Sabina Sandoval helped found the Liberty Park drum circle 22 years ago. She now runs the nonprofit organization Free to Be Me, which puts on drumming-themed events for school children, hospital patients, prison inmates and others. Sandoval displayed her passion for drumming during her interview with City Weekly. Partway through—at which point Sabina was sitting on the ground—she shot up to her feet, exclaimed, "I got to get on that rhythm—I hope you don't mind," and ran back to the drum circle to play.
How did you get your start as a drummer?
I was born a drummer. I know that for sure. I was in foster care as a kid—I was born into hell, literally. When I returned out of foster care, my mother was dating a drummer. At the age of 8, I walked into the home they had for us and there was a drum set right there. That was no accident and I know it in my heart. He would let me play, but he never really showed me anything. I never took lessons because we didn't have the money. Once that relationship was over with, he owed my mom money, and so she said, leave the drum set for my daughter and we'll call it even. Everywhere I went I played that drum set—even in an apartment building with 200 units, no one ever said anything. I felt like I was guided to play everywhere I went.
What makes a good drum circle?
When people are listening. When they aren't trying to stay in their own head, and they are listening to each other like a band. If one band member is out, he can break them. One instrument can make or break that circle.
Can you describe your idea of the "pocket" as it relates to drumming?
It's God without religion. It's an everyday quest. It's the perfection that's natural. Not the one that is competitive—that's the ego-perfect—this one is the natural-perfect. Your heartbeat has this, your car has this, your clock has this and your integrity has this. If you are lying or cheating, you are out. It's an everyday quest to be in that pocket.
Generally speaking, drum circles and those who attend carry a certain stigma—what do you have to say to that?
It's not a hippy drug-infested place. It's 'free to be me,' but with responsibility. It's that native dancing and celebration of each other without worrying about what people think of you. Freedom of expression—that's the circle. The opposite of that would be drunkenness, smoking, drugs, frivolous rhythm and not keeping it sacred, which is just thinking, 'Look at me, I'm cool over here.'
If anything, what would you change about the Liberty Park drum circle?
They need to police it more. There's no police there. They come and they leave. When there is that many people you need to have police there, or some type of security. These people need to know what the circle is about. And to leave their crap outside the gate—add to [the circle], help the circle and contribute to it. Don't do anything to help the chaos of the world. Don't add to the issues, especially in a sacred place like that.