Shango Axe Holds Benefit Jam for Julian
By: Sam Houghton, May 14, 2012
REBECCA FORSTER - Michael Gabriel plays steel drums with the Dune Billy All Stars at the InsideOUT Harbor Fest in Falmouth in August 2011.
From the dance floor each Thursday at 586 Bistro in Hyannis, it does not appear that Michael Gabriel, steel drummer and frontman for Shango Axe, is going through a particularly rough time.
The music serenading the audience is uplifting, with Gabriel’s steel pans recalling the sunshine beats of reggae and calypso music.
But despite the positive vibes booming from the stage, Michael Gabriel is facing a problem that every parent dreads: his 7 year-old son, Julian, was recently diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Pay it forward...
Saturday, May 19th
1 PM to 1 AM
Tickets are $15 for adults and a $5 donation is asked for kids.Performances by Shango Axe, Highly Suspect, Funktapuss, The Mighty Ceej, Brendan Princi, Angela McCluskey, Cape Cod African Dance and Drum, John Beninghof, and more!
Be The Match will be on site swabbing people to be a part of the National Marrow Registry!
Silent auction and raffle will take place throughout the day with hundreds of donated items and gift certificates from local businesses.
Without the drums in front of him, Gabriel is nothing short of emotionally drained. He does not partake in small talk, but speaks of heavier things like love and faith. Most of his waking hours, after all, are spent in the Children’s Hospital in Boston, watching Julian fight this potentially fatal, yet curable disease.
“Before, I wrote these songs almost as inspiration for other people. Now they are coming in handy for me,” Gabriel says. “I wrote about staying strong and believing – like a warrior. They are starting to make more sense to me now.”
When he’s not at the hospital, Gabriel is playing music. He is hard pressed to get on stage, but he pushes on, giving back to a community that has provided for him.
“People are helping me right now: emotionally, financially and everything else. If I’m able to make someone smile, I am doing my job,” he says.
When asked about how recent events affect his music, Gabriel responds, “I play from the heart. I get emotional. I get overwhelmed. From what people say, some pretty incredible stuff has happened, but a few moments here and there I have had to leave the stage and let Jake [Goodwin] take a long solo.”
Behind the music
Shango Axe is made up of a revolving cast of musicians from around the Cape – sometimes a full band of 10 or more with horns and percussion, or sometimes it’s the core group of four.
Touted by many as the Cape’s best reggae band, Shango Axe has opened for reggae greats such Jimmy Cliff, Burning Spear, Stephen Marley, Toots and The Maytals, and Eek-a-Mouse.
Their sound is a jam version of traditional reggae. Goodwin adds his own jazz-infused flavor to songs made famous by Bob Marley or Peter Tosh. But whether it’s a cover or an original tune, the band’s sound is derived from Gabriel’s lively and sublime steel pans.
Gabriel grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, where at the young age he played steel drums in a traveling classical symphony. The group played venues like the Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. After 12 years of symphony, at age 19, Gabriel decided to move to New York City, where he played on the subways and streets, taught music and played in different bands for 5 years.
Then, in 1990, Gabriel answered a call from Dennis musician Amber Crowley to play steel drums in her reggae band on Cape Cod. After visiting, he fell in love with the island-like scene.
“It reminds me of the islands. Everyone knows everyone. It is very relaxed. The vibe is good,” Gabriel says. He has since lived here happily, starting a family and playing in the Dune Billy All-Stars and large symphony orchestras in addition to Shango Axe.
After giving his music to the community he has grown to love, the community is giving back to Gabriel during these hard times. Local bands and over 100 businesses are coming together for a benefit concert and raffle: Jammin' for Julian, to be held at the Improper Bostonian in Dennis on Saturday, May 19th.
“I am overwhelmed with the support. I have a rough few years ahead of me. I won’t be able to do as much as work because I’ll have to take care of my son, but these people are helping me out,” Gabriel says. “I’m just very grateful.”