Woodbridge News

Barron Arts Center Presents Steel Drum Concert

July 1, 2005

Garden State World Beat” Continues July 20 with J.R.’s Caribbean Steel Drum Band

The Barron Arts Center presents its fourth Garden State World Beat concert July 20 with a Browns Mills quartet performing contemporary and traditional music from the Caribbean, Mayor Frank G. Pelzman has announced.

J.R.’s Caribbean Steel Drum Band will give a free concert at 8 p.m., July 20, on the lawn of the Barron Arts Center, 582 Rahway Avenue in Woodbridge. In case of inclement weather, the concert will be held inside. Call (732) 634-0413 for information.

The group features band leader and Trinidad native J.R. on lead pan and vocals supported by John Joseph on second pan, Patrick Dunn on electric guitar and Phil Grim on percussion. The group’s repertoire includes a variety of Caribbean-based dance and song styles including calypso, reggae and soca.

“Pan” or “steel pan” is what performers call the instrument more commonly known as the “steel drum”. The instrument was invented in the early 1940s by Trinidad teenager Winston “Spree” Simon, who transformed what had been a crude rhythm drum used by street bands during Carnival into a sophisticated melodic instrument with fixed pitches that could reproduce chromatic tunes in any musical genre.

During World War II local musicians began making pans out of the thousands of discarded oil drums at the Port of Spain U.S. Navy base. Today’s instrument comes in many sizes and voicings and is fabricated from the bottom of a 55-gallon steel barrel, sunk down in a concave shape and skillfully precision-tuned. It is played with a pair of rubber-tipped wooden or metal mallets.

Steel drum music gained worldwide attention in 1951 when the Trinidad All Percussion Steel Orchestra represented Trinidad at the Festival of Britain in London. Currently, there are over a thousand steel drum bands around the world, including scores of bands sponsored by U.S. high schools and colleges. In fact, group member John Joseph is the director of the Rhinebeck High School Steelband in Rhinebeck, New York.

Most Americans are familiar with calypso and reggae styles, but soca is a more recent idiom, emerging from the Eastern Caribbean in the 1970s as a fusion of calypso with Indian rhythms, reflecting the blending of African and South Asian cultures that predominate in the current island population.

“It all comes from calypso,” says J.R., citing the influence of the popular Trinidad song form that combines satire and humor in treating current social and political topics. “Calypso has always been the voice of the people.”

J.R. grew up within hailing distance of three major steel drum bands and began as a youth to nurture dreams of composing and arranging the music as well as playing it. He has been performing in the U.S. since the 1970s, including a stint with the legendary Brooklynaires Steelpan Orchestra, who opened for The Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden during one of the pop group’s U.S. tours.

Garden State World Beatpresents four concerts of Middlesex County performers representing international music traditions. Funding was awarded by the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission through a grant provided by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

New Jersey has long been a melting pot for music traditions from around the globe,” says Mayor Pelzman. “Today’s Garden State musicians are producing an exciting mix of traditional and contemporary genres from many cultures.”

Barron Arts CenterExecutive Director Cynthia Knight says the series is intended to acquaint Woodbridge audiences with some of the musical gems in their own backyard. “People will be astonished by the outstanding musical talent in this area,” she says. “We hope Garden State World Beat will be the start of several showcase events highlighting emerging local artists.”

The event is sponsored by the Woodbridge Township Cultural Arts Commission chaired by Dr. Dolores Capraro Gioffre with support from the Woodbridge Township Arts Council and Mayor Frank G. Pelzman.