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Jenny Pacillo

Crocodile River Music co-founders Zach Combs and Issa Coulibaly have a long
history together, beginning with Coulibaly’s first day in the United States from his
home country of Mali. Combs and Coulibaly were working on a construction job
together, “I said to him, ‘Hey, can he drum some or something?’ They’re like, yeah,
he can do a little kind of joking with me,” Combs laughs, “I didn’t know what to
expect but he was really a master drummer.” Coulibaly adds, “It was freezing cold
that day, we were roofing and I told him I think we should do music for a living. So
then that’s how the first idea came and that was 12 years ago.”

A Djembe Master Drummer, Coulibaly is the Musical Director and enjoys spending
his time sharing his talents in workshops, schools and to people of all ages and
skill levels. “My favorite is when I see when I put a smile on the face of a child at
school,” Coulibaly smiles, “Everytime the kids run and give me a hug. (When the
kids say) ‘that was the best day of the year. That’s the best thing I ever did.’ That
makes me happy.”

Crocodile River Music, which was awarded nonprofit status in December 2022, now
has over ten paid employees who travel throughout Central Massachusetts sharing
the gift of African art, music and dance. From senior centers to public schools, the
Crocodile River Music team provides hands-on education for everyone. “Those
settings benefit from working with people like Issa, Antoinette, Thierno, Yacouba,
Abou we have this team that represents I think, six or seven different countries of
the continent of Africa plus several people like me who represent sections of the
continent of North America,” Combs says.

WICN 90.5FM just launched an African music radio show collaboration with Crocodile
River on Saturday nights from 9pm to 11pm called Crocodile River Radio:
Heart of Africa. “It’s not like playing our songs,” Combs explains, “It’s playing African
music from all over whether it’s from Egypt or South Africa or Morocco or
Central African Republic or anything like that.” The show will feature a monthly
guest DJ from African Community Education (ACE). “So they will want them to
come with 10 of their own recommendations. This is what we like, the young people.
But their pre job will be to go to the elders in their community and get recommendations of what did they like when they were young? So that we’re promoting
intergenerational connections and then we’re giving a voice to folks in Worcester,
that this radio station WICN is really a home for them too and there’s not only
room for them, but there’s like intentional room for them. We’re making space on
purpose,” Combs tells me.

Coulibaly and Combs have a calm, cheerful energy as they share stories about the
Crocodile River musicians and experiences they’ve had with students throughout
the years. Their commitment to supporting African artists and sharing their culture
in an accessible way is more than performing for audiences. Combs explains,
“We do it all but a big part of our service in our day to day work is working directly
hands on in a setting where students can learn directly from Issa and Antoinette
and the rest of our team, whether they’re learning to drum, they’re learning the
dance moves, they’re doing science projects.”

Learn more and stay connected with Crocodile River Music at www.crocodilerivermusic.