Dr. Sonja D. Branch, D.Mus.A., holds degrees in music performance from Ithaca College and Arizona State University. She directs West African percussion ensembles at Glendale and Scottsdale Community Colleges, and at Pinnacle Presbyterian Church. An active freelance musician, Dr. Branch also appears regularly with several ensembles, including the MusicaNova Orchestra, Kawambe Omowale African Drum & Dance Theater, Crossing 32nd St. Contemporary Music Ensemble, the Sonoran Marimba Band, and the funk band, Dr. Delicious. She is an accompanist for dance classes at both Arizona State University and Grand Canyon University, and also repairs and re-heads drums in her home shop. Along with her percussion activities, Dr. Branch plays guitarrón with Mariachi Luz del Sur, and the all-female Mariachi Rubor.
Music has taken Dr. Branch to many places across the United States and abroad—among them, Macedonia, Mexico, China, and West Africa. Dr. Branch was introduced to sabar and djembe drumming in 1998 on a two-week excursion to Senegal organized by the late ASU professor,
percussionist and ethnomusicologist, Dr. Mark E. Sunkett. That single trip led to many years of study and collaboration with Dr. Sunkett, as well as several more adventures in Senegal and The Gambia as his research assistant. In 2014, after serving for more than a dozen years as Associate Director of the ASU African Drum Ensemble, Dr. Branch established Ensemble Ndeye Soxna (ENdS), an independent performance group dedicated to keeping Senegalese sabar drumming alive in Phoenix. They are very fortunate to continue learning under the expert guidance of Dethie Sarr “Pape” Diouf, Dr. Sunkett’s main research collaborator in Senegal for over 20 years. Now based in Los Angeles, Mr. Diouf visits Phoenix for a week twice each year to teach and perform with his musical “grandchildren”, thereby extending Phoenix’s sabar legacy into its fourth decade.