Caribbean band puts new twist on age-old gospel tunes Steel drum band wows crowd at fund-raiser


The sounds of the gospel -- island style -- rocked the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Glen Burnie on Saturday.

Traditionally gentle favorites, like "Amazing Grace," took on a whole new life ringing off the polished steel pans of a Caribbean band.

The Presbyterians and Lutherans who sponsored the concert took on new life, too. About 150 people from the Presbyterian church and Glen Lutheran Church swayed as their guests made melody with discarded oil drum lids.

"You do tend to think of Lutherans and Presbyterians as pretty conservative characters," said Lutheran Bob McQuaid. Not Saturday. Any stereotypes of the denominations as staid shattered in their reception of the nine members of the Trinidad Urban Missions Steel Orchestra.

For Ashoke Bachew, the leader of the all-volunteer orchestra, the evening was more than a cultural experience.

"We enjoy doing it because it lifts up the name of Jesus, and that's our main concern," said Bachew, 37.

A second motivation was gathering donations to support Trinidadian students in the United States, he said.

The whole thing got started because of the students, Bachew explained. A Hindu who converted to Christianity, Bachew runs a Christian summer camp in Trinidad for 200 to 300 students a week.

When the Islamic community in the country attempted a coup in 1990 to make Trinidad a Muslim nation, Bachew realized some of the camp's workers had little theological training. If western Christian missionaries were forced to leave, the local churches -- and the camp -- would be without trained leadership.

So Ashoke formed an association to tour and raise money to send Trinidadian young people to the United States for seminary training.

He formed a band with Christians from the city of Port of Spain, and the group members took their vacations to make the tour, Ashoke said.

One band member, Sylvon Dyld, made the drums himself. He used a sledgehammer to pound down the top of the drum about 8 inches, then thinned individual areas to the correct thickness so they would ring different tones. The steel was then tempered.

The results were joyous. Responding to a Caribbean version of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," the audience donated $700.

The cost to send one student to Columbus Bible College in South Carolina is about $8,000 per school year, said Ashoke. "But we're looking at one year at a time," he said.

The two county churches heard about Ashoke from a Lutheran couple who had been missionaries to Haiti. Glen Lutheran Church decided to be the host for the band, and asked to hold the concert in Glen Burnie Evangelical Presbyterian Church's new sanctuary.

The joint venture illustrated Christian unity, said McQuaid. But the happy faces of the nine band members and the rhythm of the steel drums were reason enough for the concert.

"They like it," said Ashoke. "It is a very different sound!"

The AEBC Gospel Steel Orchestra will be performing at 6:30 tonight at Grace Fellowship Church of God, which meets at the Woodlawn Middle School, 3033 St. Luke's Lane in Woodlawn. The public is invited.

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