Antigua - Robin Margetson sometimes wears three hats in one of the premier steel orchestras in Antigua & Barbuda. To date this year the busy musician/professional has fulfilled duties as arranger, vice-captain and one of two musical directors for Gemonites Steel Orchestra, the other being Patrick Johnson. With a complement of seventy-six musicians, Gemonites won Antigua's 2005 National Panorama competition which was held on July 28th.
This year marks the 27th year of existence for the band which had its beginnings in the Princess Margaret Secondary School's steelband program. Upon graduation, some of the members of the school's steel orchestra opted to continue the art from. Margetson said that the name Gemonites was chosen because many of the members were born under the astrological sign of Gemini. Since its formation, Gemonites has entered every single steelband competition to date staged in Antigua & Barbuda.
There have been a couple periods of dormancy and resurgence in the Antiguan pan movement, also responsible for a period of 'no panorama.' Fortunately 2001 saw the return of the competition. For 2005 however, a controversial and late decision on the part of the powers-that-be almost kayoed the competition. Margetson explained that it has been the custom for Antiguan steel orchestras to perform original compositions written by the bands' arrangers. Margetson himself has been composing since the late seventies, and in 2003 - the year of the band's 25th anniversary, Gemonites had won the championship with a Margetson' composition.
The 2005 panorama participants had been five weeks deep into practicing the arrangements of their respective selections, when a decision to switch to music that was already familiar to the panorama-going public was implemented. It was said that the audience on panorama night was unfamiliar with the music, as most were hearing the selections for the very first time.
This meant totally scrapping all the work that had been done. With just about four weeks to go before the panorama competition, all the bands had to start with new selections. As a result, Gemonites resident arranger who had already put in so much work for the season, declined to begin afresh with the replacement musical piece. Vice-captain and co-musical director Robin Margetson was asked to step in, and the rest, as they say, is history. Gemonites Steel Orchestra emerged victorious. The arranger praised the efforts of all the band's players in the face of the daunting task that had been put before them, and in fact he thought that the overall resilience of all the bands may have been the reason why this year's panorama competition had been called 'one of the best in years.' He believes that all involved turned "what could have been negative energy into positive energy."
Interestingly enough, Gemonites secured the championship with Margetson's arrangement of Outta Control, a calypso performed and popularized by one of their own - Carl 'The Panman' Richards - who according to their arranger, is 'an excellent double seconds player' in addition to being a calypsonian. In fact, not only Gemonites played Outta Control, but so too did two of the other competing steel orchestras!
Margetson spoke in general about the history of the Antigua & Barbuda pan movement and among other details, mentioned Hell's Gate who this year mark their sixtieth year of existence. He said that they were "arguably the oldest surviving steelband, probably in the world." Chuckling, Margetson added "anybody who wants to challenge [that statement] feel free to do so." Other bands that are historical landmarks in Antigua's steelpan landscape include Harmonites, which is a band that came out of Hell's Gate. They now boast a history of their own of around forty years. Superstars, Halcyon and Ebonites are other Antiguan musical powerhouses in pan.
Like his counterpart David 'Peck' Edwards of Grenada's New Dimension's Steel Orchestra, Margetson notes that within the growth of the pan movement in Antigua & Barbuda, there was a noticeable presence of more women on the pan scene.
Community outreach is a tool that has benefited both the pan movement in Antigua and Gemonites. For the past six or seven years, the band members have dedicated their Saturday afternoons to steelpan instruction. Interest from all ages are entertained, and though they welcome new players, no one is obligated to stay with the band as a result of the outreach. Margetson says that before the community initiative, it was challenging for Gemonites to average even fifty players at panorama time. With the outreach continuing to provide a fresh pool of players, they can now field upwards of an initial number of one hundred players at competition time, from whom come the eventual panorama contingent.
Another Gemonites initiative is the renowned Moods of Pan festival. Now in its seventh year, Margetson said that the festival began as a single concert, where Len 'Boogsie' Sharpe was one of the guests. It has grown over the years into a two, three and now four-day event, attracting worldwide attention and acclaim. Performers at the 2004 Moods of Pan included Grenada's New Dimension, Trinidad's Renegades, United Kingdom's Mangrove, France's Calypsociation, New York's Women In Steel and hosts Gemonites.
With the annual panorama season now behind them, Margetson says that Gemonites is turning its full attention to this year's Moods of Pan festival, and promises that details would soon be forthcoming on the band's web site www.Gemonites.com. The festival is scheduled for November 24 - 27.
The Antiguan pan movement enjoys the support of the government, whom Margetson says also supports their Moods of Pan festival at the national level. He describes their support as 'solid' and credits them with encouraging and outfitting steelbands in the schools and also in the nation's countryside. Presently all the orchestras are centered in the capital, St. John's, and Margetson says it is hoped that the government's outreach will make it possible for steelbands to flourish outside the nation's capital as well.
For even more information, check out the entire When Steel Talks interview with Gemonites' Robin Margetson.
C. Phillips, Basement
Gemonites - MOODS OF PAN FESTIVAL 2004 - ANTIGUA
Moods of Pan 2004 - Antigua'a premiere steelpan music
Women In Steel - MOODS OF PAN FESTIVAL 2004 -
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