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Lucky Seven!
Diamond Steel Orchestra cops
7th St. Lucia Panorama Title in Eleven Years

Steelpan alive and well in St. Lucia
 

Diamond Steel Orchestra in 2003

St. Lucia As the euphoric panists of Diamond Steel danced on the stage actuated by the proclamation of their victory, an obviously happy but measured Gregory “Shining” Emmanuel declared it “lucky seven” after his band regained the coveted crown two years after their last triumph in 2006.  Arranged by Aimran Simmonds with whom Emmanuel co-wrote their tune of choice Celebration, the name of the selection was a good portent of how the night would end for one of the Caribbean’s most talented steel orchestras.   They are no stranger to winner’s row, having copped the title six times previously in 1998, 2005 and 2006, with a hat trick from 2000—2002.

The titular tug-of-war among the panorama champs aspirants took center stage once more this year as the 2008 St. Lucia National Panorama unfolded at the Beausejour Cricket Grounds (BCG) in Gros Islet, just north of Castries, the capital of the Caribbean nation.  It is the second year in a row that the competition was held at BCG, dubbed by many one of the most magnificent cricket grounds in the world.  And to keep it that way, the area where the orchestras performed was covered with a black protective layer to maintain its pristine condition, with additional safeguards in place for the pathway where bands rolled on and off the field. 

Click ‘play’ to hear samples of panorama performances

With a jumbotron positioned to the rear of the stage area, six orchestras performed under blazing lights to the delight of the crowd which was even larger than that of 2007.  This major showing was expected in advance as there was a huge surge in ticket sales earlier in the day as folks tried to avoid being locked out; and here lies the big story.  By 10:09, there were no more seats available in the two stands allotted for the event.  After some lean and declining years in the late eighties and early nineties, the steelpan instrument, fans and culture have made a significant comeback as new generations of steelpan music lovers and performers have entered the St. Lucia cultural and arts arena.

As an organization that has both respect and consideration for the pan community and St. Lucians as a whole, the national steelband association has apparently found a way to sustain reasonable pricing for tickets, as entire families related to pan players, school mates who have friends playing in bands, and legions of pan fans, attended the 2008 panorama in numbers significantly higher than last year.  Sadly, the issue of affordable panorama tickets in the two other meccas of pan, has posed obstacles for many who would dearly love to attend in larger numbers with friends, family and music lovers in general.

The St. Lucia national panorama commenced at exactly 9:00 PM with the national anthem performed by two pan-round-the-neck panists, exactly one hour later than the scheduled start time, reportedly due to an accident in the vicinity that adversely impacted the arrival of patrons on time for 8:00 PM.  In 2007, the grounds were almost filled by the time the show was slated to begin.

As was the case in 2007, each orchestra played a “warm-up” piece of about three to four minutes, before executing their panorama arrangement, with music from the crop of popular soca music for 2008 being preferred.  Babonneau opted for ‘Suzette’ as their warm-up selection, while eventual panorama winners Diamond Steel delivered Wheel and Come Again by St. Lucia’s 2008 soca monarch Ricky T.  The warm-up session works well all around; players get into the ‘groove’ and mood of performing, the sound engineer is afforded ample time to fine tune his sound reinforcement output to the audience, and avid pan music fans are treated to two performances per band.

 St. Lucia is way ahead of the two ‘meccas’ of pan - Trinidad & Tobago and New York - as the organizers of the St. Lucian event exercise sheer acoustic common sense, and place their judges directly in front of the bands, while the speakers are positioned some distance behind them (but facing the audience directly), so adjudication is predicated on the natural and unamplified sound and harmonics of the orchestras, with no added colorization.  Only for the USSA 2001 Panorama in New York was this done.  Otherwise, this strategy and sonic postulate are largely disregarded, and musical results of competitions are delivered based on sound severely impacted by the sometimes overpowering and usually distorted and questionable mix issuing from the speakers.

The St. Lucia National Steelband Association (SLNSA) employed what they termed “regional judging” with seven adjudicators in total from various Caribbean regions.  From Trinidad and Tobago there were Merle Albino-de Couteau, Joycelyn Sealey and Jeanette Johnson, and one each from St. Vincent & the Grenadines (Vince Stewart), Antigua & Barbuda (Jagger Martin), and Grenada (Andy Chester).  Rounding out the panel were two from St. Lucia, with one of the latter being an alternate.  Results of the show were validated and signed off on by each adjudicator on the panel.

