Drum Artz Canada

Drum Artz Canada (DAC) uses Samba music and arts education to empower youth and build community.

Our Impact Why We Exist

DAC’s programs, led by professional artists, encourage creative expression through professional music & arts training and development, team building, self-esteem, leadership and meaningful employment for youth.

DAC is committed to:

  • Coordinating activities and programs that foster active participation in community life and are beneficial for the community as a whole.
  • Providing accessible professional arts programming to people of all ages, class, race, ability and gender with special priority on providing access to people from low-income families and under-serviced communities.
  • Collaborating with other organizations that share a similar mission and vision to build bridges between individuals and community through arts-based educational programs.
  • Creating a safe and non-competitive social space that brings together people from all walks of life.

Our Story What We Do

History of Organization

Samba schools were born out of some of the poorest areas in Brazil as a form of resistance against oppression, racism and class discrimination. Today, they continue to use music as an instrument for social change and provide an alternative to violence and crime. DAC was co-founded in 2004 by entrepeneur, Gili Zemer, and renowned Samba Squad musician, Rick Lazar, in keeping with the samba school philosophy. Based out of a 5000 square ft community centre in the Davenport Perth neighbourhood, DAC began the first Samba Kidz program in 2005. It has since grown to include youth and leadership training programs. 

Accolades and Accomplishments

Since inception in 2004, DAC has offered subsidized programs for hundreds of kids and families in underserved communities of Toronto. DAC has also built cooperative partnerships with like-minded community organizations such as Success Beyond Limits, The Boys & Girls Club and Art Heart. These partnerships connect DAC with youth and families, secure programming space, and enhance the artistic activities available to participants.

The Samba Kidz Performing Troupe (made up of kids and youth who have progressed through our programs to a performance-level ability) can be seen at events throughout the GTA. The Samba Kidz have performed at high profile events such as the Mayor’s Arts Awards Lunch, Salsa on St. Clair, Meagan’s Walk Parade, Muhtadi’s International Drumming Festival, the Easter Seals Telethon on CBC TV, the Dundas Square Brazil Day celebrations and We Day. These high-energy performances are fun and inspiring for audiences, and offer our Samba Kidz exposure to different communities in Toronto while developing their sense of civic involvement.

In 2010, DAC was named RBC’s charity of choice and also achieved the Environmental Award of Excellence by Green Toronto Awards for converting its community centre’s leaky tar and gravel roof into a green roof and garden patio. In 2011, Executive Director, Gili Zemer, was given a ‘Cultural Champion’ award by the city of Toronto. Samba Youth Jade Shortte, received an honourable mention in the national competition for the 2013 Urban Leadership Awards for her work with Drum Artz and “her commitment, dedication and leadership in her community, serving as a role model to children and aspiring musicians”.

Our Programs How We Do It

Samba Kidz is a multi-arts summer camp and after-school program that provides young people (ages 7 – 13) with professional training in Samba music, dance, visual arts, stilt walking, theatre and more. The main focus of the program is on process and participation so that everyone is included and guaranteed success. Children receive a foundation in Samba music and arts, as well as develop the skills and attitudes to help them succeed and become good leaders.

As Samba Kidz progress in their musicianship, they move on to join the Samba Kidz Performance Troupe. Through performance opportunities at various events around the city, Samba Kidz are able to build self-confidence as well as develop a broader sense of community.

The Samba Youth Leadership Program develops the skills of youth who have previously participated in our Samba Kidz programs. Run in conjunction with the Samba Kidz programs, this training course is designed to help youth (14 -17 yrs old) learn basic leadership and mentorship skills, improve self-esteem, as well as develop team-building and conflict-resolution skills.

Samba Youth Employment Program

DAC offers meaningful employment opportunities for youth (ages 16+) who have participated in the Samba Youth Leadership program. DAC offers Internships and Youth Staff positions throughout the year that allow youth to develop their job skills and employability. This is particularly significant for youth who come from marginalized communities where opportunities for professional development and meaningful employment are limited.

