Spotlight on Trinidadian panist Caldera Caraballo

Spotlight on Trinidadian panist Caldera Caraballo
Caldera Caraballo.

One of the most fabled of the Trinidadian steelpan exponents transitioning to the New York scene decades ago, Caldera Caraballo, whose exploits included a stint in Harry Belafonte’s touring troupe, will be the focus of attention at the next collaboration of the Trinidad & Tobago Folk Arts Institute and Medgar Evers College’s School of Professional & Community Development on Friday, May 2. The forum reviewing the often trail-blazing career of Caldera Caraballo will take place in the Mary Pinkett Lecture Hall on the Medgar Evers College campus, from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

“Proper documenting of the history of the steel band movement in New York would be seriously flawed without the input of Caldera Caraballo,” said Les Slater, chair of the Folk Arts Institute. “He was scheduled once before to share the fascinating details of his pan odyssey, but had to unavoidably miss that commitment. The May 2 exercise is significant, above all, from a documentation standpoint.”

Originally associated with the Casablanca band, one of the celebrated groups in the early history of steel band culture in Port of Spain, Caraballo became a New York transplant from Trinidad in 1956. It wasn’t long before he had established himself as a gifted player as well as possessing the foresight and smarts to make inroads for the new steel band sound in other areas of the wider entertainment sphere. Those ambitions led to Carabello signing on with Harry Belafonte when the latter was at the top of his game as an entertainer. Caraballo would work with such headliners as singer Miriam Makeba, legendary jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd, jazz saxophonist Sonny Stitt and trumpeter Louis Jordan, among others.

Caraballo was one of the early steel band figures to formally become a member of New York’s music community as a member of the musicians’ union, Local 802. This facilitated access for both himself as a solo performer and subsequently the band he formed, to premium entertainment venues in the city such as Roxy Theater, the Waldorf Astoria and Carnegie Hall.

In later years Caraballo was the organizer of concerts in New York featuring major steel orchestras from Trinidad and Tobago. One of those concerts saw the historic pairing of the Casablanca Steel Orchestra and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. He also became a board member of West Indian American Day Carnival Association, organizers of the Labor Day Carnival in Brooklyn, in which capacity he was coordinator of the Steel Band Panorama competition included in those festivities. Caraballo was honored, with other pioneering New York steel band figures, by the Folk Arts Institute in 2012.

In its researching, documenting and advocacy of proper preservation of indigenous Trinidadian folk culture, the Folk Arts Institute has been collaborating for a number of years with Medgar Evers College, where many forums have been presented.

Admission to the upcoming forum, centering on Caraballo’s intriguing and multi-faceted journey in the steel band world, is free and open to the general public. Mary Pinkett Lecture Hall is in the S Building on the Medgar Evers campus, Rm S122 at 1637 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn (between Carroll & Crown Streets). For further information: 718-252-6161/718-804-8815.

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