CARIBBEAT: ‘Caldera’ made a path for steelpan music in America

During last month’s funeral service for Trinidad and Tobago-born steelpan musician Reynold Juan “Caldera” Caraballo at Brooklyn’s St. Francis of Assisi-St. Blaise Parish, longtime West Indian American Day Carnival Association member Angela Sealy expressed her gratitude to Caldera’s widow, Louise, for her support through Caldera’s decades-long crusade for steel pan.

“I am here to celebrate a cultural ambassador. I want to thank [Louise] for loaning him to us.”

A devoted family man, Caldera was also recalled as a staunch devotee of the steelpan (or steel drum) — which was once associated with hooligans but rose to the revered status of Trinidad and Tobago’s national instrument.

In his long campaign to gain acceptance for the steelpan (or steel drum), he also founded the National Council of Steel Bands, held pan concerts at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, and set up joint performances with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra and Trinidad and Tobago’s famed Casablanca orchestra at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

He was also a pioneer Brooklyn’s carnival — helping former Harlem resident Rufus Gorin revive the spirit of uptown’s old West Indian Day Parade in the borough of Brooklyn. Later, he worked with West Indian American Day Carnival president Carlos Lezama, as a member of the organization and an architect of the carnival’s respected Panorama steel orchestra competition.

Born in Port-of-Spain in 1929, Caldera witnessed the birth and growing popularity of the steel drum. He joined the Casablanca Steel Orchestra as a teenager. Hiding his steelpan participation from his parents, he kept his name off publicly displayed posters and flyers.

In those early days, everyone knew of the rough-and-tumble territorial skirmishes associated with steel bands in Trinidad. But over the decades, the musicians evolved, and as Caldera and others realized the Trinidad and Tobago-born instrument had an important place in music. And that place could be playing an upbeat arrangement of a popular calypso at carnival time, or thrilling concert hall patrons with renditions of classical music’s greatest concertos and overtures.

“In his eyes, the steel pan was sweeter than any piano, flute, trumpet, etc. It could compete with any band known to man!” read his obituary.

Before leaving Trinidad to seek opportunities in New York, the proficient musician showed off his compositional skills by creating his “Caldera’s Mambo,” a big hit with bands on Carnival Monday and Tuesday of 1956. Once in New York, singer Harry Belafonte hired Caldera as a musician in his touring company.

Among the earlier moves made by the Caldera was joining Local 802-American Federation of Musicians, which improved his chances of getting work as a solo performer, and as his leader of his Caldera and the Moderners band. Learn more about Caldera at the When Steel Talks website.


It’s early and it’s just a taste, but Sunday’s New York launch party for Grenada’s Spicemas carnival is a tantalizing teaser for the annual celebration and visitors to the special Caribbean nation nicknamed the “Spice Isle.”

From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Grenadian masquerade, music, and food will be featured at Brooklyn’s Crown Hill Theater, 750 Nostrand Ave. (between Park and Sterling Places). Set in a carnival atmosphere, there will be masquerade costumes, Grenadian cuisine, and live performances. Tickets are $40 in advance from or $50 at the door. For information, call (718) 781-1366 or (917) 282-9405.


Works by Canadian artist Simone Elizabeth Saunders — who creates “punch-needle and tufting” tapestries to express narratives of “Blackness and Womanhood” — are in the “Unearthing Unicorns” exhibition at Harlem’s Claire Oliver Gallery, 2288 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd, through Saturday.

“Unearthing Unicorns references both literal and figurative iterations of the historical fable,” said Saunders. “Through my work, I want to empower and encourage Black women to never shrink ourselves and instead lean into being the fierce, graceful, and beautiful being that we are — just like the Unicorn.”

For information:, (212) 929-5949 or email