Slow. Steady. Simple.

Three women drummed, using their hands and blunt drumsticks. Then, two more joined, standing with larger drums, each held to their bellies by straps slung over their shoulders.

The beating began to fill in the quiet moments. It grew, and the women sang. A Brazilian song, “Yemaya,” echoed through Bates Mill recently.

This location and one in Auburn – beneath the red, yellow and blue canopies of Festival Plaza – will be the centerpieces of the work by the Maine-based band Inanna and the Chicago-based Hands in Motion Productions.

Their plan is to showcase nine of Inanna’s most popular songs in a DVD to be sold internationally, featuring South American and West African music.

The songs sounded particularly foreign here, in a space where generations of Franco-Americans toiled over textile machines.

A perfect backdrop

It worked, though. The brick background stood in relief to the West African drums and costumes. And the pillar-like supports, created for floors burdened with tons of machinery, were used as microphone stands, thanks to a few strips of duct tape.

“This is a beautiful place,” said producer Alejo Balingit, standing beside one of several high windows. “It is perfect for us.”

The drumming and voices rattled the desks of the Banknorth workers in an adjoining office. Others who heard the song peeked through the room’s far door. They stood and listened as the five women played bits of the song again and again.

For two days, the film crew focused on the women: Andrea Antognoni of Whitefield, Annegret Baier of Portland, Tori Morrill of Peaks Island, Lizzy Derecktor of Boothbay and Shirsten Lundblad of Orr’s Island.

Balingit’s company has made two previous DVDs, both instructional works about West African drumming. This time, his crew aimed to capture a performance: Inanna singing, dancing and drumming.

The women hope something else is captured, too: a bit of peace.

For years, people in the West have begun to examine the effects of rhythms on people, on their moods and physical health.

After all, the heart beats a rhythm, too.

Switching plans

“Drumming makes people want to move,” said Antognoni, who uses music as therapy with elderly people. “It’s like it puts their spirit back in their bodies.”

It’s also therapy for the drummers, each of whom learned the difficult task of singing while drumming. “It feels like you’re carving out new pathways in the brain,” Derecktor said. “It really does.”

New paths were also explored at the mill, which was never meant to be a filming studio.

The crew had planned to record the songs in Portland. However, with only days remaining before Balingit’s crew was to arrive from Chicago, that studio’s operators told them it would not be available.

The band phoned friends. Days after the first frenzied inquiry went out, Balingit’s crew began setting up microphones and five cameras in the Bates Mill.

The makeshift studio in Mill No. 3 had only two electrical outlets. All of the cameras, lights, monitors and microphones were run from those few plugs, harnessed by a tangle of surge protectors and extension cords.

The band, whose name was adopted from an ancient Sumerian goddess, drummed and sang their songs. Crews tinkered with their equipment as they listened to the voices. Once, they asked for the drums to stop.

From the table where all of the wires led, a voice called, “Singing only!”

Once more, “Yemaya” filled the hall. The voices were still accompanied by an instrument. Around the ankle of singer Annegret Baier, a string of bells rang as she absently tapped her foot.

You can’t stop the rhythm.

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