While it would be stretching a point into
invisibility to say that the program listed above
is indigenous to Jamaica, it is nevertheless true that the numbers are included in
most performances by the Band and that they are greeted with the proper delight. It
takes a decidedly Caribbean frame of mind to turn the Minuet in G into what is
basically a percussive exercise, and it would be a sour viewpoint indeed that did not
catch the delicious impertinence involved therein. On the other hand, there are such
characteristic work-outs as the Montego Jump-Up and the Jamaica Jump-Up
indicate that one of the cradles of calypso has not lost its flavor.
Trinidad is generally given as the birthplace of the steel
band ensemble, although the
origins are somewhat cloudy. One school says that the music-loving natives
developed the bands, faut de mieux, when wartime restrictions made the
of regular musical instruments difficult if not impossible. Another holds that the steel
hands sprang up when short-sighted officials forbade musical instruments on the
grounds that the undeniably tantalizing rhythms tended to be too inflammatory.
Whatever the starting point, it is clear that the steel bands have come a long, long
way. They began at the junk pile, where abandoned gasoline drums, oil tins and
various lengths of pipe were salvaged, cut down and provided with drumheads. By
practice, these could be tuned and struck to produce an approximation of the
musical scale, and provide not only recognizable tunes but seductive rhythms as
well. Nowadays, of course, the battered instruments have been polished up - many
of them are brand new, and the players themselves are colorfully uniformed. As
word of the delightful conglomeration of sounds that the steel bands produced
spread around the Caribbean, they sprang up everywhere, but the best remain in
Trinidad and Jamaica.
One of the most engaging traits of the steel bands is
their serene assumption of music
that might thought to be out of character. The above-mentioned Minuet in G is
point; note also the Marche Militaire and the serenades by Toselli and Schubert.
Toselli work may come as a particular jolt to those who remember it chiefly as the
theme music for "The Goldbergs," especially with its new-found Caribbean beat.
Beethoven and Schubert, of course, worked freely and frequently with folk materials,
and it is a likely wager that they would have been delighted with the translations the
Royal Steel Band performs on their music.
The Royal Steel Band is one the most highly polished
groups its kind to be heard in
the islands; some of its numbers, indeed, are almost glossy, and the players have
gone so far in their mastery of the instruments that they are able inflect their playing
with interpretative overtones. Nevertheless,when the time comes to cut loose, cut
loose they do, as in the vocal chorus of Soja Man. Whether caressing the classics
or whipping up a joyful frenzy of sound, the Royal Steel Band of Kingston is here to
entertain you, and succeeding richly in its purpose.