Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The sounds seemed familiar yet somehow exotic and undefinable. They floated among the trees and were carried on the breeze of a gorgeous summer afternoon in the meadow of Wolf Trap Farm Park. Were they produced by an organ, or perhaps a new electronic synthesizer? Or was it the sound of the distant carousel or an intricate set of wind chimes?
The Trinidad Steel Band played before several hundred delighted listeners Sunday as part of a celebration of Carribean Independence Week. Their bright, happy blend of Calypso rhythms and American and Carribean songs had the crowd dancing in the grass and twisting and stomping at their picnic tables.
The group, which is based in Washington, was formed 17 years ago after several musicians from Trinidad met and began playing at Howard University. The nine-piece band features a trap drummer, conga player and seven steel drummers. These "drums" are actually ordinary oil cans that are tuned by cutting them with a torch, which raises or lowers their pitch. Steel drum music became popular in Trinidad in the 1940s and the tradition is still going strong.
The band played two sets, both of which featured the delicate, muted, melodic sounds of the steel drums and the infectious rhythms of the traps and congas. Their version of the Righteous Brothers' classic "You've Lost That LOving Feeling" was slow and jazzy, while "Home for a Carnival" was a fast paced song in which the full power of the drums was demonstrated.