The Adopted Dog – The Steel Band practises

Edsel was with us this last time – although he had been to Kingstown many years before it took a while to orientate him.  On the first evening we went down to the city to find some food.  Unfortunately Kingstown had an excellent selection of cafes that did buffet lunches, rotis and other snacks, but in the evenings there were only one or two rather pricey restaurants open and for the rest you were left with a handful of fast food joints.  We had a reasonable pizza on the Back Street and then took Edsel on a quick evening walk around the centre of the city.  Kingstown often seemed to close down at night – much of the daytime population head off to their towns, villages and suburbs along the  coastlines or in the hills and there were only a handful of slightly shady nightclubs.

Cobblestone Inn arches

The Cobblestone archways in Kingstown

Which is why it was surprising to hear a rich deep beat of music as we walked back from dinner that night.  We had sauntered past all the shuttered up shops along Bay St and turned inland before climbing the hill to our accommodation.  The noise was coming from in amongst a bunch of old warehouses to our left.  In a small car park, under a canvas awning, was a steel band.  With one or two exceptions, the band were teenagers, directed by a skinny, tall energetic guy with dreadlocks.  He sat in the centre surrounded by an extensive drum kit.  Even sitting down he dominated the band and with the extensions to the hands in the form of drumsticks he seemed able to reach right across the whole troop whenever he needed to single someone out.  And boy was he harsh.  He would stop the play if he heard one note out of place and either sing the part, or beat it out with his sticks to emphasise the detailed notes he would give back.  I thought it a bit harsh on young players, but they stood there absorbing it all in – looking rather bored and grey; very little reaction and certainly no resentment.  But when he would go “One…Two..Three” and start playing the drums, the ensemble came together in one energetic cacophony of sound.

I love full steel bands.  Not the tinkling little foursome playing “Moon River” while you eat your lobster at a resort hotel, but the energy and life of a full orchestra.  A dextrous tune played out on the tenor instruments, the bass ones, literally oil drums bashed into form, thump out the beat with such ferocity it would make my ribs shake.  With some drums, a few other percussion and a guitar or two, the range of tunes, harmonies, speeds and moods they could evoke was mind blowing.

It sounded fantastic to me, but the conductor would pull them up within bars of starting and give another minute long explanation of what was wrong, what he wanted.  He was a perfectionist, and quite dictatorial.  But you could see that the band respected his opinion and learnt from his direction so were obviously used to his directness.

The three of us stood on the roadside peering into the car park through a chain fence.  No-one seemed to even notice we were there, the focus was all on the conductor and the music.  After several attempts, they managed to play several minutes of the tune they were practicing, but you could see this was more about finessing the music for some competition or big concert, and we were not going to be treated to more than the sneakiest of previews that night.  We could still hear the stop start of the practice as we headed up our own road to the house.

The Adopted Dog – Small but Packed

On my first ever visit to Kingstown I was in the Cobblestone Hotel in the centre of the city.  When I started this project I could not get a room at the Cobblestone and the house rental had not been established so I was put in the New Montrose hotel on the west side of town .  I had briefly stayed in this hotel for a workshop a few years beforehand, but the effect of approaching the town from the west every morning was novel.  You saw different elements of the morning commute, you passed by the a new range shops opening up in the morning or shutting down in the evening.

Kingstown is a bustling little city; although one of the smallest capital cities in the world it has all the functions of primacy you would expect; the government offices, the key commercial and retail outlets, as well as the institutions of religion, society and culture, albeit on a much smaller scale than a mega city like London or Tokyo.  But as well as that it just hums like a busy market town.  People come in to the city from four directions; from the suburbs themselves on the hills behind the city centre, from the leeward and windward coastlines of St Vincent and across the sea from the string of Grenadine islands to the south.

Eduardo and I met up for that first trip; Edsel was not available.  We interviewed all the different agencies and tried to understand the detail of the scope of our job ahead.  Part of the project would be to analyse case studies using GIS to solve particular land issues.  As we interviewed people they all gave their opinions on what topics we should look at.  Towards the end of the trip, we had two days to investigate a couple of these in more detail; which gave us a fantastic excuse to explore the islands.

The first of the field trips was to head back to one of my most favourite islands in the world, Bequia.  I may have given the impression that this was a sleepy idyllic island elsewhere, but it had similar problems to everywhere in the world; one of these being population pressure.  Islands can suffer more than most from this.  Maybe the sheer numbers of population increase are not as great as in, for example, South East Asia or the urban centres of Africa, but the amount of land available to house those new people is much more restricted, and the effects on the environment much less absorbable.  On Bequia plans were afoot to subdivide land parcels.  In most of the world land is owned by someone, and the ownership is recorded geographically by the boundaries of parcels or plots on the ground.  Some people own one small rectangle of land, others huge swathes of countryside.  And those people might be individuals or they may be families or institutions such as government.  In many of the Caribbean islands, the government took on the ownership of the big plantations – the sugar on Antigua, Barbados and St Kitts, the bananas on St Lucia, Dominica and St Vincent.  This meant they have a land bank that when the population increases they can subdivide their own plots and sell them off.  There was a plan on the north coast of Bequia to do just this and it would be a useful trial of the National GIS to see what could be provided geographically to help this process.