San Fernando, Trinidad -
The Chinese community in Trinidad and Tobago
celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of their arrival on the
shores of Trinidad and Tobago this year on October 12.
It is the first time that the community has had an official holiday
to commemorate their arrival, and they have made much use of the
opportunity in the weeks and months prior to the great day, proudly showcasing the talent of their people, their
by, and in turn impact on, Trinbagonian life and culture. The
twin-island country is made up of diverse peoples, and the Chinese are
a significant part of Trinbago life and the business community.
To this end, they organized many events designed to bring to the
fore - the expression, sights and
sounds of their Trinbagonian-Chinese culture.
These have been
designed to include concerts, lectures, art and culinary displays,
theater, Carifesta IX participation, a Food and Trade fair, and a
performance by a troupe of artists from the People's Republic of China. The Chinese
community celebration will culminate with a Dragon Boat Racing
Festival involving thirty-six teams, originating from Chaguaramas in
north west Trinidad. But it is the first component - the
concerts, which they have taken to various parts of the
country, including the sister isle of Tobago, entitled The Dragon Can
Dance which are the focus here, because of the presence of a
unique component - The Chinese Bicentennial Steel Ensemble.
It had been another historic first when the
bicentennial steel ensemble came into being on
March 26, 2006. The first-ever Chinese steelband
(pictured left) was assembled
in Trinidad and Tobago as another celebratory factor of their
anniversary. For years, people of Chinese heritage have played
with other Trinbagonians in the country's many steel orchestras.
But this ensemble invited all such players, as well as those who had
an interest, but had never played pan before, to be part of the
country's first steelband comprised solely of those in the country
of Chinese heritage. The players are a very diverse lot in
terms of background and age, with the youngest member at present
being nine years old, while boasting adults as mature as fifty.
the concept of an all-Chinese steel orchestra was parlayed, Larry
Lai (pictured right)
would eventually be the individual given the
mandate for pulling it all together; he is now the leader. And the result
Chinese Bicentennial Steel Ensemble. The band has support
from and utilizes the surplus instruments of, three of Trinidad's
steel orchestras: Starlift, Harvard Harps, and Silver Stars.
The primary arrangers for the band are Roy Edwards and Douglas 'Dougie'
Redon, with Jeremy “Skies” Abraham coming on board later on.
At his address delivered earlier on this year
in July, Kenneth Chang On (pictured left), from the Secretariat of the Chinese
Bicentennial Ltd. said "...this will be the first time that
traditional Chinese musical instruments such as the Er-Hu, Yer Woo,
Toon Kam and Mook Kam, all string instruments, will be fused with
the Steelpan our [Trinidad and Tobago's] National Instrument, as
well as providing accompaniment for vocalists performing authentic
Chinese songs." Chang credited arranger Dougie Redon with the
vision for this fusion. For their performances, the band is
not afraid of the marriage of the national instrument of their
present country and its various rhythms, and the instruments and
culture unique to their own heritage. As a
result, the Chinese Bicentennial Steel Ensemble is very comfortable
when they join forces with traditional Chinese vocalists, instrumentalists
and rhythms. They are equally at home with and enjoy, other
ethnic influences which have become part of their experience as Trinbagonians.
This is clearly apparent in their repertoire, which features a
variety of music including calypsonian Bally's African-tinged Shaka Shaka,
arranged by Dougie Redon, and another 2006 soca hit of East
When Steel Talks
(WST) caught up with the orchestra as
the Chinese community unveiled one in their series of The Dragon
Can Dance concerts, held at the Oasis Garden Terrace in south
Trinidad. They opened the evening's cultural display with both
the national anthems of the People's Republic of China, and of the
Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Their first selection would
be Colours Again, written by a Trinidad and Tobago
national of Chinese heritage and well known in steelpan circles -
He has made a name for himself in the area of composing and Colours
Again, vocalized by Destra Garcia, proved a very popular selection of
choice for the 2006 panorama season in Trinidad and Tobago.
was able to chat briefly with Candace Chow
mistress of ceremonies, and daughter of Johnny Chow, leader of the
Pacific Lion Dance Troupe which also performed. "Chinese people have been overlooked in Trinidad and
Tobago...All the other cultures - the East Indians, the
Africans - all have their holidays, celebrations, and a lot of
attention focused on them. The Chinese have contributed a lot
to Trinidad and Tobago. The [Chinese] holiday [October 12] is
one of the best things this year." As Ms. Chow laughingly but
wryly put it "We had to wait two hundred years for it [holiday]."
