A UNIQUE SOUND
Dejehan Hamilton broke new ground five years ago by becoming one of the first students at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music to claim the steel pan as his principal instrument.
Now, Hamilton — born and raised in the north end of the city that shares his name — is breaking new ground by mixing his virtuosity on the chrome-plated Caribbean drum with his love for contemporary R&B.
After graduating in 2016 with a four-year degree from Berklee, Hamilton returned home, performing his unique blend of soul, Soca, R&B and reggae under the stage name Luckystickz.
At first, he worried that he’d become known as “that steel pan guy” instead of a contemporary pop artist. But Hamilton soon learned to embrace the quirkiness of his chosen instrument.
“I wanted to be my own guy, an artist who happens to play steel pan,” Hamilton, 24, says between mouthfuls of chocolate cake and sips of a mango/orange drink at the Mulberry Café on James Street North. “I’m an individual, the steel pan is an accessory.
“But Luckystickz isn’t Luckystickz without the steel pan. We both have to get along in this marriage.”
He had started writing songs in Boston, added a few more in Hamilton, and this year decided to record them with the help of his longtime friend Chris Williams, a local keyboard player and producer. The result is a six-song EP called “Every Day Battle.” (You can download it from luckystickz.com.)
At first, steel pan wasn’t in the picture for “Every Day Battle.” But as Hamilton and Williams were working on the EP’s first single — an upbeat piece of pop called “Magic” — they found a place for it.
“Steel pan wasn’t going to be in Magic at first,” says Hamilton, an accomplished drummer who first took up steel pan as a member of the Hamilton Youth Steel Orchestra.
“We wanted to do a nice little Afrobeat pop tune. We were listening to the start of it, with just the keyboards. I had a steel pan in the trunk of my car, and I said, ‘Do you think we should use the steel pan instead?’ And that’s how it happened.”
The sleek steel pan intro on ‘Magic’ fits like a glove. As a matter of fact, the average listener might have difficulty identifying it as the sound of a steel pan. That suits Hamilton fine. “The challenge was to use the steel pan and not make it sound like the islands,” Hamilton says. “I was trying to stay as far away as possible from the Caribbean box it usually gets put into.”
At Berklee, which he attended on a scholarship, Hamilton honed his performance skills playing with funk-fusion and Latin ensembles. He gained confidence in his vocal skills when he was selected to sing at a special Berklee tribute to the great Harry Belafonte. He also performed in Singapore with Singapore-American fingerstyle funk guitarist Shung Ng and worked with R&B singer and multi-instrumentalist Brian McKnight.
Since returning home, Hamilton has made the transition from ensemble player to frontman and solo performer. Some of his live shows incorporate a full band, but usually he’ll play solo to backing tracks.
“That’s the thing that makes the Luckystickz brand unique,” says Hamilton, who also works as an instructor for An Instrument for Every Child and runs summer music camps for children. “In my shows, I play drums, steel pan, I sing and I dance. You’re getting the whole Luckystickz experience.”
Luckystickz performs Friday, Dec. 8, in Burlington at Infusion, 1235 Fairview St., between 6:30 and 10 p.m. He also performs at the Hamilton Caribbean Women’s Group New Year’s Eve Ball at the Hamilton Convention Centre (By Carmen’s).
Steelpan virtuoso Dejehan Hamilton performs under the name Luckystickz.