A Passionate Connection with African Drumming

I first made a passionate connection with African drumming in 1989, when I met Babatunde Olatunji, a master drummer from Nigeria, West Africa. The enchantment that struck me then has only grown stronger over the years. I was fortunate to have ’Baba‘ as my first mentor. He stressed not only music, but also the importance of community, compassion, respect, and appropriate action. I was impressed at how complete his teaching was and how it always revolved around the drum. Time and again, I have seen that the drum carries a powerful metaphorical influence. It is about the music, but something more than that, too. It is about being connected to something bigger than your self, being part of something. Everywhere I see African drumming and dancing, I also see a strong desire for and presence of community — people uniting to create something.

In many traditional societies, performances are far less exclusive. Everyone participates in some manner; they might get up and dance, or sing, or play an instrument. The audience becomes the show. It is a break-away from the typical western approach to entertainment where you have the ‘performer’ on stage, and the ‘audience’ who are ‘being entertained.’ This was the inclusive philosophy that helped spawn Rhythm Village, and it is proving to resonate with a lot of people.

I witnessed during my studies in West Africa, and while performing here in the States, that people love to watch African drumming and dancing, but what they love even more is to participate – become a part of the energy that is going on. That is why we have created events, both public and corporate, that are designed to really get people involved.

We let them try their hand at something and enjoy the exhilaration that comes from actually playing. In the public events, we get a lot of people who are curious and want to try something new. We also get a lot of people who have already been playing for some time and who want a chance to be pushed, to feel what it is like to play in a different context, maybe get a chance to ‘step up’ and be seen, which is something we accommodate. Either way, we have had great response from both ends of the spectrum.

“If I were to take a two hour private one-on-one lesson I wouldn’t have come anywhere close to being able to do what I could do that night. I don’t understand how it happens. It just happens. I’ll definitely be at the next one!” —Dr. Michael Shapiro

We encourage people to bring their drums, and we bring a van full for those without. Our hope is that everybody who wants to play will get a chance. There are also people who just want to watch the show (because it is a show, not a class), but usually they can’t resist picking up a drum by the end.

The corporate events have been even more impact-full, because they often have no idea what they’re in for! You have a room full of employees at their seminar, annual party, or some event, and in come a group of drummers and dancers, playing, dancing, and celebrating! Next thing you know, they have a drum in their lap and they are playing along with us. For most of them, it is a great rush and tremendously liberating to do something so ‘out of the norm.’ Soon they are making music together! What they may or may not realize is that they are all participating in a very meaningful act. They are learning how to work in harmony, with a common focus, supporting one another, and having fun doing it! For a company or institution that is seeking to unite its constituents, the results can be quite profound.

When an individual or organization is in conflict with itself, much of this creative energy is lost, resulting in a non-productive individual, and a poorly performing organization. One of the most powerful ways to bring individuals and organizations back into harmonious creative activity is to put them in rhythm together. Through a powerful, exciting, and very enjoyable experience we bring groups of people into a state of harmonious action.

So here we have a powerful tool for change that is activated by everybody having fun! And, though the public and corporate events look a little different, their foundations are the same, and their results are parallel. The corporate events enliven and synchronize a company, at the same time break down social barriers. The public events do the same thing for community, bringing new life and enthusiasm while creating connections between people. Our mission is to bring people together through music. Hope to see you at our next event!

Bring the beat! Sincerely, Gabriel Harris, Executive Director


“RV will take your there. They give great groove. Their powerful and fun rhythms will let your spirit fly!” –– Mickey Hart, Percussionist, Grateful Dead

It was a spectacular team building experience with all in the room working together to make a unifying sound. It was also a wonderful growth experience for individuals who found that they themselves were capable of making music. –– Evan Bloom, Director of North Valley Wellness Committee, Kaiser Permanente

This has to be the most memorable and fun learning experience. I enjoyed the speaker who is funny and his speech makes total sense. The drum session is out of this world… and the message is cool – we can be the boss and the support personnel depending on the situation… I have ordered a drum already so I can keep up the fun! —Adela Pang, Finance and Business Services, St. Luke’s Hospital

Your performances are always entertaining and educational, but more importantly and uniquely I think it’s the beat of the drum that brings people together allowing them to share their experience and explore their boundaries. We look forward to future performances by Rhythm Village at the Oakland Zoo! —Jeanette Gulledge, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, Oakland Zoo

It’s been months since your performance and our staff is still talking about it, raving about how much fun it was to be included in the interactive experience and to listen to live West African drumming. I would recommend your crew for any organization/function because it really brings people together in a light hearted and inspirational way. —Jaclyn Welch, Dahlin Group Architectural Planning

Dear Members of the Stanford Community, I write to recommend Rhythm Village, a wonderful group of musicians who offer workshops that use drumming to bring people together in ways that are simply amazing. Rhythm Village workshops help break down inhibitions by inviting people to make music together, encouraging them to get out of their head and hands and into their bodies. Rhythm Village accomplishes this by their infectious energy, their musical skills, and their remarkable ability to make everyone feel equal and open to the rhythm that is within each and every person. In so doing, Rhythm Village builds a sense of solidarity and community in the room, something that remains long after they are gone. Sincerely, —Rush Rehm, Artistic Director, Stanford Summer Theater

It wouldn’t have been a party without the African dancers. With their beautiful costumes, hypnotic rhythms and voices we were transported to the African savannah for our African Safari. Some of our guests jumped right in and danced with the performers and the rest of us had a great time watching them. —Susan, Robert Young Winery

Gabe, thank you and Rhythm Village for coming to LOHAS. Your event helped us close our conference on an emotional high; it added something special and unique, really lifted our spirits and brought us together as a group unlike anything prior. We look forward to having you back! —Brad Warkins President, Conscious Media

I am still awake this evening, well past 1:00 am, energized by your spirits and the offering you gave all those who were fortunate enough to attend the AIDS Benefit Concert. You led us to the spiritual place where we could all participate in blessing those around us, especially those most in need of God’s healing touch. Shalom, Peace, Salam, —Will McGarvey, First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo

I wanted to offer you and the rest of the group special thanks for helping to make our events at the Oakland Zoo such a memorable experience for so many. As you know, the interactive performances by Rhythm Village have become a cornerstone of our extremely successful Family Sundown Safari overnight program. I also wanted to pass on compliments from our guests. Many families have noted that the interactive drumming was their favorite part of the evening.