"The connotation that was associated with it wasn't good. They said it was played by people with no ambition. So I grew up away from it. But now it's in all the schools in Trinidad. It's played all over the world."
—Ali Karim, steel drummer
Winnipeg's Trinidad and Tobago community is celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence. And what better way to honour the occasion than with a street party?
Trinbago at 50 will fill Edmonton Street with music, dance and delicious food on August 31 from noon till 2:00. The festival's theme is diversity. As co-host Joy Bissoon explains, the cultural mix of Trinidad and Tobago is 40% African, 40% East Indian and 20% everything else. This cosmopolitan mix is expressed in the huge variety of music and dance forms. Think calypso
, tassa drumming
, African drumming and Indian dancing.
The HiLife Steel Orchestra
will one of the musical highlights. The orchestra has been around since the 1970s. What started as an ensemble of five has grown into and orchestra of 25 --mostly young performers eager to share their culture.
Ali Karim is the manager of the group. He's been performing since 1979. He didn't learn to play steel drum until he came to Canada. "I always liked the steel pan," he says. "It was an instrument I always wanted to learn to play. When I had the opportunity, it was a big part of my whole development."
Curiously, he was not allowed to be near steel drums growing up at home in Trinidad. "The connotation that was associated with it wasn't good. They said it was played by people with no ambition. So I grew up away from it. But now it's in all the schools in Trinidad. It's played all over the world."
Karim is now proud to play in the orchestra and bring it to other people. "It's important. It's part of the showcasing of the culture."
The steel drum
or "pan" was invented in the early 20th century. Karim explains that the instruments are constructed out of 55-gallon oil drums. The drums are cut to different sizes so that an orchestra plays a whole range, from tenors which provide the melody to very low full-size bass drums. After they are cut, the drums are heated and the closed end is pushed in so it is concave, then the notes are hammered out and then tuned with an electronic tuner.