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C H A P T E R 1 INTRODUCTION If anybody had told me when I started messing around with this [steelband] in 1973 that we’d be at the point we’re at right now, I would basically tell them they were out of their minds. —Al O’Connor (2003)1 From the moment you step off the airplane, the experience of visiting Port of Spain, Trinidad and DeKalb, Illinois during the winter is a study in contrasts. For travelers from the north typically arriving in the evening to Piarco International Airport in Trinidad, the air-conditioned terminal fails to mask the impending shock of oven-like heat that blasts visitors exiting the airport doors to the taxi stand.After surviving the roughly forty-minute maxi-taxi ride from the airport to the city of Port of Spain, one arrives at steelpan mecca— panyards saturate the city and surrounding area, and the Queen’s Park Savannah located in the northwest part of downtown is the epicenter. During January and February, Trinidad (and its sister island Tobago) is bustling with energy. The Carnival season is fast approaching , and countless residents are making preparations for the Panorama steelband competition , masquerade (mas’) bands, calypso tents, competitions of all sorts, and the extensive weekend activities ranging from Kiddies Carnival, Panorama Finals, Dimanche Gras into Jouvert Monday and Carnival Tuesday. Considered the dry season by local standards, the temperature is hot and the humidity is oppressive. The daily temperature of equatorial Trinidad is relatively consistent,regardless of season,and visiting steelpan enthusiasts from the north, Europe, and Asia are not spared the blistering daytime sun. Midday finds local C H A P T E R 1 4 Trinidadian vendors tending food stands in preparation for the evening when, spared the afternoon sun, flurries of activity commence as the people emerge to take advantage of more temperate evening temperatures. The hundreds of steelbands that saturate the island are busy too. The Panorama preliminaries are underway, and the lucky bands still alive in the competition can be heard nightly rehearsing in outdoor panyards that dot the cities and countryside. Weeks later, during the Panorama semi-final competition held in the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain, the catchy melodies of soca/calypso tunes, chosen by steelbands as their song-of-the-year arrangements for the massive steelbands, are everywhere. The tunes waft in and out from various steelbands and blare from the park’s massive sound system and passing car stereos. For several months leading up to Carnival each year, steelbands capture the ears and hearts of Trinidad’s approximately one million inhabitants and many more expatriates living in the extended diaspora of Toronto, London, and New York. February in DeKalb, by contrast, greets visitors with a starkly different reality. Exiting O’Hare International Airport in suburban Chicago during winter introduces one to the bone-chilling winds blowing off Lake Michigan. From the icy and snow-drifted taxi stand, Interstate 294 gives way to Interstate 88 as visitors are initiated to the towering concrete ramparts and high speeds of Illinois freeways. Traveling west on Interstate 88, the concrete and hustle and bustle of Chicago suburbs melts away, and after roughly an hour of driving, the suburbs gradually give way to the rolling cornfields of rural Illinois, which appear to F I G U R E 1 . 1 , NIU Steelband Concert Rehearsal (2012) (Continued on next page) 5 Introduction stretch for as long as the eye can see.The quiet serenity of the farms dotting the countryside is interrupted by the city of DeKalb, and as the visitor pulls off the interstate the only thing separating him from America’s de facto steelband mecca is a few acres of plowed cornfields covered in snow.Upon arriving in DeKalb for the first time in January of 1993,Liam Teague recalled, “Al and Cliff picked me up from the airport; it was cold and we drove for what seemed like hours. Cliff was hungry, and we stopped at a McDonald’s, and I remember hearing people in the McDonald’s swearing and using foul language. I was shocked by this for some reason. I stared out the window of our booth and a snowstorm had hit. This was the first time I had ever seen snow.As I watched the blowing snow from that McDonald’s, I recall thinking,“Dear God, what have I done? Why did I leave Trinidad?”2 Steelpan—What Is It? This is...


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