UK – The Trinidadian artist, who has been living in Britain since the ’70s, has long used his instrument as a tool to fight oppression. His new album is the latest instalment in a life defined by resistance.
For many in Britain, perceptions of the steelpan are closely associated with carnival, though historically it was an instrument borne out of resistance.
Trinidadian pan legend Fimber Bravo recounts its origins on his ebullient protest track ‘Can’t Control Me’, starting with the banning of the playing of oil drums in the 19th century by the British colonial oppressors, then the outlawing of the precursor to the steelpan – the percussive tamboo bamboo – in 1934. Players of the pan – a chromatically-pitched percussion drum – were imprisoned by colonial police in the 1950s, but the steelpan persisted. It’s joyous and defiant din became the sound of the Black Power Revolution in Trinidad and Tobago in the late ’60s which Bravo was a part of.
“‘Can’t Control Me’ has a lot of meaning,” says Bravo, on the phone from his home in Tooting, London, noting the resonance it has particularly with the Black Lives Matter movement right now. “I think somebody will come to that song – not now but later on ≠ and they’ll use it in some way.”
Bravo moved to the UK in 1971 with the 20th Century Steel Band, who tasted fame briefly in 1975 as finalists on the TV talent show New Faces, competing against the eventual winner, Marti Caine, and a 16-year-old standup comedian from Dudley called Lenny Henry. The band broke up soon after that experience following an extensive tour of Europe and Africa, though the conscious lyrical intro from the band’s ‘Heaven and Hell is on Earth’ was later sampled by Grandmaster Flash and then J-Lo on ‘Jenny From The Block’, giving it an afterlife most reality show participants can only dream of.