Paul shines a joyous light on the steel pan

Paul Smith is a man on a mission: to change everything you think you know about the steel pan.

The 31-year-old musician uses the steel pan to play everything from John Legend’s ‘Ordinary People’, Drake’s ‘Find Your Love’ and contemporary soca hits like Bunji Garlin’s ‘Ready For De Road’ (Differentology) and ‘Bacchanalist’ from Kerwin Du Bois.

He is looking to inspire a new generation of musicians to play the steel pan and is currently teaching the craft to four young people between the ages of 15 and 18.

Mr Smith said: “The steel pan in Bermuda used to be really big, but there was never a graduated system and it wasn’t really introduced in the school system back then, so there was no generation to come up behind those older players and turn it into what it could be.

“There are some really great steel pan musicians here in their own right, but you still need young people to take up the mantle. That’s why teaching is so important to me.”

Several of the Island’s schools currently have steel pan programmes, including Sandys Secondary, T N Tatem, Bermuda Institute, Somersfield Academy, CedarBridge Academy and the Bermuda School of Music.

Mr Smith hopes that by letting students choose their own songs and giving them a wider repertoire of music, they will see all the potential the instrument has.

He was personally inspired to learn the steel pan about ten years ago after seeing well known Trinidadian musician Earl LaPierre, Jr using the steel pan to play Top 40 hits at a party in Canada.

“It was strange because when you normally think of the pan you don’t associate it with stuff you hear on the radio,” he said.

“You think of people playing old Calypso stuff at the airport or in the soundtrack for movies when they are depicting an island.

“You don’t think of it as an instrument that plays everything, so seeing him play songs that I knew and could sing along with was just mesmerising.”

Mr Smith, who is the principal tuba player with the Bermuda Regiment Band, decided to return to Canada in 2005, to study under Mr LaPierre, Jr, his brother Noel LaPierre and their father Earl LaPierre, Sr.

That same year he challenged himself to play at Toronto’s popular Caribana festival.

It proved to be “the shock of [his] life” as Mr Smith tried to keep up with other experienced steel pan players.

But he said: “It was a good learning experience and I got to learn a few road songs. I also got to see the community there and how Carnival is celebrated in other countries around the world.”

In 2007, he returned to the celebration and started competing in steel pan competitions along with the Afro Pan Steel Band. Each year they have placed in the top three out of 14 bands; they even took home first prize in 2011.

Mr Smith will be showing off his skills at Chewstick Neo Griot Lounge next Saturday at 8pm.

And said people turning up to the gig should come with the understanding it won’t be typical steel panning.

“You are going to come in and hear really great musicians,” he said. “I want to take some tunes people know and just shake them up a little bit. It’s really different what I do and I want people to change their mind about what they think of steel pan and the arts in Bermuda in general.”

He said there was a lot of talk going on about gaming in Bermuda, but in order to rival other destinations like Las Vegas, Bermuda needs to start honing its musical talents.

“Not everyone just goes to Vegas to pull the arm of a slot machine, they also want to see a good show,” he said. “If we have really great artists who take their craft seriously that’s a great revenue stream.”

Local poet NealJhay will be the opening act for next weekend’s show at Chewstick, located on Court Street, Hamilton.

Mr Smith will also be joined on stage by his band De Onion Patch Crew, which is being built to take part in the Bermuda Day Parade later this summer. Show tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door.

By The Royal Gazette

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