Training for our Samba Youth Staff focuses on building confidence, health and safety training, group supervision, as well as organizational activity planning skills. All Youth staff are mentored directly by professional musicians, artists and supervisory staff members. As these youth continue to progress, they are encouraged to take on larger responsibilities and ultimately transition into Supervisory Staff positions.

In addition to these programs, DAC also offers drop-in drumming workshops, as well as Samba Drumming workshops for schools and the general public.

Samba Kidz

Founded in 2005, Samba Kidz is a multi-arts outreach program that provides young people aged 7 to 13 with professional training in world music, percussion, visual arts, theatre and performance. The Samba Kidz program is an enriching and non-competitive environment where all participants can excel in music and art while exploring and reflecting on issues and ideas that are important to them. Participants move on to perform at various events and festivals around the city. Through performance opportunities and community involvement, participants are able to see themselves as valuable members of their society who make important, positive contributions to their communities. The Samba Kidz program includes a youth leadership component, which develops the skills of the older members through special projects and responsibilities. The youth leaders participate in curriculum related to critical thinking, communication building, conflict resolution, consensus-based decision-making and reflection of their lived experiences. They are also given the opportunity to lead activities and mentor the younger members. The hands on learning opportunities that DAC offers not only prepare our young leaders with tools to think laterally and creatively, but also to apply their ideas to real life situations. Children and youth experience a wide spectrum of artistic areas, not seen in most other programs.

Program Impact

Since its inception, the Samba Kidz program has directly affected over 400 children and families in some of Toronto’s most culturally diverse communities. Diverse communities have benefited greatly from the Samba Kidz program; improving intercultural communication skills and helping families integrate into the Toronto community.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

The arts help fuel innovation and creativity – critical components for a successful city. The arts help us commemorate our past, understand our present, and imagine our future.

(Toronto's Vital Signs ® 2010)

Participant Vignette

Ayden is a passionate 11 year old with a keen mind. He is also prone to extreme frustration and long periods of disengaging from his surroundings. Diagnosed with dyslexia plus phonetic decoding and auditory processing deficits, it is extremely hard for Ayden to sit still, focus on activities or communicate with others, especially adults. Desperate to find some activity that would engage her son both mentally and physically, his mother Annie brought Ayden to Drum Artz in the summer of 2009. “I thought music would help him find a way to communicate other than reading and writing. But we couldn’t find a program we could afford until we found Samba Kidz.” Ayden joined the Samba Kidz summer program and transformed over the course of five weeks. For the first time – ever – he slept through the night without nightmares, he started focussing on activities longer and began to be a little more comfortable around adults. Annie gets tearful when she speaks of the gifts drumming has given her son: “he’s been given a tool he can use on his own, independent of me, and a way to express anger that’s socially acceptable. Plus he’s being exposed to ideas and cultures he’d never experience anywhere else." Ayden is excited about his future at Drum Artz. Inspired by the youth leaders who work with the younger kidz, he enthuses: “I can’t wait until I’m 14, because then I can be a leader.”

Samba Youth

DAC’s Samba Youth program is a offers youth aged 14-18 multi-arts workshops during after school hours. The Samba Youth program started in the fall of 2009, offering weekly workshops to 30 Westview Collegiate students. After two successful years, programming expanded to offer beginner programming to 30 additional youth in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood, and workshops and volunteer leadership oppourtunities to students at Jarvis Collegiate Institute in Regent Park.

The Samba Youth program includes a large component of leadership training. Youth are asked to actively participate in classes, to assist with planning community performances and to mentor peers, and new players; this way participants improve self-esteem, acquire leadership skills, and learn team-building, group responsibility and conflict-resolution skills. In the summer, a comprehensive Leaders-in-Training program is offered to 8-10 youth identified as ready to take on extra challenges. This free program offers 40 hours of formal workshops on conflict resolution, social skills, teamwork, and mentoring younger children, as well as 5 weeks of full-time, hands-on experience assisting with the summer Samba Kidz program. The completion of the Leaders-in-Training program qualifies youth to work at DAC programs, and to assist in teaching ‘Learn to a New Beat’ workshops.

