Scorpions Steel Band
13 November 2003 | Trinidad, West Indies
Sapo is a typical laborer-class Trinidadian. Uneducated. Illiterate. He speaks Trini street slang, rich with unique and colorful Trini expressions, and with verbs rarely conjugated, if even used. He works at the boatyard, raking and sweeping, for the minimum wage of 7 tt (Trinidad & Tobago dollars) per hour, or about $1.18 U.S.D. He lives in Carenage, one of the old villages along the coast of Trinidad, untouched by time, where the homes are poor and inadequate, but the sense of community and brotherhood is strong. This is where Sapo and his 6 brothers and 4 sisters grew up, and they all still live here. Sapo is a typical laborer from a big family, still living in the village he was born in. He's in his 50's, and has never married, but has 12 children and 10 grandchildren scattered throughout the Caribbean.
So typical in many ways. But Sapo is very special. He is the leader of a steel drum band call Scorpions Pan Reflections. And Sapo plays the sweetest music on his steel drum (or pan, as it's called here). We've just never heard the pan played so sweet.
Sapo took a liking to me when he found out I wanted to play the tenor pan. The steel drum was born here, is taught in all the schools, and is at the heart of Trinidadian culture. I think he was touched that a foreigner showed an interest in his instrument, his passion. He asked me to come practice with his band. He's spent countless hours with me, teaching me the songs Scorpions plays. He's not a very good teacher, and it's quite hard for me to even understand him when he talks, but he has a heart of gold, and is teaching me a lot.
The Christmas season in Trinidad is filled with pan concerts; the band has 9 engagements between now and New Year's. I get paid as a regular band member, usually between $2.34 and $5.68 per gig, not quite enough to even cover my transport costs!
It's very challenging for me to learn the songs that the band plays, and be proficient enough to perform with them. Weeknights, I practice with the band in their "pan yard", an empty lot in Carenage with one room to store the pans in, and a corrugated tin roof over part of the lot for when it rains. After practice, Sapo walks me to the corner where I can hail a maxi taxi, a converted VW van, the common form of public transportation in Trinidad. He knows all the drivers and makes sure they take care of me, take me back to the boat safely; Carenage is not a good place for a foreigner to be at night.
The Caribbean is a wonderful cruising area. Beautiful beaches. Clear, warm water. Amazing coral reefs. Active volcanoes. Rainforests just bursting with life. We feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful natural beauty and variety of the islands.
But just as wonderful are the rich and varied cultures of the islands. Each one unique, but with a common thread of music and dance. One of the real joys of traveling is getting a chance to experience these different cultures. And perhaps the richest culture of all is here in Trinidad, untouched by tourism, as Trinidad is the one island of the Caribbean that does not really attract tourists. It's good to be back in Trinidad, immersed in their wonderful culture.
We had a great summer vacation, visiting family and friends, waterskiing in some tournaments, and shopping for hard-to-find boat parts. But it's good to be back on the boat, smelling the salt air, watching the pelicans feed, hearing the green-backed parrots squawking as they fly overhead.
We've got a healthy list of boat projects to work on here in Trinidad. Then we'll decide whether to stay here for Carnival or sail up-island. In the meantime, we're just appreciating the adventures and experiences every day brings.
Take care, love to all....Happy Thanksgiving!