Children soak up sound of steel drums

By Curt Yeomans


Nearly 300 local residents, most of whom were children from local day care centers, converged on the lawn next to the Clayton County Library System's Jonesboro branch Thursday afternoon for an hour of Caribbean music.

As the first song progressed, more and more of the children decided they were not content with simply sitting on the lawn as the Jonesboro-based PanSONICS Steel Band played reggae, calypso and salsa music on steel drums. Eventually, all of the children were on their feet, dancing with their friends as the band played its music.

As the children danced, they laughed and cheered with big smiles spread across their faces.

"I'd never heard this type of music before," said Keyshawn Coley, 8, of Riverdale. "When it started, I wanted to dance. I just started swinging to the music."

The free concert was presented by the library system's Youth Services department as one of its summer programs, said Martha Caldwell, the manager of the Jonesboro branch of the library system.

"During the summer, we do concerts from time to time," Caldwell said. "We don't do too many concerts out here on the lawn, so this is really a special event for us."

V'Ondra Olivaria, 11, of Jonesboro, said she enjoyed the music because it helped her visualize herself on a Caribbean island, dancing to a steel drum band.

"I like how the culture and the sound comes out when they play the instruments," Olivaria said.

Another Jonesboro youth, Kyler Ray, 8, also said the music made her think of the islands of the Caribbean, but in a slightly different way than Olivaria. "It reminded me of when I visited Jamaica last year with my family," Ray said.

Terry Jenkins, 11, of Jonesboro, said although Thursday was the first time he heard a steel band play, he liked the music because it was different from what he was used to. He also said he wants to play a steel drum as a result of seeing the concert.

"I would like to learn how to play it - it looks fun," Jenkins said. "They look like they're having fun."

Alicia Alexander, a PanSONICS Steel Band member from Riverdale, said it takes a love of steel drums to be able to understand the rhythm, and follow it. Alexander said she began playing the steel drums 20 years ago in Saint John's, Antigua.

"You just have to have a love for the music," Alexander said. "Just because you can do it doesn't necessarily mean you can do it well. You have to enjoy doing it."

Vere Henry, the PanSONICS' band leader, said he welcomed the enthusiasm shown by people in the audience during the concert because it fed into the family atmosphere the group strives to create at its concerts.

"We're a family-oriented group - one big Caribbean family," Henry said.