Cultural Center

Eric Oeur, administrative Specialist of the Asian American Resource Center (AARC), organizes photos for display at the center’s grand opening. The AARC will be Austin’s first municipal building dedicated to the Asian American community. 

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Austin’s first municipal building dedicated to the Asian-American community is scheduled to open its doors Saturday, with the goal of providing a central hub for
Asian-American residents.  

The Asian-American Resource Center, located in northeast Autin, will serve as a cultural facility — featuring nine classrooms, a library, computer lab, conference room, assembly hall and cultural
exhibitions spaces.  

It was green-lighted in 2005 when the Network of Asian-American Organizations applied for and received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Economic Development Administration. In 2006, a voter-approved bond set aside $5 million for the center. Austin City Council authorized the purchase of 15.3 acres of land for $2 million from the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget in 2007. 

“The resource center belongs to the city, just like the Mexican-American Cultural Center and the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center,” said Victor Ovalle, a public information officer for the department.

In 2012, Travis
County’s Asian-American population amounted to almost 6.8 percent. According to project manager Taja Beekley, that number is Austin’s fastest
growing demographic. 

An organization called Asian-American Resource Center Nonprofit will develop content for educational programs at the center. Richard Jung, board chairman of the organization, said the center will provide numerous opportunities for students.

“The Asian-American student population at UT has been growing by leaps and bounds. But in general, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interaction between students on campus and the different communities here in Austin,” Jung said. “We want to
foster that.”

In addition to connecting students to each other and to Asian-American cultural events, the center will also provide student volunteer opportunities so students can take advantage of their
cultural knowledge. 

“Students can apply that knowledge to specific instances with refugee communities or other vulnerable populations here in Austin,” Jung said. “We are very excited about the potential for working with students in [the center].” 

Beekley said the resources and educational opportunities offered at the facility are not
exclusively geared toward people of Asian descent.

“Asians and Asian Americans are our target demographic, but the center also offers an opportunity for the greater Austin community to come, learn and experience the various cultures and heritages of the different nationalities from Asia,” Beekley said. 

The center will act as an economic catalyst to the region through networking events, small business workshops and community collaboration,
Beekley said. 

The organization partnered with UT to develop the center’s first program, entitled “Asian Texans: Untold Stories,” which exposes the history of Asian Americans in Texas. 

Tanya Pennie watches as Ibrahim Aminou adds new steps to a dance, Saturday. Aminou teaches drumming classes at The George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center with his band, Zoumountchi, that plays modern West African style music.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

“I mean, yeah, we can put a count on [the beat], but it makes it boring; you become a machine,” Ibrahim Aminou said, as he tapped out an uninspired beat on his talking drum in the beer garden behind The Sahara Lounge, a club he co-owns with his wife and stepson. “To make a beat human, you have to put the soul inside,” Aminou said, pounding out a contagious rhythm so passionately that his glasses fall from his face to the ground.

An immigrant from Niger, Aminou teaches African drumming classes at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. Aminou said he has had a relationship with rhythm and music since infancy. His first rhythmical experiences came from his mother rocking him to sleep on her back as she pounded yam in the village of Dineye.

“For African people in the village, everything is about rhythm. When the rooster crows in the morning, the rhythm starts,” Aminou said. “Rhythm is life.”

In the village of Dineye, rhythm served as a method of communication facilitated by griots, or messengers, on talking drums. Talking drums are hourglass shaped drums that can be manipulated to mimic the tone of the human voice.

“African music is a country music. African music is a rock music, African music is a funk, jazz, rumba music, it’s a cha-cha-cha. From ethnicity to ethnicity, people speak different languages and their instruments have a different tune. But it doesn’t matter what kind of music it is because all music has a beat going on,” Aminou said.

In his classes, Aminou teaches students how to harness the comforting consistency of rhythm to become creatively minded musicians. For students new to drumming, he first teaches proper drumming technique and a few basic beats.

“When a student says they don’t have rhythm, I say, no, everybody has rhythm. You can lose it, but you have to find it. You have to bring it from inside out,” Aminou said.

In his lessons, he encourages students to improvise. Once students get the hang of the rhythm, Aminou then becomes the student.

“I learn every day from my students. As human beings, music comes in a different way from different people. No one thinks, lives, learns or processes things the same way,” he said.

After taking some of his classes, his wife, Eileen Bristol, noticed improvements in her bass guitar playing technique and rhythmic precision.

She is a member of Aminou’s band, Zoumountchi, which plays modern, West African-style music.

“When I started playing bass as a grown up, I started having all these feelings. It was just like it woke up something inside of me,” Bristol said.

Bristol believes in reincarnation, so from a religious perspective, the rhythm of life provides her comfort.

“[Growth and decay] is just the natural rhythm in the world, period. Knowing there’s a rhythm helps you be more patient. When things aren’t going well or you have failures or setbacks, you realize that if you keep trying, the energy will open up again and things will go smoothly again,” she said.

After witnessing an accident that claimed the life of a friend, Aminou attributes his ability to regain balance in his life to rhythm and his roots with friends and family.

“I’ll play sometimes for fourteen hours,” Aminou said. “The rhythms made me come back to normal, to get back my abilities and to also understand that I will die, too, that anyone can die. We’re just part of the nature, it’s part of the discipline that we go through.”

As the product of a tightly knit, family-oriented community, Aminou believes music education helps children stay in touch with their roots. His teaching program proposal, Bright Future, is designed to educate students about African culture and drumming to provide a sense of groundedness and well-being.

“Learning how to play the drum helps you know patterns and focus. It will help you to be organized inside yourself, have motivation and creativity,” he said.

Aminou is in the process of setting up the program at the Hope Lutheran Church and hopes to extend his program to other educational settings in Austin.

“My mission is to promote joy and to make people think beautifully inside themselves. I want to be able to teach in the schools, so I can teach kids how to play music that promotes joy, creativity and hope,” Aminou said. 

Printed on Wednesday, October 11, 2011 as: 'Rhythm is life' for African drum teacher