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Steelband Jamboree Enlivens Charlotte Amalie with the Sounds of Carnival

The Joseph Gomez Pan Busters perform during the Steelband Jamboree.Under a hazy Sunday evening sky, the upbeat rhythms of steelpans filled St. Thomas’s Lionel Roberts Stadium for the annual Carnival Steelband Jamboree.

A total of 12 bands, mostly school-based and some clubs, took the stage, delighting the couple hundred audience members with upbeat melodies that seemed made for easy listening.

“We put our own spin on the Carnival theme this year: We say ‘Nothing is More Fabulous than a Well-tuned Steelpan for Carnival,” Eduardo Corneiro, master of ceremonies and chairman of the Carnival Steelband Jamboree Committee, said.

Before the bands took the stage for the evening, the audience stood for the national anthem and V.I. March. A recorded invocation from the Rev. Mikie Roberts of the Memorial Moravian Church of St. Thomas was played to the crowd, reminding all to rejoice and celebrate the creation of the steel drum.

As the evening’s performances continued, more and more people filled the stadium’s grounds and stands. Proud parents cheered and recorded their children’s troops on their cell phones and cameras while the players pinged their drums.

Angela Hanley said her 8-year daughter, a member of the Ulla Muller Panatics, loves playing the steel drum, which she started learning about five months ago.

“It keeps her busy and out of trouble. Plus, it’s another form of education for her, since she gets to use her brain in a different way,” Hanely said.

Corneiro said that in the early days of St. Thomas’s Carnival there weren’t any big steel bands.

“We learned about the steelpans from Trinidad. They’re the sound of carnival and they don’t require electricity – we take pride in them and want to keep the tradition alive,” Corneiro said.

Corneiro explained that many of the island’s bands have few opportunities to perform throughout the year, so the jamboree gives them another chance to play on top of the main Carnival parade.

“This is a time for the students to showcase what they’ve been working on all year,” Corneiro said.

Fellow band members Kyle Burroughs and Dakenlie Mauvais, who play for the Bertha C. Boschulte Burning Blazers, said they enjoy how much fun it is to play steelpans. Both girls said the song “Sleeping,” which is something they love to do, was their favorite song to play from their band’s set.

Burroughs, who’s been playing steelpans for more than four years, said her band practiced for a few hours throughout the school week and then for three hours every Saturday to prepare for their Carnival performance.

For Rashida Hodge, attending the event each year evokes immense gratitude for the opportunities she was afforded over 20 years ago as a member of the Rising Stars Steel Orchestra. Funded by the V.I. Superior Court, the steel band group provides tutoring and mentoring for its members.

Spectators gather around while the Rising Stars Steel Orchestra plays.Now 35 years old and living in North Carolina, Hodge said, “I live my life by the group’s motto that ‘Nothing is so complicated that it cannot be simplified by hard work.’”

Hodge said she loves the familiar sounds of the steelpan, especially when she recognizes a new, popular tune. She believes that everyone – old and young – can relate and dance to the steel drum.

Many of the evening’s songs were crowd-pleasing, famous tunes such as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” performed by the V.I. Montessori Steel Voltage group.

“The music is so Caribbean, so particular, so fresh,” Fiorela Calvinisiti, a spectator, said. “I just love the idea of children getting involved in this type of activity and seeing how closely they pay attention to their band leader.”

During the intermission, Corneiro, speaking on behalf of the V.I. Carnival Committee, thanked all of the bandleaders for their dedication to teaching the youth how to play the steelpan.

The following bands performed Sunday: V.I. Montessori Steel Voltage, Ulla Muller Panatics, Joseph Sibilly Run Rays, Joseph Gomez Pan Buster, Kerwin Terrace Wess Stars, Love City Pan Dragons, Rising Stars Steel Orchestra, Ivanna Eudora Kean Devil Rays, St. Thomas All Stars, Bertha C. Boshulte Burning Blazers and Charlotte Amalie High School Mellow Hawks. 

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