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Sunday serving of Steelpan Music at D’Radoes Band Launch

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New York: Fashionably - or frustratingly, depending on your point of view - late, D’Radoes Steel Orchestra kicked off their annual band launch in high musical style last Sunday evening around 9:30 p.m.  The DJ on hand had kept the music vibes flowing as a build-up to the steel orchestras’ upcoming performances, with the Rhythm Massive nearby following and punctuating almost every pulse of the music.

D'Radoes Steel Orchestra open their band launch
D’Radoes Steel Orchestra open their band launch

For those on hand for yet another evening of great steelpan music, D’Radoes set the pace for their invited guest steel orchestras - which included Despers USA, Utopia Pan Soul: the Next Generation, CASYM and more.  Pan folk were thrilled as D’Radoes launched into two pieces the band is now synonymous with: Dennis Edwards’ classic “Don’t Look Any Further,” followed by their pop twist of Cher’s 1999 dance hit “Believe,” ending with Abba’s “Dancing Queen.”

The 'Dudup' in play with Tropical Pan Vibes
The ‘Dudup’ in play with Tropical Pan Vibes

Tropical Pan Vibes, a small ensemble currently led by Jason Rose and which took to the road last J’Ouvert in New York, was up next, and struck chords with the more mature crowd.  They included the well-known, one-note dudup in their instrument line-up, played by the same lady who was on tock-tock during the J’Ouvert celebrations. They started off with surefire appeal playing the religious traditional “How Great Thou Art,” and also included “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver in their set.  Those in the audience closest to the group made clear by their body language, that the selected music was right up their alley delivered with ‘ole time’ styling and deliberation.

Utopia Pan Soul: the Next Generation in action at the band launch
Utopia Pan Soul: the Next Generation in action at D’Radoes’ band launch last Sunday

Utopia Pan Soul: the Next Generation lives up to their reputation of putting together some unique and uncompromising arrangements, and their session on this night was as thought-provoking as always.  Comfortable in their own personally defined music idiom, this group of steelpan musicians ensures that they stand out in any gathering of steel orchestras.  Ace panist Iman Pascall has happily taken up the task of anchoring the band as their drummer for some time now.  Sheldon Elcock, one of the band’s founders and arrangers, played double seconds for a few selections; he is also the arranger this year for Dem Stars as they return to the New York Panorama arena.

K.I.T. Caribbean Connection peforms - with panist Kareem Thompson
K.I.T. Caribbean Connection performs - with panist Kareem Thompson

K.I.T. Caribbean Connection (formerly Jambalasi) also had their turn in the spotlight, and elected to raised the musical palate of steelpan music connoisseurs, opting for Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” as an opener.  Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” was also showcased by the family group, which features skilled steelpan musician Kareem Thompson (arranger for Sesame Flyers Steel Orchestra for the 2010 panorama season) on double seconds.  As an aside, it had been a beautiful sight earlier to see Kareem keen on professionalism and visual presentation, carefully polishing his instruments as he set them up.

K.I.T. Caribbean Connection at D'Radoes band launch
K.I.T. Caribbean Connection at D’Radoes band launch

The music ensemble is headed by Kareem’s grandfather and family patriarch Edgar “Spots” Fitzgerald; the latter’s twin sons Toure and Iba were on keyboards and bass respectively.  KJ Marcelle, resident drummer for Sesame Flyers Steel Orchestra, rounded out the quintet for the evening.  The elder Fitzgerald announced early on that panists were going to be invited later on in their set, to join them in a freestyle session.

President of D’Radoes Steel Orchestra, Junior “Mann” Samuel, and wife Ingrid at the band’s annual launch
President of D’Radoes Steel Orchestra, Junior “Mann” Samuel, and wife Ingrid at the band’s annual launch

Several in the steelpan audience who were jovial just prior, now adopted a more introspective stance as they listened in appreciation, to the difference in the musical menu served up by the group.  It was indeed interesting to observe the demeanor of the musically-inclined crowd morph, as they moved around from group to group and took in their respective music styles.

As K.I.T. Caribbean Connection continued to draw growing murmurs of approval and complimentary comments, CASYM could be seen making their way in with their instruments, basses hoisted high above their heads.  Also still to perform for the night, would be Despers USA who had already been set up in readiness.  The calypso classic “Old Lady Walk Ah Mile” as performed by K.I.T. Caribbean Connection was of course a hit, the clear sounds of which could be clearly heard outside in the streets as people either left or made a late arrival to, the event.

Tropical Pan Vibes at the band launch
Tropical Pan Vibes at the band launch

When Steel Talks (WST) understands that the promised ‘freestyle’ also referred to as a “steelpan shootout” was lapped up in earnest, as several known faces on New York’s steelpan music circuit picked up their sticks in friendly and respectful rivalry and delivered mesmerizing flurries of notes in skilled succession; these included, but were not limited to - Mustafa Alexander, Iman Pascall, Khuent Rose, Robert Malchan, Kareem Thompson, and several others.  Though it was late at night, there was more steelpan music still to be heard before it was all over in the early hours of Monday morning.

For those who cannot get enough of the summer of sweet pan, the roads lead to yet another major band launch, possibly the last for the season - that of reigning New York panorama champs Sonatas, this coming Sunday.  Several bands are scheduled to perform.

Bertram Glasgow, Hueloy Lila Yip Young and Martin Cain
Bertram Glasgow, Hueloy Lila Yip Young and Martin Cain

Brian “Bean” Griffith at the band launch
Brian “Bean” Griffith at the band launch

Once again, several well-known members of the steelpan fraternity turned out in support of and to enjoy their fill of the steelpan culture and art form.  Sighted were:  arranger Brian “Bean” Griffith; a very enthusiastic Bertram Glasgow - an ‘original Desperadoes’ member who has held several high-ranking positions in the band over the years; Martin Cain, current captain of Desperadoes Steel Orchestra and; Hueloy Lila Yip Young among others.

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