Back to the Future: Fimber Bravo of 20th Century Steel Band’s Striking New Sound


Children grow and women produce and men go work and some do stealing. Everyone’s got to make a living...

At some point you’ve probably heard these words, sung in a starkly high-pitched male voice, often followed with a group chant: Heaven and helllllllll…is on earth. The phrase has been sampled in songs by J.Lo (on “Jenny From the Block”), The Black Eyed Peas and Doug E. Fresh. If you’ve heard it once, it tends to stick with you forever. And the full song is even better, a blend of funky, Curtis Mayfield-style conscious soul with the island vibes of a pan band.

The track is “Heaven and Hell” by the 20th Century Steel Band, a group of pannists from Trinidad and elsewhere which formed in the U.K. in the ’70s. The group came to prominence on a British TV talent showcase called New Faces and were signed to Island Records, which released their debut album Warm Heart Cold Steel featuring “Heaven and Hell.” The group released one more album the following year but prior to 2009, when Warm Heart Cold Steel was reissued by Mr. Bongo, little more was heard from the 20th Century Steel Band.

In 2012, 37 years after “Heaven and Hell,” founding member Fimber Bravo re-emerged on London indie label Moshi Moshi, home to Hot Chip and Lykke Li. This year, Bravo released his first album Con-Fusion through the label, with the pannist’s steel drums set against modern indie productions. And it’s trippy, mayne. Take the single “The Way We Live Today” with Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, streaming below. We’re betting you’ve never heard steelpan on a song this slow and stark before. It’s quite haunting. There’s an apocalyptic tone to the whole album, best embodied by “Life After Doomsday,” for which the label commissioned the space-based video you see below. Watch it below, and check out the full album here.