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Caribbean

Published on October 25th, 2015 | by Citiscope

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Steeldrum salvation for Port of Spain’s neighbourhoods

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago — The metallic ring of steelpan music wafting through the Belmont neighborhood is light and cheery. But the the writing outside the home of the Casablanca Steel Orchestra is anything but: “Guns are dangerous and foreign,” a sign says. “It kills! Stop playing with your life! Come play the national instrument.” Violent crime has spiked here in recent years as the drug trade landed in this Caribbean metro area of 270,000, just 20 miles off the coast of Venezuela. Now, Casablanca and other steelpan bands here are offering the neighborhood “panyards” where they practice and play as havens for at-risk youth to stay out of trouble — and learn musical traditions.

At Casablanca, an open-air structure with a galvanized zinc roof, cement floor and lots of steel drums on rollers, students aged 11 to 18 take music lessons three days a week. There is instruction in guitar, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and of course, steelpan, a Trinidadian institution invented here about 80 years ago. The lessons are taught by professional musicians and are free, courtesy of a program sponsored by the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism.

A couple hundred young people have gone through Casablanca’s program. Guitar teacher John Hussain has taught dozens of them, from a nearby boys orphanage and girls juvenile facility. “I remember these kids were all over the place, like kids withA. D.D., before the classes began,” he says. “They had a lot of nervous energy.” “Once classes began,” Hussain continues, “they were attentive, respectful — ‘Yes sir, no sir!’ I am convinced it made a difference.”

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