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Caribbean

Published on November 13th, 2015 | by CaymanCompass.com

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Earl La Pierre: Master of steel pan

He seems to be everywhere, slipping in and out of any musical narrative regarding the Cayman Islands in the last two decades, appearing in dozens of photos, credited as an arranger and player, ubiquitous.  Earl La Pierre cannot be credited with creating the steel pan – sometimes referred to as the steel “drum” – but he introduced it to the Cayman Islands, and he certainly can be credited with popularizing it, making its cacophonous, brittle sound commonplace. “I’ve taught perhaps 3,000 kids in Cayman since 1989,” he said. “Every year I probably teach 100-plus in the school system.”  His only lament, he said, is that so many of them “are good, maybe even great players, and a lot of them have nowhere to go. Maybe 2,000 of them are not even playing.”

The halcyon days of the pan appear to be in abeyance, a victim of competition that is cheaper, easier to transport and less musically demanding. La Pierre’s rivals require cables and electricity and dry weather, of course, but they are everywhere.  “The DJs are killing us. They sound nice and they’re original and they’re cheaper, but it’s very disappointing,” he said, noting that whereas he used to work three nights during the week and was fully booked every weekend, he plays far less frequently now – once last month at the opening of Miss Vera’s, the new roti shop on West Bay Road, and will “gig” only twice at Pirates Week. He does some private parties, but said “it’s died here tremendously.”

Nonetheless, he remains a force in Cayman – as well as in his native Trinidad and adopted Canada, where he first played in 1967 in Montreal and Toronto, founding his Afropan band in 1973.   Two months ago, he was awarded for his contributions in Trinidad and internationally by the management of the Invaders, one of Trinidad’s original steel bands, on the occasion of its 75th birthday in La Pierre’s Port Au Spain birthplace.

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