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Swaying to Beat of Different Drummer


Calypso lovers can sway to the traditional and contemporary music of Trinidad and Tobago tonight at the Steel Band Concert at Cal State Northridge.

Gee Rabe and her 20-member band will perform on musical instruments recycled from oil drums and homemade percussion instruments.

Since the 1940s, the steel band sounds of the Caribbean Islands have attracted American musicians such as Rabe, one of nearly 50 professional steel drummers in Southern California.

"Audiences may be shocked that non-Trinidadians play the instruments," said Rabe, a musicologist and multicultural music specialist at Seeds University Elementary School at UCLA.

Band member Lou "Jave" Pahoundis, a retired hydraulics company manager, said he joined the band because he likes the xylophone-like sound of the steel drums. Rabe said she tries to accurately represent Calypso sounds by analyzing the music and enlisting advice from experts.

Andrew "Pan" de la Bastide, one of Trinidad's best steel drummers who has been on the steel drum scene since the 1940s, said he was amazed to hear Rabe perform and that she has shown respect for his culture by trying to duplicate it.

"I like her attitude. When I talk, she listens and learns," said Bastide, whose recordings with the Calimbo steel band were top sellers. "It makes me feel good that I can see other people playing my music."

In Trinidad in the 1930s, the British government outlawed skin drums for fear they were being used to send "ritual messages." So musicians played spoons on bottles and hit the ground with various lengths of bamboo to create harmonious sounds. Known as tamboo bamboo bands, they were popular until rivalries formed and the bamboo was sharpened and used as weapons.

With their instruments outlawed again, musicians discovered that garbage cans, biscuit tins and paint cans would develop a pitch when repeatedly struck. Using oil drums left on the island by the U.S. Navy in the 1940s, the steel drum evolved and automotive brake drums were added to the band. Although steel drums are used to play American popular music in Trinidad, tonight's concert in Northridge will focus on the ethnic music of the islands.

The concert begins at 8 p.m. at the CSUN Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. Admission is $10 general, $5 for students and children.

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