"We welcome the opportunity to share the
Chinese culture, to educate and entertain Trinidad and Tobago,
because it has been more or less hidden for so many years, and
also...we share our joy at celebrating the anniversary of two
hundred years of our presence in the country, with the rest of its
citizens. It's a big deal for us." Commenting directly
on the cultural aspect of the show, the mistress of ceremonies said
it was 'very diverse.' "We have many different forms of
talent." In fact the entire Dragon Can Dance
concert took many forms: music, dance, martial arts, and the calypso artform
- negating the stereotypes of the Chinese - held by some - as
'business only,' for example. Ms. Chow further highlighted the performance by the
Chinese Christian group as an example of the complete diversity of
The Chinese steelpan musicians performed
throughout the show, in tandem with talented representatives from their community,
including but not limited to: the
Chinese Traditional Instrumentalists,
Lori Lee Lum and The Chinese Art Dancers,
the Fan Dancers (pictured below left)
and the Shaolin Temple Martial Arts.
The audience was also treated to calypso, including an up tempo and catchy
number - 'What You Want From Me'
one their two calypsonians, Ming Lao Chee Tung, and ribbon dancers
(pictured below right),
from Rhythmica, the School of
Rhythmic Gymnastics, the only school of its type in Trinidad and
Tobago. Johnny Chow's dragon also wound its way through the
crowd to their delight, especially the younger attendees.
A few of the steelpan musicians chatted with
during and after their performances, and also
took time out for some memorable shots of the evening. Double
tenor player Megan Charles (pictured
below left), is a veteran in the steelpan art form, and plays with one of
Trinbago's powerhouse steel orchestras, Phase II Pan Groove, who are
2005 and 2006 national panorama champions. Megan articulated
many of the sentiments expressed by Candace Chow, and viewed the
Chinese cultural initiative as
an event that was long in coming and now proudly welcomed. Odelia Garcia
(pictured below right),is a percussionist with the steel ensemble, and has
also played with other bands including Harvard Harps.
Later on in the programme, nine-year old
(pictured above, middle)
stole the show for a few minutes; he has been described
as a prodigy. Involved with music for a number of years, the
young pannist showed his mettle when, in addition to being a member
of the steel ensemble, he excelled on his own as he undauntedly
executed the Minute Waltz and was rewarded with loud applause. Apparently
acclimatized to the limelight, Elijah took it all in stride.
Thirteen-year old Romero Edwards
(pictured left), has been
playing pan for a few years, and was unarguably the pannist who most
enjoyed himself as he performed, coming alive behind his instrument.
Besides being taught to play by his dad - Roy Edwards, one of the
ensemble's arrangers and noted performer in his own right - Romero has also been around Merrytones
Steel Orchestra based in Diego Martin, Trinidad. The teenager is
competent on other instruments as well, including the guitar and piano.
For pan, he has played tenor, double seconds, tenor bass, and six bass.
(pictured right), is another
member of the Chinese steel ensemble. If the name
sounds familiar, it is because his dad who has also been a pan player
and heads a company called Yara Trinidad Ltd., is Mark Loquan,
already highlighted above. Evan
himself has been playing pan for abut three years, and with a father who has made his
mark on the steelpan scene in the country, this young pannist has a good
background should he choose to make the national instrument a significant part
of his life. Both Evan and his mother, Patricia were part of
pictorial highlighting members of the ensemble.
The Chinese Bicentennial
Steel Ensemble plans to continue as a group, and to perform.
Their 'pan yard' is located at the Chinese Association in St. Ann's,
Kenneth Chang On, Chinese Arrival Secretariat: 1 (868)
The Dragon Can Dance in Pictures
C. Phillips, Basement
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