Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Steel Pan Primer & Tobago

There are so many accomplished musicians on this island as it was the birthplace of “steel pan” music and claims to be the birthplace of Calypso, but other West Indies Islands may also lay a similar claim.

The pan is a 55 gallon steel drum used for transporting oil or chemicals, and many years ago when this instrument was being developed, were readily available to local citizens (many of them poor) once discarded. They pounded out the steel tops to create notes, and surrounding themselves with many steel drums, developed songs/melodies by drumming on them.

Over time, the tradition expanded to orchestras of 120 players, all playing different sized drums with unique mallets, under the direction of a leader and a section captain. They rehearse one song of 8 minutes in length each night for several hours for about a month, making changes and developing parts in the neighbourhood pan yard. Local citizens assemble to listen, and are free to walk around the various players to hear the complex and complementary arrangements of each section. Rehearsals involve focusing on individual sections numerous times at various tempos, before playing the whole song.

There are stages of competition and the best bands will compete on the main stage in Queens Park Savannah in downtown Port of Spain, the capitol city of Trinidad at Panorama, held during Carnival.  Thousands of people attend each year for this event, along with other wild activities such as masquerades, parades, wining, etc.

Jean and I have visited the pan yards on four occasions to hear the bands rehearse for Panorama.  For me, the most amazing thing is the fact that there are so many bands and they are all amazing musicians. The players in the bass section are surrounded by 7 or 9 drums and twist and turn in sync to reach the notes around them. I especially enjoy listening to the tenor section, as they have parts that counter or complement the melody, bringing their own distinct harmonies and melodies.

Fortunately for us, the folks who we are renting from, also love this music and we travel together to hear it. On Sunday, there are the Semi-Finals and on Feb 14 and 15 are the Finals. We’ll be there, and especially following our favorite band FonClaire from the inner city of San Fernando.

We've been in Trinidad for a month now. We went to Tobago the last four days to check out that part of the country and it reinforces our sense that each island has it's own distinct character. Tobago is smaller, drier, mellower. The population is only about 50,000 people and it is about 30 miles by 5 miles in size. Scarborough, the largest city is on a port and they host cruise ships a couple times a week.
We were staying at a nice little studio apartment on the hill above Scarborough with a deck that overlooked the city to our south. The garden around the home welcomed birds including the marvelous Motmot, a bird about the size of a small hawk with dramatic coloring; black, green and gold with a bright turquoise v on the top of it's head and a racket shape at the end of it's black tail. They along with the Banaquit and some other birds can be somewhat tamed by feeding.

We also took a snorkel and hiking tour to Little Tobago off the northeast corner of the island. The water was the clearest water I've ever seen. I think we could easily see forty or fifty feet deep. It was a bit like diving with the sensation of depth below us. Saw lots of amazing corals, sponges and fish. Then the hike on Little Tobago took us to the peak where we looked down toward the sea and saw the flight of the rare Red-billed Tropicbird, a white sea bird with a long forked tail. We also saw some tropicbirds nesting within a few feet from us. Quite a treat actually.

While in Tobago we visited the LouiseKimme museum, set in her home. She was an artist originally from Germany who died a couple years ago. She was a great wood sculptor. Her home is open for tours and a small body of her work is on display there. We met her sister and Doneski a Cuban sculptor who works there and opens the museum on Saturdays. Much of her work is on display in Germany now.

A couple other highlights included the restaurant Shore Thing with excellent food, right on the shore, of course at Lambeau (not Field). Jean Claude Petit had a boutique chocolate shop next door where we gilded the lily by having his incredible chocolate just after dinner and coconut cream pie at Shore Thing. Mmmm, life is good! Another highlight was the Martin Superville Gallery where we spend a good hour or two talking with his lovely wife Maria about food and then Martin about art.

We ended the visit by dropping our bags early at the airport and walking a block to Kariwak Village a real oasis and yet so close to the airport. Great reputation for their restaurant and what appears to be a nice little garden resort. We had had a big breakfast so we went for some coffee and ran into Rory and Bunty's friends Keith and Pam, Brits who have a passion for Pan and come every year as well as travel to South Africa to help in the dissemination of Pan their. Keith is a retired hair dresser to “the stars” and a fun guy to talk with. Pam is a creative sort as well displayed in her white cropped haircut with hot pink dyed streak down the top center. We joined them for breakfast and enjoyed their company while sipping on some excellent Cocoa (chocolate tea), while the Blue grey Tanager and the Banaquit joined us over the sugar bowl. Through their connection we were able to enjoy the small pool with a waterfall in the garden before we took off for the airport. The flight is literally only 18 minutes long and it's a beautiful view of the north coast as the plane comes around the northwest corner of the island to fly into the airport.

More on the Pan Semi-Finals next blog. Find out if FonClaire made it into the Finals!

Recent Paintings:
Scarlet Ibis Nesting, acrylic, 36" x ~17"

A Parrots in a Poui Tree, acrylic, 36" x ~16"

Turquise Tanager, acrylic, ~8 x 10"
Irie, ,acrylic 36 x 36

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