University City

African drummer offers free classes at Charlotte’s Hickory Grove Recreation Center

Kojo Bey has seen doum doums work magic.

He’s watched businessmen, fresh off the trains in New York and still clad in their suits, dissolve their own tensions with a few rhythmic raps of their palms on the skins of the African drums.

Sunday afternoons at Hickory Grove Recreation Center he sees it, too, though, often with a younger crowd. Inside the center’s gymnasium, a weekly community class called Drums 4 Life meets to pound out the rhythms that African tribes have perfected for centuries.

The class, free to the public, is offered through Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation. Bey, 45, the class instructor, is a professional drummer from Sounds of Afrika, a dance and drum troupe that travels the world performing.

Bey, who lives in University City off Rockmoor Ridge Road, began Drums 4 Life 17 years ago as a community outreach program while living in Connecticut. For the past six years he’s offered it in Charlotte as well, though he still holds monthly classes in the New England state.

“Drums 4 Life was meant not only to teach people how to play and how to entertain with it, but how to integrate it into your life, as far as stress relief, helping you to bond, and helping you with leadership.”

Experts have long believed that benefits like stress reduction exist for those who regularly participate in activities like drum circles.

Bey grew up watching his father play in professional drum circles throughout New York City and in Connecticut.

“He would bring me to rehearsals. That was my exposure to it,” Bey said, “where the seeds were planted.”

Inside the gymnasium at Hickory Grove, the tradition continued as Bey sat in a circle with 10 other people. Nine of them are his children, who range in age from 3 to 16.

“We have drums in the home, but, you know, out of respect for the neighbors,” Bey said, grinning. “They love to be able to play all out.”

The gymnasium vibrated like a throbbing pulse. The 10th person, a church choir director, used the time to unwind. He talked little, instead disappearing into the beats of his drumming.

“He said he doesn’t come because he likes it,” said Bey, as he glanced at the drummer, caught up in his own rhythms. “He comes because he has to, because every time he leaves he feels much better.”

Bey has also seen parents bring their middle- and high-school-age kids in, to help relieve the anxiety and stress of tween and teen angst.

Each Sunday he welcomes them all: young, old, professional, amateur.

We’re all born with rhythm, he believes. Some of us just don’t recognize it when they first hear it.

“All of us have a heartbeat. Once you are still and listen to it, you’ll feel your heartbeat. That’s your rhythm,” he said. “I can do the rest. You just have to stay open to it.”