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Antigua and the Steelband
"A Bunch of Firsts"
 

   
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Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer (center) takes in Five Alive Contest at MOP 2006

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Antigua and Barbuda - Let's be totally honest here. How many Heads of State can honestly say that they listen to pan music religiously or even say they love steelpan music?  How many Heads of State will actually take in steelpan shows because they really want to be there?  Is there any Head of State who can call themselves a panman or a panwoman?  One in Antigua & Barbuda can.

In fact, the current prime minister of Antigua & Barbuda, the Honorable Baldwin Spencer once served as the president of the Antiguan Steelband Association.  The Prime Minster of Antigua & Barbuda is unapologetic about his passion and support of the steelpan movement and music.  Mr. Spencer has often blended in with his countrymen in an unassuming and unannounced capacity, taking in a pan show such as When Steel Talks (WST) experienced at the past Moods of Pan Festival on this pan weekend.

Antigua has and continues to play a significant role in the development of the steelpan music instrument.  In fact, Antigua can proudly boast of being the first in many critical areas of steelpan.  Among the Antiguan's 'firsts' is -- the first steelband association, the first steelband recording, the first steelband publication, the first steelband to win a steelband competition, the first steelband to travel to New York. 

In 1948 Antigua formed the world's first steelband association.  Ivan "Jones" Edwards was the first President.  This organization was formed to  challenge and protect the steelbands from the hostility they suffered from the plantation owners and the middle class professionals who feared the steelbands, because they had the ability to mobilize the masses and moreover challenge their authority to rule.  The middle class professionals were known for turning loose their dogs on marching steelbands.

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Cleveroy Thomas, Antigua's Steelband Music Program Personality
Observer Radio 91.1 FM

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The Antigua Steelband Association released The Steel Band Herald, the newspaper of the association in December 1949, making it by default, the first steelband news publication.  In this edition, according to Antiguan scholar and historian Leonard Tim Hector, the paper "called for an end to Colonialism, and saw colonialism as the root of all evils which afflicted steelbands and society in general.  It was a new departure in point of view."  There were steelbands in every village in Antigua.  Those like Hells Gate, Red Army and Brute Force were much more than music groups - as they were often at the head of many demonstrations and marches leading the charge for [political and social] change.  

The first Steelband recording ever was done by an Antiguan Steelband in 1952 on the Cook record label.  The first steelband to travel to New York was the legendary Brute Force Steelband out of Antigua.  The first steelband competition in the world - ever - was organized in St. Thomas, with Antigua's Hells Gate steel orchestra emerging the winners.  The first calypso competition in Antigua had steelband accompaniment.  Lord Black Shirt won the calypso competition in 1952 while being accompanied by Hells Gate.

On our recent trip to Antigua When Steel Talks visited the country's leading radio station Observer Radio 91.1 FM, which offers a daily steelpan music show six days a week as part of its programming.  In an on-air chat with the show's host this past Sunday, WST experienced first hand the passion and knowledge the Antiguans and Barbudans have about their pan music and pan history.  One caller to the show informed WST that when Brute Force Steelband (at the time one of Antigua's leading bands) landed in New York,  they were stopped at Customs and refused entry into the US because the customs agents had never seen steelpan instruments.  When informed that they were instruments, the customs agents (who did not believe them) instructed them to prove it.  Brute Force performed for them and the rest is, as they say, history.  They were allowed entry and became the first steelband to ever travel to New York.

 

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contact:

Gemonites Steel Orchestra|www.gemonites.com |
Patrick Stone Johnson | email: stonenrico@yahoo.com   | 1-268-727-6633 (cell)
Robin Margetson | email: robin_margetson@hotmail.com |1-268-773-3748 (cell)
 
 

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