About Steel'n Beats
It takes hours of precision hammering to fine-tune the recycled 55-gallon oil drums used to make steel pans, resulting in an instrument of intricate harmonies and textures. But the instrument truly comes to life when it’s played in unison - as part of a steelband ensemble, one of the world’s most boisterous, glorious noises.
Proving that this vibrant, addictive music is not just a product of one time and place, but an expression of the universal power of community is Auckland steel band Steel’n Beats. With a growing repertoire of adventurous arrangements for the pan, Steel’n Beats are at the heart of a range of projects using music to inspire and educate, in chorus with an unlikely global steel band underground.
With roots in Trinidad & Tobago stretching back generations, today there are steel bands active in over 50 countries around the world, continuing a richly historical art. Here in New Zealand Steel’n Beats takes their blend of classic and popular tunes arranged for the steel pan to clubs, festivals and private events around New Zealand using custom instruments hand-built by the legendary maker and musician Lennox Jordan. Born in Trinidad & Tobago, Jordan is in demand in places as far afield as Australia, Switzerland and Oman.
For the casual listener, steel bands evoke laidback summers, but at their best Steel’n Beats tease out the fiery dynamics that make this music a throbbing, otherworldly spectacle to behold. The original Caribbean steelbands had cultural swagger, musical vehicles for identity and working class pride. Today there is a global competition circuit, carnivals of bands and thunderous orchestras over a hundred performers strong.
Steel’n Beats’ musical director is Tish Viljoen, also founder of The Steel Workshop - providing tuition, events and workshops - as well as the Auckland Youth Steel Orchestra for children between the ages of 7 and 16. Performing herself since a teenager, Viljoen has also served two presidency roles on PANZ - The Steelpan Association of Australia & New Zealand, the music’s regional body. Steel’n Beats themselves have appeared in 2019 at the PANZFest in Brisbane, the main steel band gathering in the region.
Although focussed naturally on the pan, Steel’n Beats also boast their own ‘engine room’ of drums and percussion. Not only does this strengthen the groove of their music, but it gives them the flexibility to stretch into a variety of genres like soul, jazz and pop. Steelbands traditionally repurposed the sinuous melodies of calypso, but recent tastes dictate that the better the band, the wider the repertoire. A typical Steel’n Beats set might include hits from Daft Punk, Santana or even The Platters as much as the greats of calypso like Lord Kitchener or Calypso Rose.
Passionate about growing this music in New Zealand, Viljoen’s vision of a tightly-knit small ensemble working on ambitious arrangements has now been realised. “We have become a family and our gigs are the highlight of everyone’s week,” she says. Under her direction, Steel’n Beats will continue to be local goodwill ambassadors for one of the great musics of modern times.