The Silver Birds Steel Orchestra: Harmonising passion and purpose at Reggae Marathon
THE annual Reggae Marathon has firmly established itself as a cornerstone event in the global running community, and this year’s edition is poised to uphold its esteemed reputation. Renowned for its picturesque Negril route, the race, now featuring only the half-marathon and 10k categories, warmly welcomes participants of all ages and skill levels.
Yet, with the Reggae Marathon, it’s not just about the run; it’s an immersive experience. After all, it carries the name “Reggae” Marathon, and true to its billing, the event consistently delivers on its promise of captivating musical performances. Whether it’s the soulful sounds of local roots bands, the emerging reggae talents like last year’s headliner Ras-I, or the presence of Kabaka Pyramid, the 2023 Grammy Award Winner for Best Reggae Album, the musical aura at the Reggae Marathon never fails to enchant.
While this year’s full musical line-up remains a suspense, one can count on the perennial appearance of the steelpan virtuosos, the Silver Birds Steel Orchestra. A fixture of the Reggae Marathon’s live performances, the Silver Birds have been part of the event since its inception, enthralling attendees at the famous pasta parties and even serenading runners, joggers, and walkers along the route.
The Silver Birds, conceived by founder and choreographer Dean Barnett, provide a platform for musicians from inner-city communities, empowering them to conquer the music industry. Barnett himself stumbled upon his calling rather late in life, demonstrating the adage that it’s never too late to chase your dreams.
Barnett’s introduction to steelpan music dates back to his school days at Trench Town High School. From the very first notes he heard, he felt an indescribable connection and passion for the instrument. He vividly recalls following the captivating sounds across campus like a scent, hanging around the bandroom, and observing the drummers’ artistry. Surprisingly, he never got a chance to play during his high school years. It took a fortuitous reunion with a schoolmate and a casual invitation to join a steelpan club to ignite his journey with the steelpan.
A Silver Birds performance is a unique experience that defies stereotypes associated with steelpan bands. Forget the floral shirts and Bob Marley covers; a Silver Birds show is a whirlwind of musical genres, with members effortlessly transitioning from one style to another. From a cover of UK sensation Adele’s Rolling in the Deep to a full-blown Michael Jackson tribute complete with a King of Pop impersonator executing spins and hip thrusts, you’re in for an electrifying performance.
The Silver Birds have gained international recognition, having recently returned from a successful gig in China, where they played Chinese hits to an enthusiastic audience. However, their journey to success has been far from smooth. Barnett’s initial attempt to branch out on his own ended in failure, prompting him to migrate to the United States in search of a better life for his children. Yet, even there, the steelpan’s allure continued to beckon him.
Barnett proudly claims the title of Jamaica’s sole professional pan maker. He is the go-to person for anyone experiencing issues with their steelpan, even those sourced from Trinidad, the home of steelpan music. Crafting steelpans is a meticulous and precise process, involving hammering a 55-gallon oil drum into the desired shape and tempering the metal to ensure its tuning durability. Each pan can take anywhere from one to two weeks to create before they are sent to Trinidad for chroming. Diane Ellis, a director at the Reggae Marathon, recalls the Silver Birds’ initial introduction through the hotel circuit, where they were already a cherished feature at a prominent Negril resort. Their dynamic energy proved to be the perfect precursor to the marathon, and they quickly became the highlight of the event’s legendary Pasta Parties.
Over time, the relationship between the Silver Birds Steel Orchestra and the Reggae Marathon has blossomed, benefiting both sides immensely. The Silver Birds are not only worth the price of admission on their own, but they’ve also leveraged the exposure gained from the marathon to secure additional bookings. It’s a whirlwind schedule, with performances at hotels leading up to the marathon, participation along the marathon course, and a starring role at the celebrated Finish Line Beach Bash.
However, beyond their musical prowess, it’s their commitment to the community that solidifies the partnership between the Reggae Marathon and the Silver Birds Steel Orchestra. Many of the orchestra’s members hail from inner-city or garrison communities. The Reggae Marathon actively involves children from the SOS Children’s Home in Stony Hill, Jamaica, a testament to their shared vision of broadening horizons and creating opportunities for the youth.
The bond between the Reggae Marathon and the Silver Birds Steel Orchestra is a remarkable example of synergy in the professional world. Both entities are dedicated to showcasing Jamaican culture and empowering young Jamaicans by offering opportunities they might not otherwise encounter