Cuban steel orchestra started with pans, training from Guyana now “a hit”

By Abbisola Oxley

Havana,  Cuba – Some 40 years ago Guyana donated the steel pans to help form the first steel orchestra in Cuba which is based in Santiago de Cuba. Today, the band is “a hit” and is popular throughout Cuba.

On February 23rd, as Guyana celebrated its 48th Republic Anniversary, both the children and adult sections of the steel orchestra performed for visiting Guyanese and locals at a community center in Santiago de Cuba.

Four decades later the band boasts a repertoire of music including salsa, merengue, soca, reggae, classics and more. Over the years the band has been entertaining thousands of visitors to Cuba including government and other foreign dignitaries.

Guyana’s honorary consul in Florida, Mr. Ramzan Roshanali and Mr. Wesley Kirton, president of the Guyanese American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) were among the guests at the special performance to mark Guyana’s Republic anniversary this year.

  • Click here to watch the youth section of the Cuban Steel Orchestra perform.
Cuban steel orchestra children youth section
Cuban steel orchestra youth section giving a performance.

The first set of steel pans were donated to Cuba in 1976 during a visit here by Guyana’s Chronicle Atlantic Symphony Steel Orchestra (CASSO) led by Rudy Bishop. The Government of Guyana later made available to the Cubans the services of Mr. Calvin Whyte who spent an extended period in Cuba tuning the pans and training locals to play this musical instrument, Kirton told South Florida Caribbean News. He said Guyana had sent a steel orchestra-the Guyana National Steel Orchestra-to Cuba even before gaining independence in 1966.

  • Click here to watch the performance of the Cuban Steel Orchestra adult section.
Cuban steel orchestra youth section meeting the Guyanese American delegation.
Cuban steel orchestra youth section meeting the Guyanese American delegation.

“This level of collaboration is indicative of the friendly relations that every government of Guyana regardless of which political party forms the government has had and continues to have with Cuba,” Kirton said.

Speaking at the performance in celebration of Guyana’s republic anniversary Director for International Relations for Santiago de Cuba Ms. Maria Adams along with the director of the band hailed the contribution of Guyana in having the band formed through not only the donation of the pans but also making available a tuner and a trainer to assist in its formative years . “It is indeed a pleasure for us to play for you this afternoon in appreciation of your country’s great contribution to our formation,” said the director. Both officials expressed the gratitude of the Cuban people for the initiative taken by Guyana to introduce steel pan music to Cuba.

Guyanese American Delegation in Cuba listening to the Cuba Steel Orchestra
Guyanese American Delegation in Cuba listening to the Cuban Steel Orchestra

The band has since received assistance from Trinidad and Tobago.

Mr. Ali, in his response said that Guyana was pleased to have initiated the formation of the band many decades ago and expressed his pleasure at the growth and development of the orchestra over the years. He announced that Guyana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through the office of the honorary consul in Miami, will outfit the band with uniforms reflective of Guyana’s contribution to the launch of steel pan music in Cuba. He said this would be a donation in the name of the Ministry.

Performing at a small community center where scores of locals gathered to listen to the music and meet the visiting Guyanese, both the children and adult sections “dished out” a variety of popular renditions including ‘We are the World’,  as well as several calypsos.

  • Click here to watch the performance of the Cuban  steel orchestra 

The band hopes to visit Guyana one day to perform at Guyana’s Independence or Republic anniversary celebrations.

(This report is made possible through sponsorship of Surinam Airways and DMC Travel of Miami).

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