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Forty Years of Steel: An Annotated Discography of Steel Band and Pan Recordings, 1951-1991.

Published discographies devoted to popular musical forms of the Anglophone Caribbean can be counted on a single hand. Two that come first to mind are Hermann Moter's Reggae Discography (Pfungstadt, Germany: Minotaurus Projekt, 1982) and Rebekah Michele Mulvaney's "Annotated Discography" (in her book Rastafari and Reggae: A Dictionary and Sourcebook [Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1990]). The few others that deserve mention focus narrowly on the recording careers of individual stars, such as Observer Station's Bob Marley: The Illustrated Disco/Biography (London, Omnibus Press, 1985) and Graham Johnstone's A-Z the Mighty Sparrow: Calypso Catalogue, 4th ed. (London: Grenada Music, 1992). Given the paucity of reference works of this kind, the appearance of any new discography covering an aspect of Caribbean music is something for which to be grateful. That the volume reviewed here is of superior quality makes it particularly welcome. It is fitting, moreover, that the most comprehensive discography of a popular Caribbean form to date should have as its subject the steel band, one of the first modern Caribbean musical creations to spread beyond the land of its birth and gain widespread international acceptance.

There is more to this book than its 776 discographic entries (each supplying place, date, label, individual song titles, and credits). An unusually good preface presents a valuable overview of the historical process through which steel bands emerged from the tamboo bamboo (stamping tube) ensembles of rural and urban Trinidad during the 1930s and 1940s. Further background is provided on the social context of steel band music, as well as its elaboration over time under the influence of other African-Trinidadian and foreign styles. Also included is a discussion of the methodology on which the discography is based, as well as clear explanations of the book's various sections and formats.

A third of the book is comprised of appendixes and indexes. One appendix lists record manufacturers and distributors along with their addresses (many of which, unfortunately, the compiler was unable to track down); another allows the reader to find prominent calypsonians' actual names by looking up their stage names, and vice versa; and a third lists sources of steel band recordings. Scholars and enthusiasts alike will appreciate the variety of ways they can thus explore the wealth of information contained in this volume. There are five indexes in all: the first is by performing artist; the second by arranger, conductor, or musical director; the third by title of recording; the fourth by year of recording; and the fifth by name of composition. Each of these has its own potential uses and advantages. The index by year, for example, makes it possible to narrow one's search to recordings produced in a given period. Another advantage of this index is that a quick glance through it provides a general idea of strands and changes in Trinidadian popular music over the years. The index of compositions, to take another example, allows one easily to look up recordings within a chosen category, ranging from European "classics" (of which there are many examples) to carnival road marches. On the other hand, if one wishes to search selectively, say, for calypsonians who have used steel pan in their recordings, or well-known North American jazz or rock musicians who have experimented with its "exotic" sounds, the index by performing artist is the place to start.

The refusal to limit entries to recordings made in the Caribbean by local artists is another of the book's strengths. Readers may be surprised to learn that among those who have incorporated steel pan into their recordings are such varied performers as Earth, Wind and Fire, The Hollies, John Lennon, Taj Mahal, Barry Manilow, Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Spyro Gyra, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, Barbra Streisand, Talking Heads, Andreas Vollenweider, Grover Washington, Jr., and Bill Withers.

The presence of such artists in this discography, most of whom have few if any connections with the Caribbean, reflects the author's attempt to be exhaustive. His stated aim is "to include any commercial recording on which one or more steel pans were featured and/or used in an accompanying role" (p. xviii). A quick look through my own recordings collection, however, was enough to reveal that the book, as comprehensive as it is, falls somewhat short of this ambitious goal of all-inclusiveness. My casual search turned up seven recordings that are inexplicably absent from the discography (and I am compelled to wonder what a systematic search would reveal); those missing titles are: Vince Federal Steel Band's Caribbean Memories (LP, Studio One, n.d.); Vastindien Sma Antillerna (one cut each by the Silver Stars Steel Orchestra and the Gay Desperados) (LP, Caprice, 1977); Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Calendar Calypso (45 rpm, Dynamic Sounds, 1978); A Night in Jost Van Dyke (one cut each by the Invaders and the Buccaneers) (LP, Rounder, n.d.); Paul Keens-Douglas, Is Town Say So (LP, Tim Tim, 1983); Caribbean Allstars, Live and Direct (LP, Raw Life, 1984); and Africa en America (one cut by Cable Wireless Hell's Gate Pan Band) (CD, Corason, 1992).

Such omissions, however, are to be expected, and indeed, were anticipated by the author, who states in the preface that he intends to correct them in later editions. Nor do they detract from the overall value of this volume. As it is, Forty Years of Steel is an admirable accomplishment that does justice to its subject. Not only does it provide researchers with an invaluable reference tool, but it furnishes indisputable proof of the richness and vitality of the Caribbean steel band tradition, and gives an idea of the considerable inroads it has made elsewhere in the world. One can only hope that it will not be long before other Caribbean musical styles and traditions can boast discographies of a comparable caliber.

KENNETH BILBY Smithsonian Institution
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Author:Bilby, Kenneth
Publication:Notes
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1994
Words:963
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