 The judging criteria is divided into sections for a total of 100 points. The highest and lowest scores are eliminated from each band’s tally, for a maximum (this year) combined total of 500 points.  Total possible points that could be awarded in each section were as follows: arrangement - 40 points; general performance - 35 points; tone - 10 points; rhythm - 10 points and presentation - 5 points.

The six orchestras who participated in this year’s competition, in order of appearance were: Harmonites Steel Orchestra, Busta Emerald Steel Orchestra, Digicel Pantime Steel Orchestra, Leverage North Stars Steel Orchestra, Courts Babonneau Steel Orchestra and Diamond Steel Orchestra.

Harmonites Steel Orchestra came together in four weeks.  Attired all in black for the panorama, Harmonites is an offshoot of Courts Babonneau Steel Orchestra and made its first panorama appearance this year with Dong de Road as their tune of choice.  According to the band captain Bernard Stephen, they had originally planned to enter the competition in 2009 but were persuaded to instead make their move in 2008.  The band is made up primarily of young people who are part of their year-round educational program, and Stephen was amazed at how much they were able to accomplish in the short period between their decision to compete, and panorama night.  Arranger Hausan ‘Zorro’ Griffith said that he was quite pleased with the group’s performance in their maiden voyage in panorama and looked forward to 2009.  Harmonites’ performance illustrated that they possess a lot of skilled musicians and the future looks very bright for them.  Their showing exceeded what one would expect from a freshman panorama orchestra made up of very young people.  Taking the stage with about twenty-six players, they placed sixth overall.  More on Harmonites.

Emerald Steel Orchestra in 2003

Busta Emerald Steel Orchestra started in 1993 with students who arranger Guy Innocent had taught in secondary schools in St. Lucia, a trend which continues to this day.  Sporting a simple combination of white pants and white T-shirts, effectively enhanced with brightly colored vests, the orchestra featured many new faces this year, as Innocent admitted it was a struggle to acquire and more so to keep, players.  About thirty-six to forty band members took the stage for panorama with their tune of choice Dance Hall for Two Days; inclusive of nine players coming from Trinidad.  In the past, the Emerald contingent has been as large as fifty-five.  If the panorama was based solely on the execution of the most difficult musical passages on the family of steelpan instruments, Emerald Steel would be at the very top, hands down.  They exhibited awesome performance skills, however the arrangement lost direction from time to time.  More on Emerald.

Digicel Pantime Steel Orchestra in 2006

Digicel Pantime Steel Orchestra performed a beautiful warm-up piece that got the crowd into the mood.  They then exploded with Pan Baby, their tune of choice while dressed in red and black, the signature colors of Digicel, their ‘sponsor.’  The arrangement was well thought out and balanced.  Their performance reiterated the fact that Pantime is a class act at the top of its game.  Their ability embraced many of the native rhythms of the Afro-Caribbean experience in a manner that was phenomenal.  In addition, their musical theme was repeated throughout the performance allowing the audience to stay connected melodically with the piece as they moved through their musical variations.  The band was very tight and the arranger allowed the music room to breathe even when there was much activity occurring, by separating the ranges well and varying the styling of the percussion section.  This is no doubt one of the best performances so far for the 2008 panorama season in any country.  With seventy-three players, the orchestra again placed second this year, the last time being in 2006 when Pantime came even closer to seizing the Panorama title - losing by a mere one half of a point.  More on Pantime

North Stars Steel Orchestra performing at St. Lucia’s 2006 Panorama

North Stars Steel Orchestra had the crowd going from the opening notes of their warm-up tune as the crowd joined in, singing.  North Stars executed a coherent musical arrangement that met all the facets of the judging criteria.  Dynamics, variations, clarity, presentation and showmanship - it was all there.  The popularity of the band is in no doubt, as the leader explained he wanted to come to the panorama with one hundred and twenty players, but due to ‘concerns’ from the other band leaders, North Stars limited themselves to eighty players for panorama.  With festively adorned stands, they were the largest band of the night; their players initially appeared in white pants with attractively printed red T-shirts for their warm-up piece, then quickly morphed into orange shirts for their panorama selection.   North Stars was originally named Scrubb’s Steel Orchestra after its late founder Lennard “Scrubb” Wellington.   Their tune of choice was St. Lucia’s 1980 Road March called Guy Love Dance, a selection based on a colorful - literally and figuratively - very popular and well-known character from the streets of St. Lucia called Guy Love.  With the older members of the audience dancing along to the band’s interpretation of this classic favorite, the orchestra latched on to the third prize in the 2008 competition.  More on North Stars.

