In Aruba the sound of steel pans is synonymous with James Edgar Connor who founded the Invaders Steel Orchestra in the late 50s.
Born in Aruba in 1939, Connor started his musical career in 1950.
His son Nico, a famous pan player himself explains that in an early photograph, his father is seen as a skinny kid, age 11, playing in a band, already smitten by the drums and the rhythm. He later became a passionate musician and craftsman also an equally memorable showman, appearing with his orchestra in all island hotels, for Carnival Night, and actively participating in the island’s musical scene.
Both his sons Nico & Lee followed in their father’s footsteps, joined by another brother Eugene Jones. The first two, Nico & Lee, are legends on the island for their sweet pan music, recorded on multiple albums. Lee is also well-known for fathering a set of most adorable twins, who were the island’s poster children for more than a decade and are today very accomplished musicians.
I heard the third generation, Quincy & Wesley play for the first time at Paseo Herencia on Saturday night. Their sound is intense, they create a musical storm, a force of nature, and produce high energy, compelling and exciting tunes.
Edgar Connor’s tribute concert started with the appearance of the NorthStar Steel, the gold-standard of all contemporary steel bands, nurtured by our very own Freddie Tromp.
The way Freddie tells it, he’s been playing steel pans from 1964 to the 80s. Then life took him away from his passion, his music. He returned in 1996 with what he calls Bush Pans, and in honor of the millennium, went to Trinidad and contacted the best pan makers on the planet. He has been upgrading his arsenal since then.
NorthStar Steel is a favorite on the island during Carnival, as the orchestra is a crowd-favorite on parades, for over 20 years. They open the Grand Parades each year, and the sidelines go crazy, taking pictures and cheering the group of two dozen panhandlers, expertly playing favorite hit, on instruments carefully hammered from 55-gallon oil drums.
Freddy started with an ordinary variety of pans, and slowly over time, changed and upgraded them all, to highly polished, much more expensive, Chrome coated ones.
The gathering on Saturday awarded Freddie a commemorative plaque for his great contributions to music on Aruba.
As Lee was addressing the packed Edgar Connor Amphitheater, he said it was the family’s duty to educate and protect its musical heritage. The Connors all share a responsibility to keep pan music alive.
After a stellar performance of NorthStar Steel and the honoring of Freddie Tromp and emcee Ruben Garcia, pan player Marver Guedez, 15, and keyboard player Eltienne Yarzagaray took over the stage, thrilling the crowd with the pop music application of steel band sound.
With Marver, handling pans so expertly despite his young age, it seems that continuity is now guaranteed.
For the Grand Finale the Invaders Orchestra made up of 5 members of the Connor family and NorthStar Steel jointly gave for a thundering recital, accompanied by additional local legends, Ivan Quandus and Angel Hazel with two Lead Steelpans, the Double Second, and the Triple Cello, in full form.
It was amazing to think that it all started with discarded oil drums, and evolved to represent the special joy of life associated with the region, blessed with palm trees, and sunshine.