Music from behind the Bridge: Steelband Aesthetics and Politics in Trinidad and Tobago

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A symbol of Trinidadian culture, the steelband has made an extraordinary transformation since its origins-from junk metal to steel orchestra, and from disparaged underclass pastime to Trinidad and Tobago's national instrument. Now, Shannon Dudley gives the first discerning look at the musical thinking that ignited this transformation, and the way it articulates with Afro-Trinidadian tradition, carnival, colonial authority, and nationalist politics. Music from behind the Bridge tells the story of the steelband from the point of view of musicians who overcame disadvantages of poverty and prejudice with their extraordinary ambition. Literally referring to the poor neighborhoods nestled in the hills bordering Port of Spain to the East, "Behind the Bridge" is also a metaphor for conditions of social disadvantage and cultural resistance that shaped the steelband movement in the various Afro-Trinidadian communities where it first took root.

The book further explores the implications of the steelband's "nationalization" in post-independence Trinidad and Tobago, and contemporary steelband musicians' preoccupation with the formally adjudicated annual Panorama competition. In discussing the intersection of musical thinking, festivity, and politics, this book connects important questions about the history of the steelband to general questions about the relation between popular culture and nationalism.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Dudley sets the tone and a very high standard for future scholarship. His focus on musical processes and individual agency relative to cultural context and constraints provides a model for discourse about the post-independence era relevance of pan. In short, this is a literal 'must read' for anyone interested in the steelband movement." —the world of music

"The handled with great skill and insight. This book is strongly recommended to scholars and students in music and Caribbean studies and to anyone with an interest in artistic achievements in pan." —New West Indian Guide

"Finally, a work that brings the sophisticated musical sensibilities of steelbands to the centre and investigates the powerful hold that competition has over steelband aesthetics! Dudley's book is an insightful romp through the world of pan from the yards to the Savannah, but his ear is keenly tuned to the arrangements, style, and, most generally, sound of pan ensembles. This is an important book about creativity and passion for music in a developing, postcolonial nation." —Gage Averill, Dean of Music, University of Toronto

"Dr. Dudley's Music from behind the Bridge is an elegant study of Trinidad's steel pan, the best written thus far. In this book, Dr. Dudley demonstrates a rare understanding of, and much respect for, the West Indies in general and Trinidad in particular. Readers of Music from behind the Bridge will learn not only about the emergence and evolution of the steel pan as a musical instrument, but will also grasp the social and political significance of steel bands and of the music they play. Dr. Dudley writes beautifully about peoples, situations and events that liken Trinidad to other Caribbean countries/nations. Music from behind the Bridge fosters a unique understanding of music in Caribbean societies, not just in Trinidad. A masterpiece." —Dominique Cyrille, Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies at Lehman College (CUNY)

"Shannon Dudley reveals to us in new ways the human depth and sonic richness of Trinidad and Tobago's steelband tradition. His study does much more than show how a vernacular music became a critical part of a nation-building project based on ideas of modernist reform in a postcolonial setting; it presents a beautifully balanced picture of the tensions inhering in this process. Tacking between "elite" and "folk" perspectives and aesthetics, giving equal time to ideologies and values inherited from the past and the nuanced musical thinking of individual performers and arrangers creating in the present, Dudley triumphs over the reductionist tendencies that often hamper discussions of the relationship between music and politics. Through it all, the artistry and sheer creative energy of the practitioners of pan shine through." — Kenneth Bilby, Rockefeller Fellow at the Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College Chicago

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195175479
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/26/2007
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Shannon Dudley is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Washington, and author of several articles and books on the music of Trinidad including Carnival Music in Trinidad: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture (OUP, 2003). He also researches popular music in Puerto Rico. As a performer on the steel pan, he has played with leading steelbands in both Trinidad and the United States.

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Table of Contents

Illustrations     xi
Introduction     3
The Steelband Movement and Music     29
An Unlikely Instrument     57
The National Instrument     81
Dropping the Bomb     113
A Showcase for Pan     137
The Rise of the Arranger     151
Community Participation     173
Contest and Control     201
Writing Their Own Tunes     223
From Panman to Pannist     243
Popular Culture and Nationalism     263
Steel Pan Instruments     275
Repertoire     287
Panorama Winners, 1963-2007     291
Bibliography     293
Discography     303
Index     305
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