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Caribbean

Published on April 28th, 2014 | by The Trinidad Guardian

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Friends celebrate Hugh Borde at 81

The names Hugh Borde, Tripoli Steelband and Wladziu “Liberace” Valentino may not be familiar to many young pan musicians, musicians in general or random adults, but to the history of pan, hopefully, they are. Back in the 1960-80s, then steelband manager Hugh Borde—considered a “mad man to leave his ‘government’ job to go away with a steelband”—and his pan ensemble, Tripoli, were special in the eyes of the First World when we in Trinidad (The Mecca of Pan) couldn’t recognise the beam of light.

Of course in those days, while we knew the partially wood-made piano, or guitar, was an instrument and were never daunted by them being a by-product of trees, we were unfailingly daunted by the pan, an instrument, being an oil drum, worst yet, popularly considered a dustbin. Borde would enlighten the world on pan being “the only musical instrument invented in the 20th century that could duplicate a symphony orchestra” but that, back in the day, anyone playing (beating) pan was labelled a “vagabond,” so much so that the “police arrested anyone when found playing a pan…even in a yard; you are taken to court the next morning and ‘jailed’ for six months.”

Time progressed, and when all Borde’s efforts at Tripoli becoming pan entrepreneurs in the’ mecca’ could not be realised, his attempts during their tour to Canada actually landed them in the hands of then stranger-to-pan, world-renowned, legendary pianist and vocalist, Liberace, who said he “discovered” them performing at the 1967 Expo in Montreal, Canada. While in the ‘mecca’ pan was a disgrace to society, its resonance considered noise, and the player viewed as the scum of the earth, in the ‘first’ world the legendary Liberace stated that Tripoli performed “fabulous,” further stating his invitation to have them tour with him arose out of them having presented “the most exciting musical performances of its kind in the world of show-business …” back then.

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