Informal group continues open performances

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published October 13, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated October 11, 2013 at 4:31 p.m.
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Wayne Bryan

Led by True Alisandre, left, seated, an informal group of performers play percussion instruments, many homemade, every Sunday evening at Adair Park in Hot Springs. Calling themselves the Rhythmic Interactive Percussion, the group improvises music and invites people walking by to join them in creating rhythms that Alisandre said relax and revitalize the performers and their audience.

HOT SPRINGS — The group starts gathering each Sunday about 5:30 p.m. in Kenneth Adair Memorial Park, a shady space between two of the buildings across Central Avenue from Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs.

One of the first to get there is True Alisandre. He brings drums, bells and a collection of drumsticks, along with a strange assortment of things he finds that will make a sound when you shake, strike or bang them together.

“These are called agogo bells, and I know you have heard this,” Alisandre says, as he hits two bells, the smaller

on top and the larger below, both attached by what looks like the bend of a coat hanger. The sound they make and the rhythm he played were instantly recognizable as a Latin beat.

He has a collection of African drums of various sizes, along with maracas, bells and tambourines.

“And this,” he said as he began to play, “is a plastic jar.”

There were pieces of bamboo of varying lengths to knock together and two pieces of tailpipe Alisandre said he found at an intersection in west Little Rock.

Soon, some of his friends arrived at the park carrying drums, 5-gallon plastic buckets and a small wooden box. Soon Alisandre set a beat of 1-2-3-4, and the informal group was playing together. The beat was the same, but the players took different directions with their own improvisations.

“I called this the Rhythmic Interactive Percussion, or RIP,” Alisandre said. “By joining and listening to the gathering, we put more focus, intention and love into the time we’re present than you might in playing with a band or in a typical drum circle.”

Sean Dole of Hot Springs proudly played on his 6-gallon Tupperware trash can.

“I have been playing with the group off and on all summer,” he said. “It is a good release and a source of positive time. It is a great way to end the weekend and get the week started.”

Members of the group, which change almost every week, try to get together every Sunday evening. Alisandre said they will play outside as long as the good weather lasts. The members are looking around for a place to perform indoors once winter arrives.

Some of the members of the group, including Alisandre, have been meeting and playing together in Hot Springs for years.

“Some people used to do this at Gulpa Gorge back in the 1990s, but I have been trying to play every Sunday evening for the last couple of years,” he said. “We played at the Star Gazer and then moved to Adair Park. This has been the best time here in the park.”

Just as the group is informal but regular, so are the audience and some of the performers the gathering attracts.

“After dark, the fire dancers will come, and poi ball artists, belly dancers and hula-hoopers,” Alisandre said. “The people come to watch, dance, even play with us. People are always invited to get to a drum or take something in their hands and play along.”

Almost on cue, three young people arrived who seemed to have been there before. They took seats with the players and took a couple of drums and joined in. Soon they were invited to take the beat, and the rest of the group played along.

“On Tuesday night, we joined someone here at the park who had a guitar,” said Charley Graves, who was playing a large conga drum with drumsticks. “After listening to him for a while, we joined in and just spontaneously created music. It was a great impromptu moment.”

Graves had musical training at school and played with his high school band for a couple of years.

Alisandre said he and Graves sometimes come to the park and talk to people moving past.

“Charley and I will make spontaneous music for the people walking down the street or around the park,” Alisandre said. “I’ll talk to some kids and play a rhythm that I think goes with their name.”

The RIP program also travels to schools sometimes, where Alisandre said he tells students about rhythm and does improvisations with the children playing along.

Alisandre said his musical training was actually in voice, but he took up drums years ago.

One of the players who who has been a regular at the gatherings over the past few weeks is David Draper.

“I’m a sound engineer for overdubs for music and television,” he said. “I’m around music all the time, but I don’t get to play. This is a good time. It’s good to be around the group and not deal with the commercialization of music, just make it. It’s great.”

A family of tourists came by as it began to get dark. A small boy, in a stroller pushed by his mother, seemed to become excited by the playing. As they entered the park, Alisander offered the child a pair of small maracas and showed him how to shake them. The band switched to the rhythm of the boy’s “playing,” and the proud parents videoed the session.

Draper said the music inspired by the child was an example of how the group plays. He said the child-like excitement and lack of form brought him peace.

“We are often worried about the past and fearful of the future, so we forget the present,” he said. “But this playing is in the moment. It is something happening now, and you don’t have to think at all, just enjoy.”

To find out more about the Rhythmic Interactive Percussion, come by Adair Park on Central Avenue in Hot Springs on Sunday evenings, or call True Alisandre at (714) 273-6464.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be contacted at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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