BY CARMEN SIERING
Djo Bi Irie Simon proves the point that you never know who is going to land in Bloomington and call it home. Popularly known as Dr. Djo Bi, he is an Ivory Coast native and world-traveled master drummer. He and his wife, Harmony Harris, 37, have been teaching West African drumming and dance since moving here in 2007.
Dr. Djo Bi, 45, says he learned the traditional drumming of his Gouro ethnic group at the age of five, then learned the drumming not only of all 65 ethnic groups in Ivory Coast but also those of other West African nations. Being something of a child prodigy gave him the opportunity to join different troupes and travel widely.
After spending the early 1990s in France, teaching children West African drumming in a public-education program, Dr. Djo Bi moved to England to work on a government-funded project bringing the sunny sounds of West Africa to the gray streets of London. His reputation grew in Europe, and his peers christened him “the doctor” of drumming.
It was on this wave of success that Dr. Djo Bi came to the United States in 1997. “It was like starting over,” he says. “Nobody knew me here.”
He played where he could, such as in the New York City subway system, where he connected with Mecca Bodega, a group he would stay with for three years. In 2005 the group released Skin, a well-received CD. “When I met them, my life started coming back,” he says. “The group, too, became stronger. The audience saw that and responded to it.”
Dr. Djo Bi met Harris at a workshop in New Mexico. She was living in Colorado but had grown up in Indiana and still had family in the state. When they married in November 2007, the couple decided to move to Bloomington to set up shop.
Dr. Djo Bi plays many local festivals and events. A new CD of original compositions rooted in traditional West African drumming, tentatively titled Topalon, will be released in the near future. He and Harris had their first child, Djo Lou Kambo Harris, in October. While Harris is taking a break from teaching dance classes, Dr. Djo Bi still holds drumming lessons at The Lodge at 101 E. 6th St. For a schedule of classes and performances, visit doctor-djobi.com.