Monday, April 25, 2011

Tamboo Bamboo Band

Tamboo is from the French word tambour which means drum. Bamboo is a member of the grass family..It grows at an incredible rate, indeed it is among the fastest growing plant on land. Bamboo like all other plants takes in carbon dioxide (CO2) and gives off

Oxygen (O2). In the sunlight physiological activity takes place within the plants – as it produces sugars and starches in the process of photosynthesis. It is said when one cuts the bamboo plant in sunlight, the stems are more vulnerable to termites, fungus and general rotting processes. The best time to cut the bamboo therefore, is during the dark of night around new moon, bamboo stems were usually cut at night and dried out for a week or more before being prepared.

The instruments of the tamboo bamboo bands were made of bamboo stems of different sizes weights, widths and lengths. Tamboo bamboo bands were purely rhythmic ensembles comprised of a sufficient ‘mix’ of sounds to achieve tonal balance.

The bass bamboo or‘boom’ was long, wide and heavy, measuring approximately 5ft. (1.52m) long and 5in (27mm) in diameter. The bass had three joints with the bottom joint remaining intact. It was held upright and struck on the ground or on a flat stone in order to produce a resonant, grunting sound. The quality of the sound varied in accordance with the angle at which the bamboo stem made contact with the ground.

The Foule (called "Fullers") was 12in (305 mm) long and 3 in (76mm) in diameter with one of the joints intact. The foule represented the tenor pitch.The next group of bamboos were known as "Cutters" and represented the soprano pitch.These were each about 25in (635 mm) long and 3-1/2 in (89 mm) in diameter with two joints intact. In playing, the "Cutter" was held across the shoulder with one hand and struck on the side with a piece of hard wood. The "Chandlers" were a little larger than the "Cutters" and represented the alto pitch.

It was with this assemblage that hundreds of merry-makers formed bands for festive occasions, chanting and singing as they paraded. In the Trinidad Guardian of February 5, 1920, there is an interesting short account of a tamboo bamboo performance. The purpose of the performance was to accustom the horses of the mounted policemen to the clamorous noises of a Carnival day.

"The music struck up. It began with the booming sound of the Bass Bamboo which serves to regulate the time and after a few beats, a number of the bands which played the lighter reeds joined in. The cutting of the finer reeds in rhythmic percussion between the boom of the Bass Bamboo was really surprising. The shack-shack players, the bottle and spoon completed the orchestra."

In spite of the rough and rude appearance of the tamboo bamboo ensemble, it must be recognised that tamboo bamboo played a very vital role in the ultimate development of the steel pan. Tamboo bamboo has been Trinidad and Tobago’s music of celebratiion for more that five decades, during which period extraordinary techniques and dexterity in playing various instruments were being developed. Tamboo bamboo music was played by the African population for stick-fights, folk dances such as bongo and Dame Lorraine, in wakes and revelries especially at Carnival. On many occasions on Carnival days, brass bands or string bands found themselves playing alongside a tamboo bamboo band. At first the musicians would complain about the unmelodic noise made by the tamboo bamboo bands. Not being able to do anything about it, however, many string bands and brass bands sometimes joined forces with the tamboo bamboo bands. The experience gained by the tamboo bamboo men through the union of bamboo and other musical instruments led them to substitute many other objects into the band to replace destroyed tamboo bamboo which often broke on the road through pounding. The experience also served the country’s musicians in good stead in the develpoment of the steel pan which followed and ultimately led to the evolution in a remarkably short space of time, of well-disciplined steel orchestras with the flexibility and skill to perform from classics to jazz, calypso to funk.

In the heyday of the tamboo bamboo almost every district or slum area of Trinidad had its resident tamboo bamboo band. Some of the more celebrated bands were the Hell Yard Tamboo Bamboo band, the "Lime Grove" Tamboo Bamboo Band from Gonzales, Calvary Tamboo Bamboo Band of Corbeau Town, John John Tamboo Bamboo Band, the Mafumba Tamboo Bamboo Band of George Street, Laventille Hill Tamboo Bamboo Band, Belmont Tamboo Bamboo Band from Cadiz Road and St. JamesTamboo Bamboo Band from Fort George Road. These in a sense were all forerunners of the now famous steel pan orchestra. (

Tamboo Bamboo in Trinidad and Tobago carnival 2003

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