By Michael J. Solender
Look no further than to Kojo Bey to learn – and experience firsthand – the healing power of African drum and dance.
Bey is cofounder of and lead drummer for the Sounds of Afrika Drum & Dance Troupe and founder of Drums 4 Life – two cultural organizations entertaining, educating and inspiring diverse audiences for more than two decades.
“I was introduced to African drum and dance by my father and aunt, who were artists in a troupe when I was young,” Bey explains. “I loved how audiences responded to my father’s strong and loud drumming and the energetic movements of my aunt’s dancing.”
With the African rhythms embedded into his being, Bey founded the first African dance and drum troupe in Nevada while in college. He loved teaching others about his culture through this creative expression and discovered the therapeutic powers of drum and dance through performing in prisons, eldercare centers and hospice and mental health facilities.
“I fell in love with the healing of the drum and dance and knew I wanted a career performing, teaching and healing with my drum,” says Bey.
In addition to conducting workshops for the likes of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and PAL Charlotte, Bey has participated in residencies with One Africa in Ghana and the Mattatauk Museum in Waterbury, Conn., among others. His performances and drum circles have been featured at the Romare Bearden Fest, the SONO Arts Festival in South Norwalk, Conn., and Harlem’s Studio Museum.
“Drumming works both side of the brain,” says Bey, “and engaging in drumming connects with our hearts, our own rhythm makers, bringing us to the moment that is right now. The process is stress relieving and a positive way to learn how to channel and manage emotions.”
In addition to his drumming, Bey is a teacher, drum maker and choreographer who has studied with many esteemed teachers and African elders, such as drum makers Sekou Hylton and Harold Lot and the African dance troupe the Akosua Living Legends.
Bey looks to use his ASC Creative Renewal Fellowship to travel to Africa to connect with some of the continent’s great masters.
“My creative renewal is to learn more techniques and lessons from my elder drummers to pass on to my students,” says Bey. “Working on my drum book is the best way for me to collect these techniques and lessons. I have a list of elder drummers that I want to interview and learn drumming techniques from.”
Bey plans to travel to the Hamana region of Upper Guinea, West Africa to work with one of his favorite Djembe drummers, Famadou Konate, one of Guinea’s premier lead drummers for close to 60 years.
“I’ve set out to leave footprints in this life,” he said. “I’m always seeking advice and learning from others so I in turn can pass on teachings to the next generation.”