On Thursday, Sept. 14, Trinidadian-American musician Shawn Thwaites and students from his Sacramento-based lessons performed a steel-pan drum and cultural presentation at Delta College.
Thwaites is originally from Washington D.C. and has performed everywhere in the United States. His style includes the best of his Trinidadian ancestry, intertwining jazz, hip hop, funk, calypso, reggae and more.
“[My culture] is the best thing I can do. It pays me, it feeds me, it got me into college. I went to Berklee College in Boston on a partial scholarship,” said Thwaites.
“Music is the universal language. I feel really good about it, I want everyone to play the steel drums.” The steel drum comes from Trinidad and Tobago and is about 50-years old. The Trinidadians used them during World War II, making them from 55-gallon oil drums, said Thwaites.
The students with him were all students that have been playing steel drums for less than a year. Thwaites said they were learning how to play the instruments and learning the culture from it. The students come to his house to learn, with either one hour sessions or private lessons.
“I’m one of the older students, I’ve been playing for a few months with Shawn. It’s been totally wonderful. Shawn is unintimidating,” said Ron Turner. “I’m a testament that the older folks like me could also come out and learn how to do it [play the steel drum]. I really love it and I have a great time.”
This next student (of not even two months) took up steel drums because the sound of the drums had attracted him. Saul McCoy said that he was always inspired by Afro-Latin culture. “I’ve always been in love with Caribbean-West Indian culture, from the food to the song to the dance to the dress to the lifestyle,” said McCoy. “I’m learning music through the steel drums.” McCoy offered an opinion on Thwaites as well. “He’s authentic. Usually when you find someone who’s authentic, you be with them for as long as possible. You always learn something from him,” said McCoy.
During the presentation, Thwaites explained the history of the steel drum and gave a brief example of the different sounds the drums make. Thwaites played a combination of covers, such as “Sorry” by Justin Bieber and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, as well as original songs during the performance.
The original songs are from Thwaites’ band, the Shawn Thwaites Rebel Quartet (STRQ), which just released its first album titled, “New Life” in May. It can be purchased on the group’s website, strq.tv or on iTunes. STRQ recently has been on a California tour that included a performance on Good Day Sacramento.
Even so, there are still some people who are first-time fans. “I barely heard of him today, it’s been years since I’ve seen something like this,” said Louis Caudillo, who saw Thwaites practicing and decided to stop by. “[I like] the tune of it.” Caudillo then compared the sound of the steel drum to the sound a fork makes when it hit a chalkboard, it was a special sound that sort of reverberates. Caudillo mentioned he would be open to the idea of taking lessons from Thwaites if given the opportunity.
The presentation ended at 12:30 p.m. After the show, Thwaites said he felt really good. “We got a good rhythm from the crowd and the kids that came out and clapped … that was awesome,” he said.
Thwaites stated that Delta asked him to come back sometime in Black History Month, but a specific date hasn’t been planned. The STRQ will also be performing at Harlow’s in Sacramento on Oct. 13. The group will be open for Christian Scott.