Published on October 3rd, 2016 | by www.huffingtonpost.com0
Re-Percussions! The Steel Drum Beats Goes On to Africa!
Re-Percussions: Our African Odyssey, award-winning Trinidadian film-maker Kim Johnson’s contribution to this year’s Caribbean Tales International Film Festival in Toronto, is a documentary masterpiece focused on Nigerian Chief Bowie Sonnie Bowei’s journey to introduce and popularize steel drum, the musical instrument known as Pan, throughout his native Nigeria and across the African continent. That journey includes Chief Bowei’s pained acknowledgement that African chiefs participated in the slave trade that forced millions of Africans into the sugar fields of the New World, the nucleus of the great Diaspora that has produced the music he has dedicated his life to. In one extraordinary scene, Bowei visits an historic barracoon, once a slave barracks, where his guide underscores the fact that slaves’ lives were so grotesquely undervalued that one umbrella was worth forty slaves, one bottle of gin ten slaves.
“Sometimes I am overwhelmed by anger and shame,” Bowei confesses. He also wonders aloud: Do any African chiefs feel at least some slight guilt about what their ancestors did? In Trinidad, where slaves improvised drums to play remembered music and alleviate their misery, their white overlords condemned drumming as noisy, monotonous and perhaps even demonic. And, because they also feared it as a potential tool to inspire rebellion, they outlawed it. But the slaves refused to relinquish the rhythms that gave them “the physical and psychic strength to endure,“ and made music however and wherever they could.
In 1877, an official commission banned the use of street drums in processions. Ever inventive, the revellers scrounged to find whatever they could use to beat – scrap metal and dust bins were popular – and before long, steel drumming was born. That, Bowei learns, is true Creole art – improvisation. And that improvisation eventually led from dustbins to 55-gallon steel drums used in Trinidad’s – and Nigeria’s – oil industry. But steel can be used for more than drumming and Pan, as it is known, is a musical instrument capable of artistry as complex as any other modern music. As well, in Trinidad it is also a life form or movement that embraces politics as well as culture. These features, and its origins as the African Diaspora’s special instrument, has inspired Chief Bowei’s mission to bring Trinidad’s unique contribution back to the ancestral homeland. “I feel destined to carry out the Pan movement in Africa, not just Nigeria,” he declares.