Babonneau Steel Orchestra’s performance brought the listeners back to another era in pan.  Indeed their approach and arrangement are reminiscent of the ‘golden age’ of pan.  Efficient, and operating on a high level, Babonneau Steel Orchestra demonstrated that they understand their craft very well.  They made a great musical statement without a lot of extemporaneous musical movements that have been known to lose the interest of the listener; lots of real music here.  “Leaner and meaner” was the description ascribed to the band by Allison Marquis when asked about the smaller size of the band in the 2008  competition - about forty-six players.  Babonneau’s usual complement was lessened with the departure of some players forming Harmonites, the new entrant in the panorama arena.  Marquis was very proud of his players’ performance of Calypso Jail.  Though the category of “presentation” only affords a maximum of ten points, Babonneau’s was the most noteworthy and captivating of the night, and it did garner them the mantle of ‘Best-dressed steel orchestra’ which was accompanied by a prize of EC $1,000.00.   Based on the theme of the orchestra’s tune of choice, the players portrayed inmates - and as prisoners in shackles - were guided by ‘police’ to their respective ‘jail cells,’ which were in fact their steelpan instruments.  Some mused that this appeared to be the band’s response to that other fourth position placement doled out last year, thought to be unjustified by many present at that panorama.  Indeed Marquis wryly referred to this as being held in a type of ‘Panorama jail.’  And, they again placed fourth this year.  More on Babonneau.

Diamond Steel Orchestra, on this night and with sixty-five musicians, simply did everything better than the other performing orchestras.  It was a steady, even performance that connected well with the audience, and as importantly from a competitive point of view, the judges.  It was ‘lucky seven’ for the orchestra as they took home the title of panorama champs for the seventh time in eleven years They had a great arrangement which was delivered with great execution, while appearing in eye-catching satin shirts in vibrant colors, complimented by white slacks and topped off by their trademark white hats which were trimmed with matching colored ribbons, as they proceeded to bring their selection Celebration, to life under the bright lights of the venue.  Diamond Steel’s capture of the crown continues the trend of the past eleven years where the title has been held by only two bands - North Stars and Diamond Steel.  Their Saturday night execution left no doubt as to why they are one of the top-rated steel orchestras in the Caribbean.  More on Diamond Steel

The SLNSA - not an institution to rest on the laurels stemming from the success of the 2007 panorama - instituted forward-thinking factors to make this year’s competition and overall production even better than before.  As SLNSA president Nikki Calderon tells it, there was a drive to incorporate culture as a whole into this year’s affair.  Stilt walkers, a local dance troupe and folk musicians were added to the line-up, all being part of St. Lucia’s culture, along with pan. 

There were also other new elements to the program.  Attendees were afforded a particularly special event featuring the actual singers of the orchestras’ tunes of choice before each band executed their arrangement of the songs.  Four of the respective calypsonians performed live, while there were music video performances for the other two.  This really allowed the audience to get into the spirit of the panorama bands.  Additionally, a short video profiling each band featuring the arrangers, leaders and the band, was shown over the video jumbotron. The documentaries allowed the fans to have a deeper connection with the performers and what they were about to experience.  As a result of these two program innovations, the turnaround/setting up time between the changeover of bands was adroitly addressed.

The association’s overall aim was to afford the audience an all-encompassing cultural experience, bolstered by additional live performances and relevant facets.  The result: a well-rounded production highlighting several aspects of the cultural spectrum for the benefit of patrons, while taking advantage of current multimedia technology.  Indeed St. Lucia has moved into the forefront in terms of redefining the expected steelband panorama experience.

The show ended before 2:00 AM, and it would be after two in the morning of Saturday July 19 before pan lovers would know that victory in this year’s battle would go to Diamond Steel Orchestra, sponsored by Cable and Wireless.  With a score of 429, the 2008 panorama winners dethroned the 2007 panorama champs and crowd favorite North Stars Steel Orchestra, who could only muster third place with 415 points.  Accruing a score of 416, Pantime Steel Orchestra narrowly copped the second prize. 

During the show there had been opportunity to hear from key movers and shakers, including Scotia Bank’s Chester Hinkson and SLNSA president Nikki Calderon.  Now having successfully delivered on the national panorama front, Calderon said that the association was looking forward to the development of pan in St. Lucia as a product, and to continuing the uplifting of the artform from the social stigmatization where the movement has traditionally been in a quagmire.  In this vein, he also spoke of turning attention toward the acquisition of land to house a facility that would be devoted solely to pan performances.  In addition to new events on the pan calendar throughout the year and throughout the island, Calderon indicated that organizations were now eager to come on board as sponsors of the panorama, based on the success of 2007.  “Like I told you, it has to do with the product. Cable and Wireless last year gave us $8,000.00; this year, $50,000.00. You have Bank of Nova Scotia - $15,000.00; you have the Tourist Board - $105,000.00, so that tells you something. And they are very happy with what we’re doing.  Strange enough, someone has already approached us to sponsor Panorama for the next two years - we not sure yet.”

