Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Grenada - Carnival Preparation & Steel Drums July 12, 2011

Tuesday, July 12, 2011
In spite of being tied to a dock, we certainly stay busy.  Chase is playing beach volleyball two days a week with a group of boaters from all over.  He attended a ‘hash’ which is an organized hike up mountains or where ever, coming back full of mud with a big grin on his face, 'whupped' as they say in the south.  But our highlight this week was attending a practice session of steel drum players preparing for the big festival, Carnival.

Carnival is August 5 thru 8, with the major activities occurring on the 7th and 8th.  Staging will take place right here in our marina parking lot so we will see plenty without getting off the boat!  There is an island wide steel band competition among other activities - hence all the practice.

Shademan organized a trip for us - 3 bus loads of boaters attended, again, from all around the marinas and anchorages.  Wow!  These high school kids have been playing for 4 years and they are certainly really into it!
Practice session in the school yard with band director

Band Director was hot, hot, hot!

Medium size drum

Big time jammin'
We learned so much about steel drums, called PANS.  This music and the drums originated in Trinidad, the next island south of us here in Grenada.  Drumming was used as a form of communication among the enslaved Africans and was ultimately outlawed by the British colonial government in 1783, who were afraid the slaves could plan to revolt against their owners via the drum communications.  (Remember, slavery was HUGE in these islands - this is where is all began.  America was late to the game and got the ‘leftovers’ not sold around these islands.)  Somewhere along the line, the slaves began performing on the steel drums during the French (who were early settlers in these islands, along with the Brits and others) Mardi Gras festivities celebrations.   The music grew, spreading throughout these islands, as did the Carnival - a Mardi Gras type festival.  

The drums are made from very thin sheet metal of various thickness (thick being relative - all thin!).   The kids were playing on what looked like 3 kinds of drums, bass one is the largest - like a steel drum garbage container; there is a middle size one half the size of that garbage can one and the smallest is tenor & 1/4 the size of the big one.
Largest Drum
The largest drums- bass

This guy twirls his band sticks & plays about 6 drums
I understand that the larger the oval size of the drum, the lower the tone.  The length of the entire drum corresponds to the high or low range of the drum.   Some drums might have only 3 bass notes per drum or ‘pan’ and a drummer would then play six pans.  Each drum has numerous notes and sharps - take a close look at a steel drum if you get the chance.  Inside on the hammered out steel are various ‘patches’ - some square; some round and each is a different note!

So much fun - the kids really get into it

Chase getting a lesson

 Steel drums are even tuned up - just like a piano.  Twice a year at a minimum each is polished; smoothed out etc. by a very skilled technician. 

Calapso, classical, jazz - you name it and the kids play it!


These kids took great pride in showing us the drums, how to play and in general, had a good time with us milling about during their breaks.  
Sharon pounding away - NOT making music

Carnival preparation is in full swing all over the island.  Carnival is a VERY BIG deal!  In this school, above the building in loft like rooms, local men and women, volunteering their time, were working hard, sweating in the heat of the non-air conditioned rooms, sewing and gluing, making hundreds of Carnival costumes!
Local volunteers making Carnival costumes

Costumes stacking up

Tracing patterns

  We wandered freely about, chatting with the volunteers as they bent over their tasks.  Some were drawing head dresses with stencils, other cutting them out.  On down the line of workers the cardboard piece would be passed. This activity has been going on frantically since May.

Making the pattern from the stencil they made

 Others began to glue material, trims, sequins, etc. on them.  The costumes will sell from about $300 to $500 EC (one EC = $2.67 US), a good money maker for the school.

Headdress in the rafters

Boaters taking it all in

Headdresses in the rafters

Photo of finished costumes
Not much material!!!

The guys have it easier!

Layers of breadfruit, vegs, chicken, pig parts & coconut

As the evening wore on, the local women prepared the Grenadian national dish - the oil down - for us and had  coolers full of beer and soft drinks and their national drink - rum punch available.   (I fully described the oil down in the previous blog - refer back if need be.)
This pot feeds a LOT of people!
We had a great time eating & sipping and listening to the practice and to the special songs they played for us.  Three hours later, we boaters kept clapping, getting encore after encore from the kids.  Not able to sit still with the wonderful music & the night air, Shademan showed us the dance steps & most of the boaters got up and began dancing to the music.

Shademan dancing with his food in hand!
Shademan is a hoot!

Boaters in awe!!
The kids were playing, stepping to the beats and most likely laughing silently at the sight of this AARP crowd shaking it all about.  A fabulous, very special evening we will never forget! 

Now, click on this video to hear the kids playing this great music!  If for some reason this video appears BLACK when posted --  click on that tiny arrow on the bottom left & both the kids playing and the music will be visible and audible.

UPDATE:  The band, Comanchero, comprised of the wonderfully talented young people we spent an evening with while they practiced WON the Band competition at Carnival in August!!

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