Youth are able to transfer these skills to all areas of their lives, including family life, interpersonal relationships, academic acheivement and paid employment. Many of our youth who have completed the Leaders In Training program now have been employed by DAC as Youth Satff. 

DAC’s arts focus is based on the belief that creative expression allows people to see themselves, and others, in positive new ways. In order to be successful at DAC, participants must focus, literally and figuratively, on working collaboratively. Weekly activities engage participants in positive and ethical projects that provide them with meaning and a sense of purpose. The youths’ active participation in shaping the final outcome of the projects fosters a profound sense of ownership in the process and performance.

Another strength of DAC programming is the opportunity and expectation of public performance. Youth from Regent Park, St. Jamestown, Scarborough, Jane-Finch, and other areas, who had previously not travelled much outside of their neighbourhoods because of social barriers, have traveled across the GTA to perform at events and festivals, such as SunFest (London) and Muhtadi’s International Drum Festival (Queen’s Park). Performing as a group offers youth social validation and exposure to new communities and events. For most youth, participating in Toronto's cultural events and festivals is a new experience.

DAC is committed to accessibility: everyone is welcome to join and the music and artistic activities incorporate people of all levels of ability. There are no auditions, no previous experience is necessary, new members are integrated on an ongoing basis and program fees are subsizied up to 100%. Because of the collaborative nature of the music, seasoned professionals play alongside newcomers, even at public performances.

Program Impact

Samba Youth has reached over 40 youth at Westview High School and successfully reached a dozen new youth during pilot projects in Regent Park in 2010-2011. Many of the youth are new comers to Canada and take on a leadership role in the group. Samba Youth is creating new mentors and leaders in Toronto's communities.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"A thriving cultural sector is not only good for the economy, but fosters greater citizen engagement and sense of belonging, higher levels of giving and volunteering, and improved health."

Participant Vignette

Jade Shortte is a young woman who joined the Samba Youth Westview program in 2009, through our partnership with the Success Beyond Limits program. She was hesitant and said little, but she consistantly showed up for every class and took every opportunity to attend extra rehearsals, and other Drum Artz programs. Jade lives in a lare building at Jane-Finch with her mom and younger brother; they immigrated to Canada when Jade was young, and are from the West Indies. By the summer of 2010, she was hooked on the music and rhythms, and was an accomplished player with several performances under her belt. Drum Artz staff built a strong positive relationship with Jade and encouraged her to complete the Leaders-in-Training program. She did, and today Jade is much more vocal, helping to lead workshops and mentor younger children. She is extremely responsible, caring, and community-minded. Jade often speaks to Drum Artz’ Senior staff about her challenges and sucesses at school and in life. She travels from Jane-Finch to Drum Artz Community Centre up to twice a week, in addtion to attending the program at Westview, because she feels valued, comfortable, and happy in her roles at the various programs. She has also made new friends from other neighbourhoods and they enjoy spending time together ‘hanging out’ in the kitchen, or on the patio, at Drum Artz’ Community Centre.

What You Can Do

Samba Kidz

Activities a donation will support

  • community dinners
  • daily snack program during the summer
  • subsidizing the cost for children who attend the program
  • art supplies
  • instrument purchases and repair

Donation impact

With financial support, Drum Artz will be able to achieve its goal of continuing to offer accessible year-round music and arts education to children and families from underserved communities.

Samba Youth

Activities a donation will support

  • provide leadership training to youth
  • employing new youth staff and leaders
  • free drumming workshops in the community
  • expanding youth programs so that more young people may participate
  • the ongoing costs of instrument storrage and maintenance

Donation impact

Donations to Drum Artz Canada will help us improve our outreach efforts to youth (including free introductory workshops, outreach to youth, and promotional materials) and will also help to expand Samba Youth programming and our ability to provide youth with meaningful employment. 


Amadeo Ventura
Interim Executive Director
Charitable Number: 825868417RR0001

Finance & Governance

Annual Operating Budget: 
$ 184,141


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