Q+A: Alvin Rostant Brings Trinidad Music to Australia

Alvin Rostant has performed all around the world, at large scale events like the Olympics and for royalty. An adopted Aussie since 1974, today you might hear his songs on Big Brother or discover his group acts, such as The Banana Joe Show. He’s doing it all with his steel drum, a once rare instrument slowly making its way into Top 40 Billboard R&B hits.

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When you play a big event like the Olympics, how does it happen? Do people place a phone call looking for the best, or do you have to approach them?

In the past, music agents usually contact us, and we quote for the job. However, these days, organizing bodies can contact us directly via the Internet. We are happy to work both ways. Many musicians dislike working through agents as they feel the middle man gets the most, however, this is not our perception.

What do you love about Australia that made you never want to leave decades ago?

The climate was particularly attractive as I feel the cold. The lifestyle, the fact the Australia plays cricket (I sing the anthem for the WI Cricket  team at the Ekka, Wakka, MCG etc. when they visit), great people, happy good looking women, good opportunity for my music.

How have Aussies embraced your music?

The music, especially live, is always well received, even in regional Australia.

What does it take for mainstream radio to embrace Caribbean sounds who, well, isn’t Rihanna?

Yes, that’s been hard. The radio stations haven’t taken it up like in the USA, etc. Its been hard to make an impact as R&B, blues and country are so entrenched. It’s also been challenging to encourage Aussies to embrace the steel drum. Although its a fabulous instrument to play, it remains still quite rare in Australia. All over the world, the steel drum has ben embraced with large orchestras in Europe, the USA and England, but it’s only now just starting to be embraced in Australia. We had the inaugural steel band festival in April 2013.

Speaking of her, she has a great song called “Man Down” with that very island sound, probably the most of any of her singles. Have you ever thought about producing for hip-hop/R&B artists?

 Yes. On my latest album, I have a little rap number, and quite a few of Trinidad’s soca songs that I sing have a rap section in them. In fact, we’ve been doing a sort of rap for years now.

Is playing the steel drum a spontaneous instrument performance, like performing a jazz show, or do you have to stick to the original beat?

Most times, you have to stick to the original beats, but it’s easy to improvise as one becomes accustomed to playing the steel drum. The thing about the steel drum is that its can play all genres, and a  whole orchestra can be made up of steel drums, from bass through to tenor.

How can the steel drum sound sad, romantic or party-ready? In other words, how does it have emotions?

Emotions are created by the key and scale that you play in. A minor key is sad, and a major key is happy.

What originally made Caribbean music so happy?

The sound of the steel drum is naturally a happy sound, I think, and that over time has affected the type of music produced in the Caribbean, namely calypso music. The Caribbean people have a light hearted sense of humour too, which has helped plus the natural rthymn and beat in their bodies, which makes them want to move and dance.

Where can we see your next performances and other exciting things going on for you?

The next big performance is New Year’s Eve at Paradise Point. It’s a huge affair with street performers, loads of music and fireworks. Alvin and Jahbutu will be performing as a trio that night.

Visit Alvin’s website at http://www.alvin.net.au!

This article originally appeared en español on my ELLE Spain blog.

ELLE Spain discontinued their freelance blog journalism program in 2016. I have republished it on NicoleRussinMcFarland.com once again so my journalism may live on. I am grateful for the experiences I had from 2011-2016 writing for my personal Spanish language blog, revista ELLE for providing the blog, and the time from all of my interviewees.