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Revel in the richness of the Caribbean

The new Caribbean-American Heritage Day, a part of the free Pathmark Multicultural Arts Festival, may just be the most exciting program in the whole 2008 National Caribbean American Heritage Month, a celebration first made official by Congress and the president in 2006.

Nowhere on the continent is Caribbean heritage more widely celebrated than Brooklyn, home to America’s best steelpan orchestras, calypso singers and West Indian dancers.

Everyone is invited to share their joy and join the celebration June 22 on the lower level of Brooklyn’s Kings Plaza. Entertainment, samples and prizes are free from 12-5 p.m.

The famous music of the English-speaking Caribbean, steelpan was born in the 1930s in Trinidad, first improvised on biscuit tins, trash cans and finally oil drums.

Pans now have a proud place in orchestras and bands everywhere, the only way to achieve the authentic rhythms and exhilarating sounds of the islands. Several top pan orchestras take their place on stage at the Caribbean-American Heritage Day.

On hand to emcee the program is Collette Baptiste, a member of Women in Steel and daughter of the band’s founder, Claudette Baptiste.

Women in Steel is an all-female steel band that sets the highest standards in performance. Since 1994, it has been directed by Claudette Baptiste, with drummers from Barbados, Granada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago. Later this year, the band will again travel to the islands for steelpan concerts and competitions. When not on tour, Women in Steel maintains a strong big-sister program to tutor and mentor young girls.

Utopia Pan Soul: Next Generation, Inc. is new to Pathmark Festival audiences. It is presently an elite group of just 18 members: Trinidadians, Americans and St. Lucians, with a reputation for musical stretch and mix of genres from jazz and calypso sounds to pop and classical. The band is committed to the preservation and promotion of steelpan and, under director Sheldon Elcock, works to expose its member to educational, cultural and social experiences that enrich their lives.

Pantonics Steel Orchestra is traditionally one of the largest steel bands in Brooklyn, and one of the very best, known for its dynamic drive and musical excellence from Caribbean to rap and R & B. Many student members, fondly called “Young Panatics,” are children and grandchildren of legendary pan artists. The band travels widely to perform and has recorded several popular CDs.

Founded in 1999 under the direction of Magnus Scanterbury, Pan Ambassadors has reached the highest standards of Caribbean performance, drawing young people to the magic of the steel band and supporting drummers with intensive training.

Dance, too, has a strong history in the Caribbean. Something Positive, under director Michael Manswell and in collaboration with major arts organizations, strives to keep the tradition alive and growing. Creating a swirl of color, the troupe’s musicians and dancers blend poetry with storytelling, theater, music and dance. Something Positive follows a dual purpose of teaching and entertaining.

Ebonè Roots Dance & Drum Theater also celebrates the performance arts of the islands, Africa, Brazil and Central America. Before bringing the African Diaspora and all its history to audiences across the Metro area, children and young adults chosen for the group are immersed in training, with studies in dance, music, creative writing and drama.

Kings Plaza shopping Center is at Avenue U and Flatbush Avenue. For more about the Caribbean-American Heritage Day and Pathmark Multicultural Arts Festival events in Manhattan, the Bronx, Philadelphia or New Jersey’s Elizabeth, Wayne and Woodbridge, call toll-free 866-894-1812 or visit www.pathmark.com.

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