World Steelband Music Festival 
A Success

Khalick J. Hewitt

Liam Teague performing with Skiffle Bunch - photo R. Pope

On Father’s Day, June 19, 2005 New York was treated to a musical extravaganza at Madison Square Garden. The 2005 World Steelband Music Festival was held at the Garden with 7 Steelbands that came to participate in the Finals of the competition. New Yorkers got their money's worth. All the bands did well but three steelbands stood out. First was Skiffle Bunch. They chose an original composition by Len "Boogsie" Sharpe [entitled] “Echoes of War” as their tune of choice and I want to say that it was a masterpiece. The test piece for all the orchestras was Kitchener’s “Pan in A Minor.”  For the tune of choice Liam Teague was Skiffle Bunch’s arranger.  He too did a masterful job.  Also, he played in the orchestra.  I want to extend a compliment to the conductor for Skiffle Bunch’s tune of choice. I don’t believe that the conductor’s name was announced.  Anyhow he did a wonderful job of conducting Boogsie’s piece.  He expressed passion and theatrics as he guided the orchestra through the trials and tribulations of war.  He stood out because he was not stiff as some of the other conductors who should move away from the European mold of how one conducts an orchestra.  In my mind he was a Trinidadian conductor and expressed all the Trinidad emotions.  He was amazing.  His last act was to bolt from the stage through the audience to the back of the theatre as the orchestra ended it's piece. A fitting exit from the echoes of war.  

Sound Specialists of Laventille -- photo R. Pope

The next band that amazed me was Sound Specialists of Laventille. They chose another original composition by a Trinidadian Cary Codrington. Mr. Codrington portrayed in the piece the journey of the enslaved Africans from Africa to the Caribbean. His piece was called “From Kumasi To La Trinidad.”  The piece opened with two drummers. One in front of the band and the other situated afar from the band. First, the drummer in front of the band made a call.  Then the other drummer responded. That went on for a few minutes.  Then the orchestra picked up the journey as the enslaved Africans were put on European ships and brought to the New World to begin their life of misery and travail.  As the orchestra played the panists expressed sorrow and joy. You heard cries and moans as they displayed the agony of slavery.  Finally, the enslaved Africans were in Trinidad.  It was at that point Mr. Codrington outdid himself as some members from the band imitated the birth of the steelband. They beat the drums as they attempted to tune the pans in order to create the steelpan.  Suddenly one of the panists stood in front of the band with an iron.  He beat the iron and the tempo of the orchestra erupted as a carnival atmosphere evolved. The audience loved every moment of the dramatization. It was indeed a spectacle to behold as the steelband was born.

CASYM Steel Orchestra -- photo R. Pope

Exodus was the other band that impressed me. They played a European composition, Rossini’s “Semiramide.”  Their rendition of the test piece and their tune of choice were good enough for the judges as they were declared the winners of the competition.  The other bands played well.  Grenada’s New Dimension Steel Orchestra played Von Suppe’s “Poet and Peasant.” 

I must add that that piece is an historical piece as it is the now defunct City Syncopators Steel Orchestra only claim to fame for their rendition in the 1966 Music Festival.  In that festival they outplayed the now defunct and great Pan Am Jet North Stars to win the Margaret Russell trophy for their tune of choice.

The local band CASYM Steel Orchestra played “Marche Slave” under the direction of Arddin Herbert. Mr. Herbert is an excellent panist as he demonstrated while playing the test piece in the band.  I like his interaction with panists in the band who were all so very young. They were the last band to play and the crowd expected them to win.  Although they did not win they represented New York in a truly majestic performance.  The panjumbies of the world supported this event and it is expected that this support will continue as the festival moves to another venue in another two years.

Full House at WSMF at Madison Square Garden - photo R. Pope

I hope that they will be able to work out what I think was the only glitch for the evening. They had trouble removing the pans from the stage after each presentation.  That took some time, with noisy disruptions from the small trucks on which they placed the pans. The labor was union labor and local.  They did not have a clue as to how to remove the pans from the stage.  It seems that Trinidadians and the panists in particular can teach them a thing or two for they have been doing it for over 42 years.  Maybe next time Pan Trinbago would come to some type of arrangement with the Unions for the panists to remove their pans for themselves as they eventually did and the union labor could remove the basses as they are the heavier instruments. 

I want to extend a special thanks to Pan Trinbago who most people did not expect to be able to pull it off due to the time constraints. They had only one month to produce the festival after the London venue was changed.  In the past, Pan Trinbago has been known to bungle things. This time they came through in remarkable form.  I also extend laudable congrats to all the pan jumbies who attended this program.  A special mention must be made to Emmanuel ‘Jack’ Riley, Neville Jules and the members of the Brooklyn Steelband fraternity who attended the festival. There were talks about the lack of space for the bands to practice but we have to deal with the logistics here in America.  And some felt left out in the planning.  Perhaps, Pan Trinbago can address those complaints by meeting in the near future with local steelband leaders and discuss ways and means to improve that aspect of the festival.  I hear tell that the next venue is Chicago.  I am booking my ticket in the near future.  Last year Father’s day was beautiful as we enjoyed the pan jazz show at Lincoln Center.  This year it was Mas at Madison Square Garden.  In 2007 it will be Fire in Chicago.  Congratulations to Pan Trinbago for a job well done.

To the rendezvous of victory,

Khalick J. Hewitt, President & Founder

International Calypso & Steelpan Society

June 21, 2005

Mr. Hewitt is a guest writer for WST

All photos by Basement's Pan photographer R. Pope

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