DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Solar energy, on tap

THERE’S NO MISTAKING it: the sound of the sun. This is musical nourishment, sweet to the soul and body.

Steel pans — oil drums and biscuit tins Trinidadians turned into instruments — fill the air with rhythm.

Across borders and seas it flows, from the Caribbean to the Pacific Northwest.

The band Caribe, a trio from the wilds of Quilcene, Port Angeles and Nebraska, started dishing up this sound a bit over a year ago.

And now, with community festival season ramping up, we have dates to hear them.

First a chat with the players. Pannist Angie Tabor, the Nebraska-born one, got her formal training at California State University-Long Beach, where her professors taught a global survey of drumming and percussion.

After many years in Southern California she lit out for a more spacious place.

She and her partner, who can telecommute from anywhere, found theirs just outside Port Townsend.

Soon after arrival in mid-2016, Tabor posted a musicians-wanted ad on Craigslist. She wanted to start a steel-pan band, wanted to let the sunshine in. She likes her rhythms rich in samba, salsa and soca, that soul-and-calypso dance.

Bassist John Sanders of Quilcene, a longtime member of the Peninsula College Jazz Ensemble, responded immediately.

His reaction: “Oh my gosh. Really? Finally?”

“John said, ‘We’re coming over this week. What’s a good day?’ ” Tabor recalls.

The bassist even came with a drum-kit man: Tor Brandes, also a Peninsula College jazz band player.

The three rehearsed for four months, shaping songs from Jamaica, Trinidad and Harry Belafonte. One chilly day in January 2017, Caribe brought its first warm vibes to the Disco Bay Detour.

Since then Tabor, Sanders and Brandes have stirred “Jump in the Line” and “Jamaica Farewell,” among other mood lighteners, into the music scene.

“Working with her is really exciting,” Sanders said of Tabor. “She writes arrangements for the band,” giving the trio its own tight sound.

With Brandes providing the rhythmic muscle, Tabor is an elfin figure, skipping nimbly atop her pans. Sanders, slim as a blade of tall grass, sways in the breeze.

Tabor loves the fact that Trinidad’s youth culture developed this music, cooking up a whole new sound from the stuff that was lying around.

People who were brought to the Caribbean as slaves were stripped of their African drums. They turned all kinds of containers into percussion, giving back to us all those basic human needs: rhythm and resonance.

Sanders, who’s been playing in various bands on the North Olympic Peninsula for a good 20 years, said steel-pan music reaches us on a physical level. It limbers spine and hips.

But there’s more, Sanders said, and it’s mystical. These chords speak to the spirit.

Tabor holds a master’s degree in music performance, and leads steel-pan classes for adults and youngsters at Swan School in Port Townsend. After teaching them a full set of songs, she brought her students — retirees, grade-schoolers and in-between — to busk on the waterfront and to play at one of the best all-ages venues in Jefferson County: Chimacum’s Finnriver Farm & Cidery.

Meantime Caribe has gigs lined up at a variety of locations. First we can imbibe these rhythms at the Pourhouse in Port Townsend this Saturday evening.

Then the band appears during the Sequim Irrigation Festival the afternoon of May 5 and Disco Bay Detour, the roadside spot at 282332 U.S. Highway 101 where Caribe debuted, welcomes the group back May 19.

“I love the classics, like ‘Yellow Bird,’ ” Sanders said.

So do we. We love the way this music lets our spirits fly.


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be May 2.

Reach her at [email protected]

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