jonathan has a Bachelor’s of Arts from NC A&T State University and has been teaching guitar and singing for over 12 years.  He is passionate about teaching poetic/spoken word and songwriting to his students in afterschool programs. He works as a vocalist with the Grammy Award winning children’s hip hop artist Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, and has released three albums of his own. Santos currently resides in Asheville, NC. You can check out his music, videos, and other information at www.reverbnation.com/jonathansantos

Gary Bradley - Jazz

  • LEAF Delta Jazz Band at Delta House Life Development of Asheville ~ supported by a grant from the John W. and Anna H. Hanes Foundation.

LSSDeltaHouse3Gary hails from the New England area where he began his music education and saxophone studies. He studied at Housatonic College and played R&B, top 40 and jazz in the New England area. Gary continued his education at LACC and in private study in Los Angeles. He has played with Ray Charles, Dolly Parton and James Ingram. He has also done some film and TV recording, including associations with Pepsi, Levi Corp., Nike Corp., and George Foreman. Gary has also taught at the Asheville Music School since 1999. He has been a resident teaching artist with LEAF Schools & Streets since January 2011.

Katie Oaks - Jazz

  • LEAF  Delta Jazz Band at Delta House Life Development of Asheville ~ supported by a grant from the John W. and Anna H. Hanes Foundation.

LSSKatieOaksKatie has been playing various instruments and studying music for over 20 years.  She has a degree in music education and has a degree in music performance (specializing in the pipe organ), from Middle Tennessee State University. Katie’s music teaching experiences include private lessons on various instruments, preschool and early childhood music, general music grades kindergarten through high school, instrumental and vocal ensembles at the middle and high school levels, and directing school musicals! As she is an avid jazz music collector and musician, she is thrilled to join Mr. Bradley with the Delta House Jazz Band and looks forward to performing at LEAF!


 Adama Dembele - African Drumming

  • Owen and Reynolds Middle Schools ~ supported by 21st Century Grant | YMCA program
LSSMLKDayYWCA2012AdamaandBoyAdama Dembele is a master djembefola (djembe player) from the Ivory Coast, West Africa. Born into a family of musicians, he has toured several continents with various major acts such as Oumou Sangare, Salif Keita, Affou keita, Sogona Djata and many others. Adama has played in several drum and dance companies such as Yelemba d'abidjan, Ensemble Koteba, Congoba and many more. In 2002, in collaboration with Siriki Sanogo, Adama founded Djembesco CI Drum and Dance Ensemble. "Djembeso" in the West African dialect Bambara means "the house of djembe." Adama chose that name because his family has been playing the djembe for 33 generations and his native home was known as the house where the djembe is played. In 2005, Adama moved to the U.S. to perform and teach the sacred art of West African drumming. Since then he has played in major cities all over the United States. Currently, Adama resides in Asheville, NC, where he frequently performs and teaches authentic rhythms from Ivory Coast, Mali, and Guinea, West Africa. To learn more about Adama, please see his website: http://www.adamadembele.com/Home.html
Nina Rufini - Circus Arts
  • Asheville Middle School - In Real Life after-school program (IRL) ~ supported by the French Broad Food Co-op.

    LSSNinaRuffiniToyBoatTrip7CropWebNina Ruffini is a co-founder of the Toy Boat Community Art Space located in Biltmore Village.  She is a co-organizer of the Runaway Circus and the Loose Cabooses performance troupe and Annual Community Show.  She is a visual artist, musician, actress, circus arts performer and teacher.  She has been a Teaching Artist with LEAF in Schools and Streets for 3 years of which she's taught Puppetry, Juggling, Acrobatics, Improv/Comedy and Magic.  At LEAF you can find her at the Toy Boat Circus Tent facilitating workshops in Improv/Comedy or performing with her students.

               Erinn Huntley - Theatre Arts
  • Asheville Middle School - In Real Life (IRL) after-school program ~ supported by the French Broad Food Co-Op.

    erinnErinn Huntley is the Executive Artistic Director and founder of Anam Cara Theatre Company, with the mission of creating socially progressive theatre in her community. In addition to her work with Anam Cara and LEAF Schools & Streets, Erinn is a Teaching Artist for UNCA’s Super Saturday Program and TAPAS (Teaching Artists Presenting in Asheville Schools). Before moving to Asheville, she attended graduate school for theatre at the University of Minnesota and worked in the Twin Cities for several years as a freelance designer, scenic artist, and instructor. Huntley is a 2013 recipient of an Asheville Area Arts Council Regional Artist Project Grant, and has been a resident teaching artist for LEAF Schools & Streets since 2008.


Nadirah Rahman - African Dance

  • YMI Cultural Center  ~ supported by the In Memory of Jane Pickering Fund.

