The Jump Up Steelband

More Information

Please click on the link below to read Gail Alexander's article about Derrick Okubo in the Trinidad Guardian. Or you can read the text only version below the link.

Trinidad Guardian Article by Gail Alexander

Wednesday 31st May, 2006

Pan on the move in San Francisco

By Gail Alexander

He comes from Japanese stock. He lives in San Francisco—and he plays pan. And in his 20 years of playing T&T’s national instrument, US musician Derrick Okubo has always been consistent in spreading the word that the pan was invented in “Trinidad and Tobago, which is in the West Indies,” he says.

Okubo fell in love with T&T’s national instrument over 20 years ago when he heard pan for the first time at a music festival in Oakland, California.

“I loved the sound of the instrument immediately. I was drawn to the way that it is played—the physicality of the instrument, Okudo says.

Years later, he is probably one of the few panmen living in the Bay area of the Golden Gate city and he’s eager to come to the home of pan.

Okubo linked up with journalists from around the world including T&T during a US programme in April.

He said: “One of the great things about the San Francisco Bay Area is that it is racially diverse and we have exposure to art forms from all over the world, including the Caribbean.

“I had become interested in music from West Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Brazil in the mid-80s, so I was already familiar with calypso and soca. There was also a World Beat movement in the Bay Area at that time and I got to see a lot of bands that were mixing African, Caribbean and Latin music with funk and rock”

Okubo would hear pan occasionally on some local radio stations and could find some records in the music shops in Berkeley.

In the mid-80s, he was hired by a performing arts festival to co-produce a day festival of steelbands and another day of African and Latin music.

During that time, Okubo met Harry Best of the Harmonics Steelband, who is from St Lucia, and Jeff Narell, a transplanted New Yorker (Andy Narell’s brother) who was leading a group called Tropical Madness at the time.

“Jeff was teaching a steelpan class every Monday night at UC Berkeley and I signed up immediately,” Okubo said.

The first songs the class learned were Pan Woman, Ah Hearing Pan, Pan Rising and Lovelight in Flight (by Stevie Wonder).

“I’ll never forget the great feeling when I walked into the class for the first time and was surrounded by 10-15 pan players performing this great music,” Okubo added.

“I always looked forward to Monday nights because it meant that I got to go play some pan.

“Patrick Arnold (now PanTrinbago president) was in the Bay Area at that time with Our Boys Steel Orchestra and I purchased a set of double seconds from him.”

In 1991 Okubo formed his own band, The Jump Up Steelband, reflecting yet another aspect of T&T culture - the Carnival jump-up—in its title.

The band comprised a number of students of pan. When several left over the years, Okubo replaced them with musicians playing electric guitar, electric bass and drumset.

He now remains the only pannist in the group.

“So we’re not a real true steelband anymore, but I have still kept the name,” he said. “In 2006, we celebrate 15 years in existence.

“I’ve studied pan for about 18 years, but the studying never ends. Playing pan has given me the opportunity to meet interesting people and collaborate with other musicians—each one telling a story in his or her own way.

“Every time I perform, it is also an opportunity to make people feel good and to inform them that pan was invented in Trinidad,” he added.

Okubo continues to collaborate with Arnold and other aficionados in the US. After being so strongly connected to this country by its national instrument, he hopes to visit T&T sometime, he said.

His desire to come to the land of pan has been further fuelled by the Tourism Development Company’s Carnival 2006 CD and their latest publications on the country which he obtained in April.

“So coming to T&T is more than a dream. Now it’s a real goal,” Okubo added.

©2005-2006 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

Designed by: Randall Rajkumar-Maharaj · Updated daily by: Sheahan Farrell