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LUCUMI: A Suite for Steelpan by Juno Jaxxon (David Ijaduola)

The Vortex Jazz Club is delighted to announce, with the support of the PRSF, a commission by Juno Jaxxon (David Ijaduola) for a suite of music to be played by steel pan. The music consists of four pieces and forms the Lucumi Suite. The suite will be performed for the first time at the Vortex Jazz Club Festival 24 September 2022.

Out of ordinary improvised metal objects such as biscuit and pitch oil tins, dustbins and their lids, and later on oil drums – the preferred object because they could be tuned through series of dents, where each one made a different note according to its position and size – the steelband was born in Trinidad. Steelbands captured the imagination of young impoverished working-class males, often with little formal education or musical training. Their bands were built on the strong community bonds in their neighbourhoods and this hasn’t changed much today with the exception that more women now play. Multi-instrumentalist Juno Jaxxon has been arranging and composing for steelband since he was fifteen. Under Jaxxon’s leadership London’s Ebony Steelband took second place in the UK Panorama Finals 2021. The suite of music will performed by a steelband of ten players with the addition of other supporting instruments brass instruments. Be prepared to be blown away by Jaxxon’s remarkable remarkable skills as composer, arranger and educator. David was born in Hackney-London but grew up in Enfield. He won several awards as a young steelpan player. In 2013 he established the youth division of Ebony Steel Band that went on to win a number of steel band competitions. He has worked with artists such as the band Rudimental – featuring as a pan player on the track ‘Right Here’, JP Cooper, and toured as the drummer for Sona Jobarteh and Dele Sosime.

About David in his own words.

I first encountered the steel pan when my parents took me to Notting Hill Carnival for the first time at the tender age of eight. I remember walking around all day, but it wasn’t until the sun had gone down and the night vibes of carnival had taken over is what I remember most. We were on the route somewhere which I have no recollection. I just remember hearing this sound as we continued to walk or maybe my dad had me on his shoulders. As we got closer my eyes and ears began to intensify with detail and that’s when I saw it. People on a truck, high up playing this drum. I was already very acquainted with the traditional drum kit. However, this was so different. It had a sound so unique and I was mesmerised. That day I left with the sound of pan behind me as I went home. My mother had a t-shirt with a picture of two men playing the instrument. I remember every time she wore it I would always remember that’s what I saw that day. I would just sit and think and about how vibrant and happy the sound made me feel. That fact that you could dance and play the instrument and let your energy transfer though playing. It wasn’t until I arrived at secondary school that I was able to start my journey which has led me to where I am today.

My parents met in a church choir. My mum was a soprano and my dad a bass singer. They also played instruments, mum being a drummer and dad being a trumpet player. After I was born mother continued to sing in the choir which made my interest inevitable. My mum used to listen to a wide variety of genres from reggae to gospel, country and R&B, the list goes on. My dad would play top forty music via the radio every day, so I got the best of both worlds. As time went on I developed my own taste for music which consisted of what my parents listened to in the 70s and 80s to the current records of today. I was constantly researching and discovering most genres and the rare recordings of calypso, jazz, African and steelband recordings. Bands and artists such as ‘Earth, Wind and Fire’ ‘Lord Kitchener’ ‘UB40’ to name a few.

I started playing at Albany Secondary school under the tutorship of Alicia brown before joining ‘Pantasia Steelband’ situated in North London under the arranger known as ‘Chris Storey.’ I learnt my first song on the ‘double guitars’ called ‘Carousel’. A short calypso piece with two parts. That got my feet wet. From then I moved around a lot from pan to pan, including quads. It wasn’t until my seasoned years that I decided to commit to the tenor pan, playing many panoramas and other competitions. After many years of gigging and networking I was invited to join Ebony Steelband for Panorama 2010. I played tenor for two years before joining the stage side. In 2012 I followed the band to Trinidad to join BP Renegades for panorama. There is where I experienced how a band of one hundred and twenty plus players would operate and function like an army, the discipline was out of this world. It was very different to everything I had come to know in the pan community in the UK. Shortly after returning to the UK, I was asked to form and arrange a youth band within Ebony alongside my friend and colleague Joshua Prescod. This is where my arranging skills were able to develop as I had a range of talented young players to work with. We flourished for a good six years. I also committed to playing Double Tenor and have not looked back since. The pan speaks to me in a way other instruments do not. I guess it’s the harmonic structure and values it possesses that drew me in.

The Trinidadian composer Clive Bradley, to me, is the film scorer of pan music. His style of arranging covers all the elements needed to wow a crowd, fill their souls and make them shed a tear all at the same time. I call it ‘Romantic Pan Music’: with his clear definitive sonic sound, Clive was able to constantly innovate and revolutionise the sound of pan, year after year. I have many favourite arrangements but one I remember most is Stranger 2001 by Pantonic Steel Orchestra USA. The arrangement is to die for and touches my soul every time I hear that piece of music. There is always something new to discover with his arrangements.

My inspiration for the Lucumi suite comes from the history and culture of the African diaspora, specifically the Lucumi people and a like. By the way Lucumi is derived from a Yoruba greeting ‘my friend’ in the manner of I see you my friend, its arrival in the Caribbean stems from the transatlantic slave trade. From a technical standpoint, I will be writing guide melodies and skeletons before each rehearsal. Only when I am in the midst of the talented players, I will then vibe off their energy and let the music come to me and through individual hands.

The Lucumi Suite will be performed live as part of the Vortex Jazz Club Festival Dalston 24/25 September. More information about this coming soon.

The Vortex and David Ijaduola gratefully acknowledge support from PRS Foundation for this commission.

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