IT WAS just a quarter past the scheduled 6:00 p.m. start, perhaps still early for a Jamaican audience. The handful of patrons who gathered at the Pegasus poolside on April 22 were busy trying to replenish themselves with food and drink before the ‘big acts’ hit the stage.
The show was ‘Vintage Meets Soca’ and the billed acts were soca queen Allison Hinds, vintage man Leroy Sibbles, and 50-years-and-running band Byron Lee and the Dragonaires.
The sound of vintage soca found its way into the audience’s consciousness.
But there was something different about these sounds – at least for Kingston. It was that of a steel band and people soon stopped to take note.
With artistes from our Caribbean neighbours streaming in and out for the Carnival season and with a name like Caribbean Royal Steel Band, one could easily have made the assumption that this was a ‘Trini’ band. But, get this, the Caribbean Royal got its start more than 20 years ago in Corporate Area schools, such as Trench Town, Camperdown, Wolmer’s and Meadowbrook. Christiana High was also one of the pioneering schools.
INSPIRATION FROM GOD
Founder/manager Reuben Bernard explains.
“We started to play the band in schools (in 1988). When the children graduated, all those who had played in the band, I took them in and we worked on that and … gave them jobs.”
For Bernard this venture meant more than making money. He says it was an inspiration from God to assist youngsters fresh out of high school, especially females. So it is little wonder that female band members outnumber males 70 to 30 per cent.
“I like to see children and young people get up in life. I try to help them as much as I can,” the self-taught musician explains. And it was evident two weeks ago as Bernard sat beaming at his wards who performed as if there was no end to their energy.
Tameika Jackson is 28 years old and has been with the group since 1995. Since joining at Trench Town Comprehensive, she currently juggles the band and A’ levels and one day hopes to become a lawyer.
Another female member, Segale Grant, says she joined the band because the steel drums reflect her personality.
UNUSUAL AND UNIQUE
“I am a fan of music and I joined the steel band because it is so unusual and unique, and I am that type of person,” asserts Segale, a nine-year member. And while Segale and her 11-member crew offered this unique experience to ‘Vintage Meets Soca’, the rest of the 42 members of Caribbean Royal were subdivided into three groups performing simultaneously on the north coast.
Bernard says it won’t stop there with plans for expansion afoot. “We are expanding and I don’t see any limits right now … It is because I see the need for the expansion. We are getting there and I hope we can get the support.”
And if the excitement of the audience was anything to go by, they surely will get the support. As their two-hour performance progressed, band members moved through standards such as Nani Wine, 54-46 and Iron Lion Zion with effortless fervour, all the time complementing these with old-fashioned gyrating or even the latest dance moves – Willy Bounce, Shelly Belly, Parachute.
If that performance was characteristic of the band, then they have indeed proved their teacher right that “anything you want you can get”.
–Tennesia Malcolm, Gleaner Writer, JAMAICA GLEANER