Chief Ayanda Clarke (aka Chief Ayanda) is an African American master percussionist, GRAMMY® Award-winning musician, arts educator, and lecturer. A gifted performer since childhood, Clarke has traveled across several continents performing with some of the world’s most revered percussionists. He continues to perform and lecture frequently on African culture and music. Most recently, this Brooklyn-born native New Yorker was a featured artist and percussionist on The Offense of the Drum by Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. The recording won a GRAMMY® Award in 2014 for Best Latin Jazz Album.
Clarke’s select list of concert, television, and consulting credits include Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration at Madison Square Garden,The Late Show with David Letterman, Good Morning America, America’s Got Talent, the U.S. Open, and Sesame Street. He has also recorded and licensed music that has been featured on FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance.
A well-rounded percussionist, Clarke has performed with (or has been featured on albums with) world-class musicians and pioneers in African American, African, and world music. A few of them include George Clinton, Erykah Badu, M’bemba Bangoura, Amma McKen, and Somi.
Clarke began performing professionally at five when he played at the renowned Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) with the International African-American Ballet. Since then, he has toured throughout the United States, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Canada, and Europe. He learned first from his father, the legendary jazz musician Neil Clarke. He then learned from his other mentors and trainers: M’bemba Bangoura, Abraham K. Adzenyah, the late Orlando “Puntilla” Rios, Souleymane Diop, and other luminaries.
Clarke’s talents have led him to play for, or perform and record with the late Chief Bey, Orlando Rios, Randy Weston, Batoto Yetu, The Amistad Project, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Forces of Nature, Asase Yaa African American Dance Theater, pop artist Jewel, and many others.
With extensive research of the percussive arts—including a wide variety of drums and bells, the balafon, and the shekere—Clarke’s expertise spans several musical traditions of Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Angola, Cuba, Brazil, the Caribbean, and of African Americans.
After more than thirty years of study, immersion, deep learning, and training, Clarke has emerged as one of the most highly regarded percussionists of his generation, unique in his ability to cross every musical genre.