African Music Encyclopedia




Kaikpai (E. Kaikpai Paasewe) is a drummer, dancer, choreographer, and storyteller of the Vai ethnic group which migrated from the Mali empire into coastal region of West Africa now called Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Vai also have one of first original written languages of Africa. His family lived in Jenne Wonde of Grand Cape Mount County in Liberia, West Africa. He used to travel with his uncles who were drummers that played at village festivals and other ceremonial occasion. His name Kiakpai means 'skinny man'. At age seven, he graduated from the Poro (Men's secret society). Ever since, he has held strong to his traditional culture.

Kaikpai was a street dancer in the streets of Monrovia for two years until recruited by the director of the National Dance Troupe of Liberia. While with the National Dance Troupe, he was recruited by the Jungle Dance Troupe, which later changed its name to the Liberian Cultural Ambassadors in 1977. The Cultural Ambassadors were invited to the United States where Kaikpai performed at Swain Auditorium in California, Disney World and various schools and universities in Los Angeles. In downtown Los Angeles, he was awarded a certificate by former mayor Tom Bradley. After returning home, Kaikpai was asked to return to the National Troupe. Now he was performing with both leading dance companies in Liberia. In 1983 he was appointed to travel to Switzerland to represent Africa at the Gurden Festival at Bern. Because of his style of drumming he was asked to travel to Germany and Australia were he had the opportunity to promote Liberian culture. After returning to Liberia, Kaikpai was appointed director of Bong County Dance Troupe by the National Bureau of Culture and Tourism.

Kaikpai and and his dancing partner, Cleo, are truly ambassadors of Liberian culture, a couple that believes in their tradition. Mastering not only dances and rhythms of the Vai and Bassa but also the various ethnic groups of Liberia as well as Guinea, Sierre Leone and Cote 'dIvoire. They both are well known talented professional artists of their homeland and well respected in drum and dance community here the United States. They have conducted workshops throughout the United States. Some of their clients include the Muntu Dance Company of Chicago, Alayo, and workshops throughout Ohio, at Antia College in Yellow Springs, Arts Department of Ohio State University and Indianapolis. Currently Kaikpai is in the studio, working on his first album entitled: Kaikpai - The Legend.

He can be contacted at

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