By Lani Conway
Arts Reporter

It could be easy to walk right past Rhythm Fusion and fail to notice the displays of exotically adorned percussion instruments that fill the store. To walk in is to be amazed.

Owned by Dror Sinai, the local music shop nestled in a small alley off of Pacific Avenue boasts his unique collection of over 1,000 percussion instruments collected from countries including Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Thailand and India.

Frame drums, doumbeks, congas, gongs and smaller bells and chimes fill the room. Adjacent to them lies an area specifically for refurbishing old and damaged drums.

For Sinai, growing up in an archeological town in Israel helped develop his love of international music and inspire his collection.

“Living in a small place, and living with people from all over the world, you get to share things,” Sinai said. “So you get to hear Persian music, Moroccan music, etc. You get to be in different ceremonies, traditions, foods and cultures. All this had a big influence on my being, on my knowledge.”

Outdoor markets selling clay drums, a musically inclined family and extensive traveling further spurred Sinai’s interest in percussion and rhythm instruments. It wasn’t until his arrival in Santa Cruz, when Sinai started selling drums made from 25-cent salad bowls from the flea market, that his business began to develop.

“Selling drums was not as easy or romantic as it sounds,” Sinai said. “It was hell. I never had money or food. But slowly I started doing shows. I went home one time and brought back a big box of drums. Then I started buying from different places, from different countries at a time.”

And so Sinai’s collection grew.

In addition to his wide assortment of musical instruments, Sinai is also a lecturer, an internationally acclaimed performer and a teacher. Sinai’s workshops and classes teach students the basics of drumming and expose them to rhythms from around the world. According to Sinai, “Music is an international language that everybody can do.”

His current class, Introduction to Hand Drums, gathers students once a week to stress the importance of music, rhythm and body movement as an integral part of daily life.

“The drum is really powerful. But most people like the classes because of the release,” Sinai said. “It’s meditation. People let go. People learn to use their being in different ways. In this culture we freeze a lot of ourselves — we live in a world where we are stripped of our character and where we have to function within this linear society.”

Sinai’s students described natural rhythm.

“Not many people think we have rhythm,” musician and student Karen Robey said. “But we all have a natural rhythm. It runs though us. Our heart has rhythm. The classes are also very informal and utilize the drum, which is a natural instrument that is easily accessible.”

Student Julie Innocenti has been inspired by the course, she said.

“The class provides a good structural base, which is important,” Innocenti said. “But coming together as a community is also important in feeling like you are accomplishing something.”

Sinai’s classes are only part of a diverse world music community boasting a wide range of talented and internationally known artists in Santa Cruz. On May 9 at Cayuga Vault, drummer Raquy Danziger performs on Middle Eastern percussion, hosted by Rhythm Fusion.

“Raquy is a very wild doumbek player,” Sinai said. “What she does is totally impressive. She’s doing kind of like a dancehall [of] Middle Eastern music. Everything is loud … powerful and intricate. The changes of the rhythm in unison and intricate rhythms are also very powerful.”

It is Sinai’s hope that through people’s basic understanding of music and rhythm, a bigger goal can be achieved.

“I don’t know if I can make peace,” he said, “but I know that if we keep the concerts up and accessible, then it becomes more possible, or more people become aware that it is possible.”

Rhythm Fusion is located at 541C Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. For more information visit