Listening Local: Positive Sounds
By: LUKE VOSE, April 22, 2014
The sound of a steel drum conjures images like sun, clear blue water and swaying palm trees. At its heart though, it simply sounds happy. The very existence of an instrument originally fashioned from old oil drums, converted to make beautiful music, is a testament to the human spirit. Here on the Cape, Michael Gabriel is carrying on that tradition. Playing shows all over the Cape and beyond as well as teaching for Berklee College of Music and Mattacheese Middle School.
Hailing from Trinidad, the island where the steel drum originated, Mr. Gabriel has traveled the world playing joyful sounds. As a child he was captivated by the music of Sesame Street and television commercials. At the age of 8 he began playing the steel drum. He excelled at the instrument and by the time he was 13, joined the Casablanca Steel Orchestra. They toured the world playing classical music at many prestigious venues, Royal Albert Hall in London, Carnegie Hall in New York and the White House to name a few.
I spoke with Michael about the journey music has taken him on and where it is taking him today.
Luke Vose: What was the first song you remember learning how to play?
Michael Gabriel: Well I started playing the recorder and the first song I learned was “You Fill Up My Senses.” The first song I learned on the steel drum was a calypso by Mighty Shadow called “Bass Man.”
LV: What did it feel like to play at the White House?
MG: That was very memorable. We felt like honored guests. President Reagan was in office at the time and we played a fundraiser for the handicapped.
LV: You’ve been all over the world. Is there anything about the Cape that inspires you?
MG: Oh definitely, the people. I love the lifestyle here. I started coming here in 1989. I was going back and forth from New York, where I lived at the time. I would come for weekends to play gigs. I decided to stay and attend Cape Cod Community College, majoring in music theory and appreciation.
LV: What was your first band on the Cape?
MG: I formed a band called Jammdown. The band is made up of members from different Caribbean islands. My drummer is from Trinidad, the guitar player is from Dominica, and the keyboard player at the time was from Curacao. A couple of the guys I met in an all-instrumental band I’d played with called Ambakyala. We would play all over Massachusetts and people would come up and say things like, “hey can you guys play ‘Three Little Birds?’ ” No one in the band sang though. One day I was like, “alright, I’ll do it” (laughs) and that was it. I picked up the mic and started singing. I started playing steel drums when I was 8 and didn’t start singing till I was 24 years old. Now I’m a songwriter!
LV: How did you get into teaching?
MG: I lived in the Boston area for a while and during that time I played with a lot of Berklee students. I also played with a lot of professors. When the opportunity came up for the Steel Drum Project at the Boston Arts Academy, they recommended me.
LV: How do you like teaching?
MG: I love it! I’m very passionate about it. I also do some consulting at Mattacheese (Middle School in West Yarmouth) as well.
LV: What are some of your different influences?
MG: I love Stevie Wonder of course. I love Bob Marley. I listen to everything though. I have been playing music for 27 years and believe it or not, I’ve never bought a
CD. I’ve had CDs and records but I usually get them from someone giving it to me and saying, “You need to check this out.” That is how I usually obtain my music. I listen to anything I can get my ears on. Anything positive of course!
You can hear the positive sounds beginning in May, every Friday, 6 PM, at the Boathouse in Falmouth. For more dates, check him out on Facebook or jammdown.com. To book a private event, contact email@example.com.