CalypSamba percussion performance


Photo by Joshua Carroll

The CalypSamba ensemble performing their steel pan repertoire.

Coastal Carolina University’s CalypSamba percussion ensemble performed a selection of Afro-Cuban music from the Lukumi tradition on Thursday, Oct. 27 in Wheelwright Auditorium.

Associate Professor Jesse Willis, the group’s director, said the name is reflective of the style of music they focus on.

“The name of it is ‘CalypSamba,’ which is a play on words of musical styles ‘calypso’ and ‘samba,’” he said, “calypso being from Trinidad and samba being from Brazil.”

Willis said the group specializes in Caribbean music, with a portion of the program’s repertoire coming from Cuba and another coming from Trinidad and Tobago. He said the group consists of a class, the World Percussion Ensemble, which is open to members of all skill levels. Willis said the class does not require prior musical experience, but does require practice, dedication and commitment.

He said in addition to the percussion, there is also singing involved which comes with its own learning challenges. Willis said the language they sing in is called “Lukumi,” which is an old Yoruban language that came to Cuba as a result of the Atlantic slave trade.

“That’s part of the learning curve,” Willis said, “getting comfortable with new syllables and being able to sing in a foreign language that isn’t even something that you can, for the most part, search out on the internet or find on Babbel.”

Nadia Dixon, a sophomore in the ensemble, said this semester is her first time doing anything like it. She said singing a different language took some adjusting from her experience.

“I’d say getting the dialect right was probably the most challenging,” Dixon said.

She said she was drawn to the class after searching around the music department and seeing videos about it. Dixon said she was intrigued by the University having a full steelpan band and that such a thing is not common. She also said that her Jamaican heritage furthered her interest.

“It’s been really fun learning about my heritage through music,” Dixon said. “This music is what I grew up with and being able to learn it is such a privilege.”

She said she enjoyed her time in the ensemble and that she’d be interested in returning.

“I would love to do it forever if I could,” Dixon said.

Willis said the group had not performed any music involving singing since around the 2019 Fall Semester. He said this was due to the presence of the pandemic and singing in close proximity.

He said the Caribbean and the U.S. have a lot of cultural exchange and connection. Willis said the ensemble gives students an opportunity to connect with that culture.

“There’s opportunities for students to listen, students to potentially perform in the future, or just to become lifelong fans of this music and have better cultural understanding and develop empathy for other countries, and all the other things that are great about studying world culture,” Willis said.