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Playing Around: Trinidad Tripoli



The sounds emanating from the steel drum, or pan, often conjure feelings of carefree daydreaming, languid naps, feline contentedness; Calypso music brings to mind images of smiling bands of islanders gently playing on the deck of a sparkling Princess cruise ship, heavily scented blossoms adorning their necks.

But the lilting "bong" of the steel drum, however relaxing, actually has its roots in oppression and violence. During British colonial rule of the Caribbean island of Trinidad, hand drums were used to incite "mash ups" with rival native gangs. In 1886, hand drums were outlawed by the British, who hoped to curb the fighting. Instead, Trinidadians took up Tamboos, long bamboo sticks that were used to strike the ground in rhythmic "signatures" and to conceal machetes. These were soon outlawed as well. With no traditional instruments, the musicians of Trinidad took to playing anything they could tap out a melody on -- car parts, garbage can lids, and empty 50-gallon oil drums. After a dented drum produced a clear tone, musicians began experimenting with different patterns hammered into the steel, producing notes of varying pitch.

Some of these first musicians to create the modern steel drum were members of the Borde family, natives of Trinidad. Hugh Borde began creating steel drum music in 1942 and spearheaded the steel drum band movement in 1950. After the second World War, when instruments were exceptionally scarce, the Trinidad Tripoli Steel Drum Band was formed, with Hugh Borde as its leader. Today, it is composed of nine Borde family members, and has traveled all over the world. The Grammy Award -- winning band will perform their historically rich blend of reggae and island music on the lush lawn of Armstrong Hall Thursday night. Tickets are $10, or $5 with a CC ID. Call 389-6607.

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