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From Denver to Togo: Help build a cultural center in West Africa

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Koffi Toudji is a welcome,well-known face around Denver: He's the founder of a traditional West African drum-and-dance ensemble, leader of Koffi Togo Vibe Band and a teacher and performer at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble. But Toudji also arranges summer tours from the U.S. to his native Kpalimé in Togo, West Africa, and this Friday, June 7, he will be raising money to give back to his hometown.

Last year Toudji bought a plot of land in Togo, where he hopes to build a cultural center there in the next few years. "The cultural center came about because growing up there, I experienced a different life -- we had a lot of music and dancing going on," he explains. "But every time I take students back to my home, I'm feeling a lot of change. I feel like there's less music and less dancing every time I go. The little town I grew up in is becoming a city, and the old traditions are getting lost. "

See also: - Koffi Toudji uses drums, dance and a little humor to benefit the Koffi Togo band - How Cleo Parker Robinson conquered her fear of skiing and other confessions - Montbello high school drumline is headed to Takayama, Denver's sister city in Japan

But by building a center in West Africa, Toudji thinks he can bring the history of movement and music that he brought to the U.S. full circle -- taking it back to his hometown. "For me, that is what I do here -- I came to the United States to teach tradition and teach the culture. Seeing that being lost in Togo, I thought, I have to do something about it," says Toudji.

A place for dance, music and cultural education, the Koffi Togo Cultural Center will also serve as a hub for the exchange program that Toudji already organizes each summer, which takes American students to Togo to learn the rhythms and musical styles of the region.

Though he purchased the land for the center on a trip last year and his organization that will build it has already applied for non-profit status, Toudji still needs a considerable amount of money to realize his dream. "We're actually thinking about buying more land, because we want a place for a playground and an auditorium and things like that. Right now, we're just in the process of raising the money for building. We're thinking it will take a couple of years to do that. Unless someone wants to give us a million dollars," Toudji says, and laughs. "Then we could get everything done."

In support of the future Koffi Togo Cultural Center, the Koffi Togo Vibe Band will offer a concert and musical play, What Goes Around Comes Around, this Friday, June 7, at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre. The all-ages, family-friendly event will include a silent auction, along with African cuisine by the African Bar and Grill and African clothing by Rosma Designs for sale throughout the evening. Advance tickets are $5 for kids, $10 for adults. Prices go up $2 at the door, which opens at 7 p.m. For more information on the fundraiser and the Koffi Togo Cultural Center, visit Toudji's website.

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