Harmonites Steel Orchestra
Tune of choice: “60 Years” | arranger: Aubrey “Lacu” Samuel
Harmonites International Steel Orchestra, known as Antigua & Barbuda’s musical ambassadors began as Jr. Hell’s Gate. It’s first captain was Rupert ‘Teela’ Parker. It is an unusual band with a wide repertoire, and has a reputation for being a pacesetter, because it is always doing something outside the norm. Its members keep seeking new ways to develop their craft, realizing that, “culture cannot remain stagnant,” in the words of one of its bandleaders, Simon Toulon.
Harmonites first entered Antigua & Barbuda’s Panorama competition in 1968, winning its first year out and going on to claim this top pan accolade seven more times - ‘69, ‘71, ‘72, ‘74, ‘85, ‘01, ‘04.
If the band’s achievements were confined to Panorama, this alone would quite impressive, but Harmonites is always on the hunt for new worlds to conquer. It is, therefore, the only steel band, to date, to win the prestigious ‘Band of the Year’ title - awarded each year to the top Carnival troupe. This remark able feat was accomplished in 1974 with its presentation of ‘Interplanetary Sailors’.
Another first for Harmonites was winning the first ‘Bomb Contest’ held as part of Antigua’s Carnival. This contest, held in 1968, required the steel bands to play a non-calypso in calypso rhythm. Harmonites was also the first steel band to play in a church service in September 1971, although Hells Gate had [previously] done church performances. It was nostalgic for Antigua when Harmonites shocked the pan world when in 1979 they were selected to perform at the Super Bowl half-time show at the Miami Orange Bowl.
Harmonites were again selected in 1986 from among other internationally famous steel bands, to participate in the ‘World Drum Festival,’ held as part of Expo ‘86’ in Vancouver, Canada under the captaincy of the renowned Fitzroy ‘Champ’ Other tours included Rochester, Carifesta in Barbados 1981, Korea, Brazil, Bahrain in the Middle East, Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico and the first Caribbean Steelband Festival sponsored by Caripan in Grenada 2001.
In addition, the band has traveled quite extensively over the years, solidifying its ‘International’ moniker, while remaining true to its roots, winning the ‘Sweetest Steel Band on the Road’ title more than twelve times.
Looking ahead, Harmonites has set itself a number of goals. It had already fused voices with pan. The band has recorded 4 albums which include the famous ‘Men In Harmonites’.
The band house is situated at Lower North Street and the current captain is Simon ‘Kamau’ Toulon.
Harmonites School of Pan
Harmonites School of Pan started in 1988 mainly to replenish the Harmonites steel band. After this objective was achieved the school was closed after about eighteen months in existence.
The school was reopened on January 4, 2000 after the steel band association decided to revive panorama. The objective of the school is to teach anyone (color, class or creed) interested in the basic art of steel pan playing; at the end of this course you would be given a pair of sticks and a certificate saying you have successfully completed the course ‘introduction to pan playing’. After all this, it did not matter if you wanted to stay with the band, play in a next band, or stop because all you wanted to do was to learn to play pan.
The school was giving a donation of $10,000.00 by an American donor group to purchase instruments for the school, and the school now has at its disposal eight treble pans, four double tenors, four double seconds, four double guitars, three quad cellos, two tenor basses and two six- or low-basses. While this is not a good balance it’s a good start.
September 2003 class B was taught theory and two students who have recently graduated from the school, have been sent to the Department of Culture to be groomed into panists by Mr. Aubrey “Lacu” Samuel, a past member of the band, now a tutor at the Department of Culture, The tutors at the school are Mr. Leroy Gordon, one of the original members of Harmonites, Mr. Simon Toulon - the present captain, Mr. Martley Christian, and Marlon Fredrick - a past member of the school.
Source: In Tune With Pan magazine, publication of the Cultural Development Division - Ministry of Education, Human Development & Culture, Antigua & Barbuda, W.I. 2008