They looked so sterile, so cold. Silver cylinders. That’s all they were.
But when the two musicians standing before the crowd struck their first notes these pans transformed before my eyes. The musicians caused a waterfall of pearling, perky, upbeat sounds to bounce from their drums. Like delighted rubber raindrops falling on a steel roof combined with the purest moment in the sound of a steel pipe falling on the cement or on top of another steel pipe. I suddenly saw in my mind’s eye sunshine, palm trees and tranquil blue waters. Maybe it was because I’ve often heard this instrument in movies associated with warm places and the ocean.
If you guessed, then you probably guessed right. I was listening to steel drums, or steel pans, live for the first time. As soon as the musicians were finished playing, a number of curious students flocked to the drums to tap the drumsticks against the pan listening intently to the instrument’s ready response.
Warm and willing was the feeling of the overall World Music Celebration event at Thompson Rivers University. Students were not filled with the usual hesitation or the stiff dancing of crowded bars and clubs.
Put on by the TRU Faculty Association Equity Committee to celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination the atmosphere was relaxed and open. Students were stepping forward and sharing dance moves from Jamaica to Pakistan to Indian.
The Macarena made a show and everyone lined up to go through the moves. It was fascinating to witness some people learning the steps for the first time. As an individual who’s known the song since well, elementary really, it was interesting to be on the side of teaching others rather than being taught. It really brought home the idea that there are people here unfamiliar with things I’ve known all my life. I caught glimpses of students haltingly miming the moves and then casually falling into the easy sequence.
While I was searching for a video to share the dance moves I was not surprised to find that the moves vary from what I know.
So here is one of the instructional videos and I’ll fill you in on how we Duchess, Alberta kids used to dance to the Macarena.
Now in this version the dancer does this wide hip circle to finish the sequence. I’m sure since little kids, then later older kids, would be pulling these moves the teachers of my pretty conservative small town must have modified it to include less butt bumping. We were actually taught to sway the hips and lasso.
So we would come to this move and instead of pushing our butt out we moved our hips in time to the beat, pretty much as this video does but with less emphasis. But instead of keeping our hands on our hips we would raise one and swing an invisible lasso. In case you do not know what lassoing is, here is a lovely lady from Calgary, a city near my hometown, sharing how to lasso. And yes, we Albertans like to rope random things at least once in our lifetime: including fathers,fake cattle, fence posts and anything else that stands upright.
The final Duchess Difference from these video instructions was that we liked to clap as we jumped and changed direction. Facing each of the four directions in turn we finished our lasso, hop, clap, landing and began the sequence again.
There was of course some live Latin music at this event. It was a party favourite as students stepped forward to samba and salsa. Yes, we youngsters know a little bit about ballroom dancing. There were older women and men in attendance too, but the youth far outnumbered them.
I learned to salsa over the summer. While working in Lethbridge, Alberta I became friends with a girl who loves to dance. She’s like a fish in water when it came to dancing. She knew that Ric’s Grill, informally known as the water tower restaurant, held free salsa lessons on Thursday nights. Though an event that ran late and sat very far from where I lived, I attended when I could. From the top room where the dancing took place I could see the Rockie Mountains peeking over the horizon. I hadn’t even know they could be seen from Lethbridge: a flat sprawling prairie city.
With a five a.m. wake-up the next day I’d slouched through breakfast, but would usually get my spirits up during my morning bike ride to work in the cool crisp morning air. Riding along a two-lane highway I’d picture myself riding to an airport to catch an early flight to some exotic place for a journalism assignment. Many of the trips in my life have begun this way so it wasn’t hard to picture. Then, as an additional gift from life, just before the Sun climbed above the horizon I’d be thrown by the fanfare on display before its arrival. The fiery sunrises of the prairies are like nothing else—like the atmosphere wants to celebrate the coming day with an explosion of vivid colours. The red carpet for the royalty that is the star sustaining our home.
Today, standing among the throng of students throwing their worries to the wind at the World Music Celebration event in Kamloops, British Columbia I found myself wrestling with the natural lighting instead of enjoying it. Rather than inspiring awe it was inspiring agitation, like a naughty prank-pulling child. The large windows of the Panorama room were a bane to my photos. But I made due with much patience.
While photographing the Latin band of singers I found my camera lense attracted to one instrument in particular. Wishing myself luck I moseyed over to Google and typed in “instrument, box drum”.
And wouldn’t you know it I was directed to the cajon box drum. It is exactly as it is called: a drum in the form of a box. Lately I’ve found that most things relating to impromptu-like drums has been the product of African innovation when they weren’t allowed drums. I’m referring to the gumshoe dance of my last post: the one formed by conscripted African miners looking for a way to communicate with other tribes members and find a replacement for their taken drums. It is amazing the versatility of these boxes. Listening to a duet really shows the range of sounds that musicians are capable of producing from it.
Various websites insist the cajon box drum is easy to make. Maybe I’ll make one for myself this summer.
*** On a quick end note, sorry for being so inconsistent with my latest updates. As the semester draws to a close and crunch time is upon the students of Thompson Rivers University things have become hectic. The good news is that Holi is coming to TRU! An exciting Indian festival with lots of colour! It’s officially on March 27th, but the event here will be held on April 6th. Look forward to my post!***