    LSSRTANadirahNadirah Rahman is currently the full time Dance Educator at Erwin High School in Asheville, NC and the Artistic Director of La’Ney West African Dance & Percussion. She has a BS Degree in Dance Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and holds a Professional Teaching License for Dance K-12. She has danced professionally with several companies including internationally renowned Chuck Davis & the African American Dance Ensemble. Nadirah was the recipient of the Regional Artist Professional Development Grant in both 2006 and 2012, and traveled to Guinea, West Africa to study under Master dancers Marie Bangoura and Matalie Beavogui. As part of the grant in 2012, she trained and performed Internationally with Ballet Fareta de Guinea. Nadirah has also traveled to and studied the traditional dances of Puerto Rico, Senegal, and Anguilla, West Indies. In 2010, Nadirah relocated to Asheville and formed La’Ney West African Dance & Percussion, which offers community classes and performances. “La’Ney” means coming together in harmony in the beautiful SouSou language of Guinea. La’Ney’s mission is the preservation and sharing of the traditional dances and rhythms of West Africa.

Anastasia Yarbrough - Singing/Choir

LSSAnastasiaHeadshotWebAnastasia is a musician and facilitator based in Asheville, NC. Originally from Memphis, TN, she has been singing and playing the viola since she was 12 years old, greatly influenced by the delta blues and STAX.  As a violist, she has served as principal All-West TN Orchestra, University of Vermont Symphony Orchestra, and the United States Scholar-Athlete Games Symphony Orchestra.  In 2003, she was awarded a grant from the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. She has also performed with the Germantown Symphony, Memphis Symphony Orchestra, and the Rhode Island Philharmonic.  She currently freelances as a musician often playing classical chamber and orchestral music. As a solo artist, she is branching out into jazz and regularly collaborates with fellow teaching artists Imhotep and Jonathan Santos. When she's not busy being a musician, she's a facilitator working to build whole community through her collaborative entity Inner Activism Services. Anastasia performs at weddings, events, and chamber concerts as well as appears regularly in downtown Asheville. We are so excited for Anastasia - she will be continuing her studies in viola performance and jazz studies at Appalachian State University in the fall 2014. To learn more, check out her website: http://www.anastasiayarbrough.com

Otto Vazquez - Hip-Hop Dance

  • Enka Middle School ~ supported by 21st Century Grant | YMCA program

LSSOttoHeadshotOtto (Aquaboogy Vazquez) is an internationally acclaimed Broadway dancer, instructor, choreographer & street dancer. Aquaboogy (who honed his craft in Miami & New York) has stellar credits: Pitt Bull, Ne-Yo, Kanye West, i-Luminate from America's Got Talent, Diesel NYC, Dr. Pepper's 2013 "One in a Billion" Nat'l Commercial, toured the world with the Broadway Series show, "Break, The Urban Funk Spectacular", Cirque Du Soliel, Donald Trump, Run DMC, VH1, MTV, The Heat, The Knicks etc. Aside from an impressive dancing career, Otto enjoys teaching the trade to others, and leads workshops on dance with his wife, Jessica, around the nation - teaching about the history and culture behind hip-hop dance.



Jessica Vazquez - Hip-Hop Dance

  • Enka Middle School ~ supported by 21st Century Grant | YMCA program

LSSJessicaHeadshotJessica (Goldie Lox) Vazquez has been dancing her entire life. Being that her family in Columbus Ohio owned a popular dance studio, she grew up learning Jazz, Tap, Ballet and Modern. Later in life, she found a love for Hip Hop & shortly after meeting her husband (an acclaimed veteran in Hip Hop dance) she dedicated her life to the study of Hip Hop Freestyle, Locking, Waacking & Popping (all original Hip Hop/Funk Street Dances). She now travels with Nu Paradigm as an elite competitor & instructor whose teachings extends from Aquaboogy (her husband), Kid Dynamo from Aloha Funk in Hawaii & Fluky Luke of Soul Train / Original Lockers. Blessed with the knowledge to teach, she dedicates her time reaching out in workshops and clinics around the states & the world.



In memory of:

Ben GradisonLSSBenGradisonforweb

Ben Gradison, founder and director of D-Street Studios, was a skilled producer, musician, and teacher who connected cultures and built communities through music both locally and globally. Before passing away in 2012, Ben established Recording Arts studios for young adults in Kenya, Tanzania, Columbia, and the Caribbean as well as the One Mic Studio at the William Randolph School in Asheville, NC. Ben also worked as a substitute teacher in all grades and subjects and later became a teaching assistant in a K-12 classroom. He studied political science and wanted to “create things that are positive, powerful and authentic" in his work with young people. Ben taught Audio Production as a LEAF in Schools & Streets Resident Teaching Artist from 2011 until he died in 2012.



