When, 30 years ago, some young men in Laventille gathered to beat out rhythms on almost anything they could find, little did they know that their fun would eventually become an actual band–the Laventille Rhythm Section.
Today, this percussion band comprises 32 people, from young teens to grizzled older men who joined decades ago, when they themselves were just 12 or 13.
"Around 1985 we were recognised as Laventille Rhythm Section, but long before that, we were just a bunch of liming guys," says Colin Mitchell, one of the long-standing members of the band whose infectious "iron" sounds are in demand at Carnival and at events throughout the year.
The band, in the early days, would go to parties to have fun, and play for admission. Their reputation for infectious, danceable percussion soon grew.
They won the first-ever RiddemRama Competition held in Trinidad, in 2005, and became the section of choice for mas artists Peter Minshall and later, Brian MacFarlane, on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.
The band has also played for the national football team Soca Warriors when they went to Germany for the 2006 World Cup.
In 2008, in Caribbean Beat magazine, writer David Katz wrote of his first encounter with the band one J'Ouvert morning: ".....suddenly another type of sound was upon us: two dozen players banging complex polyrhythms on a variety of known and unknown instruments, yielding an instantly powerful sound that evoked the ancestral homeland of Africa, yet was simultaneously rooted in the present, particularly through the resounding rings of a tyre iron–the inner part of a car wheel.
"The scraping of a metal grater merged with the shakings of a tassel-covered gourd, and the metronomic tapping on a plastic block by the only woman in the crew melded with the congas, cowbells and other pieces of iron being struck with metal sticks. There were muscular youths pounding oil drums known locally as du-dup. On the back of the truck, a fat man clad only in his underpants blew deep, angry trombone notes and another drew harsh treble blasts from a truck horn.
"Most impressive of all were large, double-sided drums called djun-djuns...as two shirtless gents banged away on them with curved wooden sticks, creating a stupefying din, I became completely mesmerised...."
The band's instruments still include the du-dups and the djun-djun, but they don't use the tyre iron any more: their iron sounds have grown more sophisticated.
"We grew past that car hub phase. Now, each iron has a different, distinct sound–that started about 2005. We go directly to welding shops, and choose the thickness of steel we want to use for different irons; we choose the design that we want for different tones," said Trevor McDonald, the Laventille Rhythm Section's president, on Friday.
"What distinguishes a rhythm section from anything else is that without iron, you don't have a section," said McDonald.
"Some of the larger African drums that we use–like the African djun-djun–give the bass sound of the band. Iron is a lighter sound, rather like the tenor pans of a rhythm section in a pan band, if you want to compare it to pan. And du-dup is a traditional instrument that goes back way back into the history of pan–it used to be an early form of pan with just two notes."
"We also use conga drums, timbales, snare drums, scratchers and jam blocks," added band member Colin Mitchell.
While some members of the band had a great time playing sailor mas this year with the Massy All Stars Steel Orchestra's portrayal of Ships Ahoy at a French Festival, all of the Rhythm Section members are looking forward to the completed construction of their new band building in Laventille.
Express editor and columnist Keith Smith, himself a Laventille resident, had worked passionately for the band, raising funds for the building until his death by cancer at age 65 in 2011.
Said McDonald: "We are in the process of putting up our band room, which we've been trying to do since we first bought a piece of land 15 years ago. Our former manager, Keith Smith, was instrumental in getting us started on the building, raising funds and helping to acquire sponsors."
The band is very grateful to the Government for its help with some funding for the building.
Although the band's instruments are now housed in a ground floor of the new structure, the unfinished brick structure still needs a roof, fixtures, and external work.
The band envisages the building as a multipurpose structure, including an office, a daycare centre, and a practice area for the community at large–so that not only musicians, but anyone who needs to practice dance, drama, or other art forms, can find a space in Laventille. They would love these rehearsal premises to eventually transform into a self-contained community business space.
"We are always open to new membership," said McDonald: "Our aim is to give youths something positive to do. Anybody from T&T is welcome."
He commented that there are many youth in the band who are glad to have a creative, healthy outlet, without which their lives in this sometimes troubled urban area would have been "very different."