The Brute Force Steel Band, Brute Force Steel Band of Antigua

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
A vintage outing that deftly illustrates the crossover between the pan and calypso.

First conceived in the 1930s, but finding real popularity in the '40s, the steel drum, or pan, is the perfect mix of music and recycling. The pan is made by cutting down and carefully tuning discarded 55-gallon oil drums to make musical instruments that are both rhythmic and melodic — sheer genius. Although steel bands were especially popular in Trinidad, they spread across the Caribbean and beyond. This vintage outing might not have the pyrotechnic flair of some modern bands, but it does illustrate the crossover between the pan and calypso (it wasn't uncommon to have calypsonians backed by steel bands). There's no brute force here, just beauty in the complex arrangements that can become almost orchestral — listen to the richness of “Mambo No. 5″ as an example. And the merengues show how music flowed around the Caribbean. They're similar to the ones you'd find in the Dominican Republic, but infused with delicious touches of local flavour to set them apart.