Most of the Emerson Drummers play the djembe, a traditional African drum made from stretched animal skins and a hardwood shell, tuned with rope. The Emerson Drummers is made up of 15-20 members of the Emerson Unitarian Church in Marietta who come together to fellowship around traditional African drums.
Mo Braum keeps the beat on two different sized drums during their performance.
Emerson Drummers, a community percussion choir of amateur drummers, unite to celebrate West African culture through music. “We play traditional West African drumming music and singing,” said Chuck Cogliandro, a professional musician who has been the group’s musical director since its inception in 1996. For 20 years, Cogliandro has taught African drumming in Atlanta including at Georgia State University, Georgia Perimeter College, various youth organizations and hundreds of schools from pre-K to high school levels. The full-time musician and energy healer who performs spiritual healing and guidance for people said, “(Drumming) is a very safe way for people to come together and do something creative and positive and high energy in a group.” Drumming represents a deep, rich culture. “(The drumming) is not really for entertainment. It’s about bringing people together in a spirit of community and cooperation,” Cogliandro said. The music is traditionally played to support the emotional and spiritual life of a village and community for all kinds of occasions such as a birth, wedding, work, agricultural ceremonies, and passage of youth into adulthood. West African drumming centered on community is not a commodity sold as entertainment or diversion. “The whole community moves together, evolves together and stays strong through rhythm and dance and drumming. It keeps them connected to each other. It keeps them connected to the cycles of the Earth. It keeps them connected to their ancestors that came before them,” he said. Drumming is a group effort. “It’s not competitive at all. It’s actually highly cooperative because there are different rhythms being played together at the same time in the ensemble,” said the Decatur resident. Cogliandro who earned a degree in engineering and worked for two years at General Motors in Detroit purchased his first set of drums in college. But music continued to speak to him. “I had such a passion for drums I quit my job. I decided I was going to take my shot at a professional music career,” he said. In 1992 at age 25, Cogliandro moved to Atlanta where he was exposed to African drumming through Yusef Crowder. He also became involved with Thurman-Hamer-Ellington Unitarian Universalist Church, an Afro-centric church where he helped start a percussion choir. The T-H-E choir was part of the 100-drummer tribe that participated in the opening ceremony of 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta. Cogliandro, who helped organize the drummers for the Olympics, met June Sholin during the event. She asked if he would like to get another drumming group started at the Emerson Unitarian Church in Marietta. For the past 16 years, Cogliandro has led Emerson Drummers that has a core group of 12. “Anyone can join. We are always open and welcome to anybody who comes through the door,” Cogliandro said. Emerson Drummers practice at Emerson Unitarian Congregation at 2799 Holly Springs Road in Marietta every Tuesday from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Cogliandro leads another group at Atlanta Unity North Church on Sandy Plains Road in Marietta on Thursday nights. To learn more, visit www.kumandi.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.