Women of the Calabash is Madeleine Yayodele Nelson - founder and artistic director, composer, arranger, vocalist, percussionist, teacher, and instrument maker; Marsha Perry Starkes -- vocalist, percussionist, and teacher; and Mayra Casales -- vocalist and percussionist. Together, this trio gives birth to new music idioms, resulting from the assimilation of their cultural heritage and contemporary life as African-American women in the United States.
Formed in 1978, Women of the Calabash have evolved into an astounding, dramatic, and phenomenally charged, entertaining ensemble. Their use of different varieties of percussion instruments -- all made from natural materials such as calabash (a type of dried gourd), bamboo, and woods -- explodes the air with harmonious percussive beauty. Ms. Nelson handcrafts many of the instruments.
The group's free-flowing performance is interwoven with informal dialogue highlighting the history and playing techniques of the various instruments used. Their performances have brought audiences to their feet at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall, Town Hall, and The Walker Art Center. They've been heard on national radio and television, and have played to standing room only crowds across four continents. In support of liberation struggles and environmental concerns, they have performed for the presidents of West Africa and Haiti.
Over the years, Women of the Calabash have shared the stage with many great performers, including Phillip Glass, Ashford & Simpson, The Temptations, and Max Roach, to name a few.
Cited as "Musicians Extraordinaire" by the National Council for Culture and Art, Women of the Calabash received the Council's prestigious Monarch Merit Award in 1987. HBO featured Women of the Calabash in a Black History Month profile in 1997. And their 16-minute video, "Women of the Calabash," was awarded a blue ribbon for Best Music Video of 1988 by the American Film Festival. In addition, they've won a CINE 1994 Golden Eagle Award for composer and performer in the film, "The Visit." Ms. Yayodele was also a featured percussionist on Paul Simon's multi-platinum Rhythm of the Saints album.