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Baker's Dozen

Panning For Gold: Fimber Bravo's Favourite Music
Zakiya Mckenzie , March 3rd, 2021 10:13

In this week's Baker's Dozen, Zakiya Mckenzie speaks to steel pan legend Fimber Bravo about his favourite music, from Aretha Franklin to Stormzy and Johnny Cash; Sun-Ra, Hot Chip and Miles Davis


Isaac Hayes – Shaft
The cool confidence of Shaft brought Isaac Hayes international fame, he created a style that was all about the creativity of the Black man. This album played a big part in my life and sends me back in time when all in the room fell silent listening at the rap intro of the soul-searching ‘By the time I Get to Phoenix’. It’s ageless but has the finger on the pulse of Black pride and resistance in the 70s.

In the early 70s, a group of us from Pan Am North Stars got stranded in London from a tour that suddenly collapsed. We found ourselves with no return ticket to Trinidad, no money, nowhere to stay and only half our instruments. We headed to the Mangrove Restaurant in Notting Hill. Frank Critchlow the community leader and Black activist was also a steel pan player and had big respect for us, so he helped us, along with his best friend Rupert and also Darcus Howe. They put us up, fed us and showed us the ropes in London. We decided to form a new band in 1972 as the Twentieth Century Steel Band. Our first gig was at Club IROKO, Haverstock Hill, Hampstead. That got us a Thursday night gig at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho. We were still doing covers but they were more funk-based and influenced by the Black American sounds. The biggest influence was Isaac Hayes’ Shaft. We combined playing Black funk anthems with our own songs and created a harder edge to break away from the colonial marginalisation of steel pan as a novelty, for foreigners on cruise ships and at hotels.

Our cover of Shaft seemed invincible and totally new for the steel pan and went down a bomb with audiences. The first time we played it was at the Mangrove and they were begging us to play it again, having never heard the like from steel pan. After the initial uncertainties of being abandoned in London, we felt cool, high and at home in the scene. We owed Isaac Hayes big time.