Andy Akiho is Busting Out... Taking the Steelpan Instrument to Uncharted Zones

New Stories and Conversations for Pan

Princeton University
Princeton University

Princeton, New Jersey, USA - On a cool and crisp spring Friday evening, When Steel Talks (WST) finds itself at the prestigious Princeton University to catch up with the young gifted panist, performing artist, composer and educator Andy Akiho. Andy is currently a PhD candidate at Princeton University where he is pursuing his doctorate in composition.

WST is on hand to take in a performance by Andy and his group—the Foundry Ensemble—at the Infini-T Café on the Princeton University campus, preceding his big gig at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  in Washington D.C. the following evening.  Besides Andy on tenor Pan, his band is made up of some stellar musicians in their own right - Vicky Chow (piano), Ian Rosenbaum (vibes), Mariel Roberts (cello), Kenneth Salters (drummer) and Samuel Adams (bass).

Andy Akiho needs no introduction to steelpan music connoisseurs, aficionados and enthusiasts - WST has been keenly following the development and music career of Andy for a number of years. However, on the general music scene, Andy’s compositions and performances are now raising eyebrows, turning heads and moving into areas not previously explored with new colors, perspectives and stories not told like this before - yet holding down the tradition. The fact that he has garnered this attention and respect primarily with the steelpan as his instrument of choice instrument is all the more special.

Andy is singularly advanced, unassuming and respects the drum and the tradition. From the Brooklyn panyards, to studying contemporary percussion at Manhattan School of Music, to obtaining a master’s degree in composition at Yale, and now pursing his doctorate at Princeton University - Andy has remained humble. In spite of his unassuming nature Andy continues to challenge the norm with new musical stories and conversations for the steelpan instrument.

Andy Akiho and The Foundry Ensemble
Andy Akiho and The Foundry Ensemble

His compositions cover the human experience and ‘story-tell’ through his own life and musical Influences, encounters, journeys and outlook.  Andy Akiho’s unique musical perspective—completely free of limitations, filled with thoughtful, relevant and daring passages—challenges the audience to grow while simultaneously embracing traditional motifs when necessary.

Andy Akiho utilizes the galvanize accents for percussion
Andy Akiho utilizes the galvanize accents for percussion

Infini-T Café, the venue for Friday’s performance by The Foundry Ensemble, is a great place to catch tomorrow’s great artists in an informal, engaging and close setting.  Its Princeton University campus location beckons to students, faculty and visitors alike.  The intimate, Middle eastern-tinged theme provided a great backdrop for the group’s performance; even the top-tiered galvanize accents along the walls came into play - literally - as the percussive core within Andy erupted in an improvised flurry of sticks and steel during the set.

Andy says he has been extremely influenced by the Caribbean community and lists among those who have impacted him musically such standouts like the late guitarist Scipio Sargeant, panist Freddy Harris, III and Kareem Thompson.  When in play, his Caribbean music movements are valid, tangible and well positioned within his compositions.

Andy is non-conventional and furthermore is not seeking to confirm what others believe.  The advancement of Andy Akiho continues to break barriers and rewrite the script. 

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