Chattahoochee Rhythm Keepers
Deep-bellied drum beats float down Clark Street every Wednesday night in LaGrange, Georgia. The muted thudding knocks on the white walls of a small building inside of the quiet neighborhood. Find the door with the chipping paint and stubborn doorknob and you can enter the world of the Chattahoochee Rhythm Keepers.
Sitting in a circle with multicolored Djembe drums settled between their knees, the Rhythm Keepers are prepared to heal both themselves and the community with their music.
“A lot of people are sort of mesmerized when we play,” said group member Carla Collins.
The Chattahoochee Rhythm Keepers is a community group that offers drumming classes and participates in local events. The group, open to anyone regardless of musical talent or knowledge, is based on traditional West African drumming that uses a hand drum called the Djembe. The music is from the Mandinka people in Guinea, located on the west coast of Africa where Tom Harris, the Rhythm Keepers instructor, has visited twice.
Harris, a therapeutic drumming instructor, was prompted by a visiting student, Susan Marshall, to venture from Douglasville, Georgia, to LaGrange and teach a weekly drumming class. The Rhythm Keepers meet at Pure Life Studios in the white building closest to the street. Harris, who has 21 years of experience in therapeutic drumming, a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling from Florida State University, had more than a dozen people join in the first month. The group quickly gained traction in the community after their first performance in the local Christmas Parade.
“We got more people to come by word of mouth and our group page on Facebook,” said Harris. He said that many people join the group looking for mindful growth. More than 35 members have participated over the years. “Coming here, I want people to know that we’re going to take care of them,” he said.
During their gatherings, the members focus on creating a “no judgment zone” as they encourage each other through each song they practice complete with cheeky jokes, reassurance and laughter. Their aim is to build a sense of belonging, help relieve stress, boost immunity, build confidence and make a connection with others through music.
“Making music for everyone is personal to me, and I think it’s one of the best things about the community,” said group member Emily Jones.
Travis Towns said that the group is an answer to the toxicity in the world. Several other members of the group agreed that one of their main purposes is to bring more awareness of diversity to the community along the Chattahoochee River.
“The events we perform at are always of cultural and inspirational meaningfulness to the community,” said Jones.
The class runs in four-week sessions every Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Each four-week session is $60 with a drum included. Students are encouraged to create their own drums with help from Harris.
The group participates in events in and around LaGrange. The group stays active preparing for events. In April 2018, the group performed at the Rhythm Keepers’ floating classroom session at the Highland Marina. They also performed at Hillside’s Food, Arts and Music Festival in April and at the Valley Rally in West Point, Georgia, in May.
Within the walls of the Pure Life Studios, djembe’s adorned with green, purple, yellow and black strings line the carpeted floors. If you get there right on time, the tribal sounds signify the drummers warming up, but before starting the class, everyone does a check-in.
Some members speak of grandchildren while others talk about work and school. Carla Collins says that she’s been off her inhaler for four weeks. Emily Jones admits that she’s been forgetting things lately, to which someone in the group responds, “It’s okay. You’re in good company.” This statement best signifies the tone of the Chattahoochee Rhythm Keepers: good company.