Kenya Webster
Kenya, also known as Goundo Diabate was an educator, musician, teacher, performer, and lecturer. Before passing away in 2012, Kenya served as the director for the Shiloh Community Center and was the previous Future Vision Director for the YWCA of Asheville’s Teen Programs. Kenya coordinated a team providing opportunities for all voices to be heard, especially the voices of the arts. Kenya’s approach was often seen as holistic, therapeutic, and inclusive. Kenya’s degree is in Music from Brevard College and she incorporated her love for music and the arts into every aspect of her life. Kenya was very passionate about African drumming and the collaboration of international arts. Kenya was a resident teaching artist for LEAF in Schools & Streets from 2008 until she died in 2012.



LSSKuumbaClapsKuumba Zuwena - African Drumming

Kuumba Zuwena is a New Folk Artist/Performing Artist/Singer who has appeared in operas, plays, and musicals. Kuumba played many lead roles as a part of the Black Theater Touring Company.  She is the recipient of an Illustrator Award for Atlanta’s Women Shelter Publication and a Free Press Poetry Award. Kuumba is an intuitive counselor with more than 20 years of experience; a visual artist whose work can be found on posters and greeting cards; and a professional jazz and folk singer who performs at festivals, clubs and fundraising events. She performed in Jubilee’s World Beat Band from 2001 to 2006 and has played in venues all over Asheville as a member of a trio.

LEAF Schools & Streets
introduces the
Ben Gradison Memorial Fund
In honor of
Ben Gradison
LEAF Schools & Streets Teaching Artist
Mission: The Ben Gradison Memorial Fund was created to carry on Ben's mission of connecting cultures and building community through recording studios both locally and globally. With these funds, we hope to continue the inspirational model of D-Street Studios that Ben created.
Programming: Locally, we have been able to continue to support the 1 mic program at William Randolph School through Spring 2013. In October 2013, after a relocation of the school, we are resuming programming with one of our inspiring teaching artists, Jonathan Santos, and the William Randolph youth that Ben loved so much.
LEAF Schools & Streets is also working with the City of Asheville in Ben’s honor, to set up a new 1 mic recording studio in the Burton Street Community Center.

Internationally, the Ben Gradison Memorial Fund has been an integral support for setting up 1 mic studios in Haiti and Costa Rica, in conjunction with LEAF International. With our international partners, we are exploring supporting the TWAAYF Children’s Center in Kenya. We are in the process of getting updated information from his projects in Colombia and the Caribbean to determine their current status and needs.

To help us in carrying on Ben's dreams and deciation, please make donations to:
LEAF Schools & Streets
c/o Ben Gradison Memorial Fund
377 Lake Eden Rd.
Black Mountain, NC 28711

LEAF Schools & Streets
introduces the
Kenya J. Webster Fund
In honor of
Kenya J. Webster
LEAF Schools & Streets Teaching Artist
Mission: LEAF Schools & Streets has established the Kenya J. Webster Fund to continue Kenya's mission of teaching West African Traditions through drumming, songs, stories, cuisine and clothing to youth in the Shiloh community, at the YWCA and beyond. The fund will also create opportunities for aspiring teaching artists to study West African Traditions in Kenya's beloved country of Mali.

KenyaPic edited
“I just feel like when you drum you’re on top of the world and you can do anything…it’s just another form of expression – one that defies any type of language and it raises the standards. It’s one of those things that anybody can do, and when you feel successful, when you feel unified… it’s like you can do anything.”
-Kenya J. Webster
Make donations to:
LEAF Schools & Streets
c/o The Kenya J. Webster Fund
377 Lake Eden Rd.
Black Mountain, NC 28711

Teaching Artist Highlight

Nadirah Rahman
YMI Cultural Center
Fall 2013

In the heart of the city of Asheville, LEAF Teaching Artist Nadirah Rahman teaches an African Dance Class at the YMI Center. With colorfully painted walls and live drummers, the atmosphere is perfect for a fun evening of stress relieving dance. This class is inter-generational; all ages are welcome and everyone is encouraged to join in on this inspiring hour of self expression and movement.

Many children and adults choose to wear traditional colorful African dance skirts called Lapas. These vibrant colored skirts add flair while dancing and are eye-catching. 11 year old, Adero said wearing a Lapa “makes movement fun,” swaying her skirt around to demonstrate the fluidity of it.

At this class, everyone is united in dance. 31 year old Ginger says that while everyone is moving at once, “the live drumming resonates with [her],” making the dance powerful.  15 year old Nyla said she enjoys the class as she has “made new friends” and feels “a strong sense of community” as a participant.  With smiles on their faces, the class moves together and creates beautiful art through African dance.
Ginger likes learning the dance and exclaims that Nadirah is “a wonderful spirit and an inspiring dancer” to learn from. The group of students had the chance to show their talents in performing in the LSS Dance Showcase at October 2013 LEAF!
Through this class, LEAF Schools & Streets is connecting CULTURES and creating COMMUNITY through music and arts!
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