Published on Thursday, February 26, 1998
1998 The Arizona Republic

Byline: Barry Gilbert


Faces to remember: Ken London, lead vocals and steel drums; Art Alvarado, bass and vocals; Mervyn Als, steel drums; Brent Scherer, guitar and vocals; Glen Niles, steel drums; Chris Newton, drums; Kendrick ''Shabazz'' Hill, percussion and drums.

Paying dues: Tenor steel drum player Ken London's journey to Phoenix began in his hometown of Baratatia, near Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, where he played bass and guitar in bands in the late '60s and worked the cruise ships.

The early '70s found him in California, where he decided to devote himself to music full time after working for a corporation and taking a few college courses.

For the next eight years, he played bass, guitar and drums. Then he started studying the double-tenor steel drums, or pans, on which he can play either lead parts or chords, and for two years practiced every day on Venice Beach, living off the proceeds of a tip box.

In October 1990, he rolled into Phoenix with his pans ''and five bucks in my pocket.''

Now, after years of teaching the music to other musicians, his Trinidad Calypso Band stays busy, averaging four gigs per week.

Sounds like: In addition to calypso, London's band plays reggae (calypso's sister music from Jamaica), soca (soul calypso), Harry Belafonte, even country and rock.

History lesson: The islands of Trinidad and Tobago, located in the West Indies off the northeastern coast of Venezuela, were ''discovered'' in 1498 by Christopher Columbus. The islands were influenced by the Spanish, Dutch and French before becoming British colonies. Trinidad and Tobago became an independent state in 1962.

Words of wisdom: ''As entertainers, you have to put a lot of your own feelings aside, because you're trying to make the people feel happy. That's what I'm about,'' said London, whose band plays resorts, private parties and casinos as well as performances for the elderly and for children.

The dream: ''My dream is to be the Number 1 band we can be out here . . . to be able to entertain and teach a different culture,'' said London, who works with the Arizona Arts Commission to find ways to teach children about the evolution of African culture to Caribbean culture to American culture.

Next show: It's carnival time, a two-day costume party in Trinidad that traces its roots at least to the late 18th century. In Phoenix, the Society of Caribbean Americans (SOCA) will sponsor carnival on Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Woman's Club of Phoenix, Third Avenue and Earll Drive. Costumes are optional. Tickets are available for $7 in advance from London (272-8877) or Ward Scott (345-8343). Tickets at the door will cost $10.

Make contact: Ken London, 272-8877. Color photo by Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic ''My dream is to be the Number 1 band we can be out here,'' Trinidad Calypso Band singer Ken London says. Other band members are (from left in back) Glen Niles, Brent Scherer, Art Alvarado and Mervyn Als.