Auckland steelband, Steel’n Beats, are a working testimony to the power of community – their vibrant and addictive sound sees them at the heart of a range of projects using music to inspire and educate, in chorus with a worldwide scene.
A tight-knit ensemble with an ambitious repertoire, Steel’n Beats take their blend of classic calypso and modern pop tunes to clubs, festivals and private events around New Zealand using instruments hand-built by the legendary maker and musician Lennox Jordan, from Trinidad & Tobago.
The ensemble is the realisation of Tish Viljoen’s long-held vision for a tight-knit group working on ambitious arrangements of traditional calypso to modern pop and vintage soul music. A typical repertoire might include uplifting music by Santana, Daft Punk or even The Platters, as well as classic calypso tracks by the likes of Lord Kitchener or Calypso Rose. The diversity of great material is what marks out a top steel band, says Viljoen. “We all love a wide variety of music, but when you bring it to life in the steel band style, you’ve got to hear it to believe it.” she says.
The steel pan has Caribbean roots in Trinidad & Tobago stretching back generations, and today there are steelband groups active in over 50 countries around the world, with numerous thriving festivals and competitions.
It takes hours of precision hammering to fine-tune recycled 55-gallon oil drum, resulting in a series of different sized instruments, each capable of intricate harmonies and textures. But the instrument truly comes to life when it’s played in unison – as part of a steelband ensemble, one of the world’s most boisterous, glorious noises.
“The sound is otherworldly when you combine the different pans, and join forces with drums and percussion, what we call the ‘engine room’ of rhythm,” says Steel’n Beats musical director, Tish Viljoen. “For the casual listener the music might at first evoke something laidback and summery, but it’s so much more dynamic when played as a group, and it has such a rich history.”
Suitable for all occasions, Steel’n Beats are known for their festival appearances here and in Australia, as well as steady work for private functions and at community events.