Ofunshi Oba Koso
Ofunshi Oba Koso is a traditional healer and spiritual diviner known as a Babalawo from the Yoruba religious tradition. Trained from an early age by both Lucumi and Traditional Yoruba masters, Ofunshi brings a unique perspective of African spirituality through his vast knowledge of Afro-Cuban syncretic religious practices such as Santeria (Lucumi) and Palo Monte, as well as Ifá as it is practiced in West Africa today. His wisdom and traditional knowledge are widely respected, and his counsel has been sought not only in the religious realm, but also in social and political arenas. In addition to his work as spiritual guide to many, he is also actively involved in global movements to improve the lives and conditions of Africans and African descendants. Currently, Ofunshi serves as Director of Outreach for Project Congo Global Voice, a year-long campaign to build a solidarity network to address the ongoing crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other resource-exploited regions. His past activities include serving as a member of the International Coordinating Committee and panelist for the First World Summit of Afro-Descendants held in Honduras (August 2011), presenting a paper on spirituality and tradition at the International Meeting of Writers and Poets of African, Indigenous, and Sino Descent in Costa Rica (October 2011), and serving as delegate to the United Nations for the General Assembly high level meeting on the 10th Anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (September 2011). Baba Ofunshi holds a degree in Cultural Analysis and Promotion from the University of Havana, where he also earned undergraduate certificates in Public Relations and Marketing, and a graduate level certificate in Social Anthropology and Religious Studies.
Dr. August Nimtz
August H. Nimtz, Professor of Political Science and African American and African Studies and Distinguished Teaching Professor, University of Minnesota, 1327 Social Sciences Building, 267 19th Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55455. Author of Lenin’s Electoral Strategy
Rene Thompson has been a professional Latin dancer for 27 years, 20 of those years as an instructor and choreographer. He began his career in Cuba in 1973 with a small role as an actor in the popular theatre company, “4 de Abril” under the direction of Tito Junco. Many other amateur theatres and dance companies helped him develop his artistic vocation. In the early 1980’s talent hunters discovered Rene’s versatility and soon he became a great Afro-Cuban dancer, performing with several well-known choreographers, directors, and dance companies, further developing hip unique style.
1986 brought him into the work f of the night shows at the most prestigious clubs in Cuba such as Tropicana. His energetic and charming dance got the attention of many famous choreographers and directors from all over the worlds. Rene has performed traditional Afro-Cuban and popular Latin dance all over the world and in many music videos and movies with popular US and international artists including Will Smith, John Leguizamo, Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.
Born and trained in Cuba, Rene brings a wealth of knowledge of music and dance and culture to his audiences. He teaches Cuban salsa, cha cha cha, rumba, mambo, and other traditional Cuban rhythms and always includes the “heart” of the Cuban style that has its foundations in Africa and Spain, as well as his homeland of Cuba. Rene has been honored for his informative and insightful talks and delightful demonstrations about the rich history of his Afro-Cuban roots by: the Federal Executive Board, USDA, Harrington Foundation, and Minneapolis Community College.
Dr. Melisa Rivière
Minnesota Yoruba Cuba Association; Executive Secretary
Anthropologist Melisa Rivière received her doctorate degree as a MacArthur fellow from the University of Minnesota in 2010. Her research has focused on the globalization of hip-hop, civil rights, and popular youth culture movements in Cuba and Puerto Rico. She has published portions of her research in academic journals and popular culture magazines as well as received various awards for her multimedia ethnographic works. Currently she is developing new research on music censorship and the innovation mechanisms of underground rap recording studios throughout Latin America. Her teaching approach aims to develop critical thinkers that can contribute to their respective academic and greater communities, while also stimulating student’s creative trade skills; thus motivating the learner’s multiple intelligences. Dr. Rivière has served as academic director for SIT Study Abroad and taught as adjunct faculty at Hamline University, at present she is a lecturer in the Institute for Global Studies at the University of Minnesota.