Sabina Sandoval helped launch the Liberty Park drum circle in 1995. She moved to Hermosa Beach, Calif., in 1997, where she currently operates the nonprofit Free To Be Me Drum Circle (FreeToBeMeDrumCircle.com). Sandoval visited the circle in August and shares her thoughts with City Weekly. The Liberty Park drum circle meets every Sunday, on the north side of the pond at around 2 p.m.
Why did you start the Liberty Park drum circle? Being an L.A. native, I have so much energy, and there was nothing to do here [in Utah] on a Sunday. I had just visited Venice Beach and played in an [impromptu] circle there—it’s humongous now. On the plane back, I said we need to create that here in some way. Then the passion drove me. I thought it would be really cool for the kids, so they wouldn't be getting into trouble. The focus has always been the music and bringing families together. It's not about drugs or alcohol, which I'm totally against in the circle.
What was it like when it started? It was wonderful. I didn't even play a hand drum, so I led it through sticks and things. People were hungry for drumming, so the crowds came out. There were hundreds of people, because it was new; maybe 20 drummers, the rest watching. It was mainly word of mouth that helped it catch on so strong. It was a tight-knit group of friends when it started. That's what we saw on our visit. It was and is about the rhythm and friends and sharing.
What were your impressions upon visiting the Liberty Park circle again? I think it's wonderful. The only problem I saw was cigarette smoking in the circle. I can't tell them what to do, because they'll defend it. I spoke from the position of an elder, saying that that isn't sacred in the circle. You're going to have that ignorance anywhere.
There were a lot of great drummers there. I trust them; they are protecting the circle. Kind of claiming it too, but I know that's just youth. It's no one's circle, it’s for everyone, and I told them that. But what was really cool was that the drummers came last; the people showed first. They're hungry, waiting, yearning for a nurturing rhythm. I think subconsciously we heard our mother's heartbeat for nine months and we yearn to hear it again through that drum. It's infectious. It's not just a drum, it's a healing force.
Before, the vendors weren't there, and now there are 20. And they are artists, which we want. Before, Coca-Cola did try to come there. We just didn't come to the circle for a couple of weeks, so they knew we didn't want to play that game. But when I look out there now and see these artists, I think we created a great vibe, an attraction, more or less.
How would you challenge preconceived notions of drum circles? I'm glad the police are out there policing it. There's people that drum to feel important and to do that and there's people that do it because they feel the music. Free To Be Me is a nonprofit with the intent to go deeper than that. Me being Native American, I'm the real thing as far as drumming and my intent. A lot of circles like Venice Beach, Calif., aren’t really about the music anymore. For some reason, that ingredient is there, alcohol and all of that. Most of us are not of that though. I don't think it's just drum circles. that is everywhere. Anything that shows freedom—long hair, colors, dancing or something in your ear or unshaven legs—that creates a division. I think that's where it's prejudged.
What are the benefits of a drum circle? You can't think. You can't think about your mortgage or your pain. If you do, you get out of pocket, you lose the rhythm and it becomes chaos. Drumming takes you out of your head. It is very primitive and native, which we forget in this concrete world. Drums have been around forever and they speak to us. Plus it's the only instrument that you can bring people together with—you can't bring 20 people to play a piano.
Addison Odom's first career as a photographer-writer morphed into teaching high school visual arts in Memphis, Tenn., and now she helps save the world here in Utah through wilderness therapy after a brief stint as an organic farmer.