In 2007, Chester Hinkson had been so awed by the panorama presentation that he declared he would have been delighted to play a role in that panorama. Since then, Hinkson has become the first St. Lucian national to hold the position of General Manager and Country Head of the Bank of Nova Scotia in St. Lucia, and this time around and true to his word, Hinkson brought the financial institution on board as a major sponsor of the country’s 2008 panorama venture.  And he was extremely pleased when it was time, to have the honor of handing over the second prize to runners-up Pantime Steel Orchestra.  Approached for his thoughts on this year’s production, Hinkson - himself a musician - replied “absolutely beautiful!  I was impressed with the standard of music, I was impressed with the performance of every group; I was impressed with their presentations - I mean this was just awesome!  In fact that is an understatement!”  The bank executive went on to say that it was the objective of the financial institution to support the arts, and that music was part of the arts.

For 2008, a total of EC $138,000.00 was awarded in prizes to the orchestras.  The top four prizes remained the same as in 2007, but there was a reduction by two and five thousand dollars respectively, for the fifth and sixth placing steelbands in this year’s competition.  Full results and details are below.

But before the official panorama results were announced, awards were given out to deserving individuals within the ranks of each of the six orchestras.  Each had been asked to identify someone, who over the years had made sterling contributions to the St. Lucian steelband movement, with focus on their respective bands. These individuals were now honored with plaques of gratitude presented to them by representatives of their own music organizations.  For outstanding service, Juliana Smith, mother of arranger and leader Ivan Smith received her plaque, and was described as one of the “backbones” of North Stars.  Steelpan veteran Francis Augustine followed, with his lifelong commitment to Diamond Steel being presented by Gregory ‘Shining’ Emmanuel.  Pantime’s Albert Daniel and Harmonites’ Bernard Stephen were up next.  Alfred Julien of Babonneau, and from the area of the same name on the island, returned home after residing for some years in St. Croix, to support and play with the orchestra, and joined his fellow steelband luminaries.  Emerald Steel selected Barbara Duvalier, and finally, all the members of the SLNSA, as a body, acknowledged the priceless contribution of Teddy “Gabriel” Francis, who continues his selfless service for culture in his capacity as the 2008 Carnival Coordinator.  He received accolades for his devotion to the steelband movement on the island, having been one of the pillars who resolutely persevered and was successful in his efforts to resurrect the steelband movement from its decline in the late 80s and 90s.

Despite the naturally competitive but still relatively amicable competition on an annual basis for panorama, the majority of steelbands essentially derive from North Stars who are affectionately termed the “Granddaddy” of all the bands.

Arising out of Babonneau Steel Orchestra, and based in the same geographical enclave as the latter, Harmonites is just the most recent example of a ‘split’ on the St. Lucian pan scene.  Along the same lines, the two orchestras who have maintained the monopoly on the steelband panorama championship during the last eleven years - North Stars and Diamond Steel - have the same type of connection, with the latter having seceded from the former.  Pantime also emanates from North Stars, along with Pan Exodus who competed in 2007 but did not participate in the 2008 panorama.

North Stars’ history dates back to when its founder, the late Lennard “Scrubb” Wellington, became the first St. Lucian to fall in love with the steelpan instrument around the time of the end of the second World War, and he subsequently became - almost single-handedly - the person to develop the artform on the  island.  He later went on to form Scrubb’s Steel Orchestra which was later renamed North Stars by his son and the band’s current arranger, Ivan “Cypha” Smith.  To continue the history of orchestras in St. Lucia and their progeny, Diamond Steel in turn birthed Emerald Steel.  Aside from the major orchestras which participate in panorama, there are smaller pan sides around the country.

When it was officially time for the outcome of the night’s competition to be revealed, newcomers Harmonites claimed their sixth prize purse of EC$ 10,000.00.  Accepting from Mr. Lewis of the St. Lucia Tourist Board on behalf of the fifth-placed steelband Emerald Steel, was an official - as it appeared that no member of the orchestra was on hand to accept their prize.  Recent recipient-now-turned-presenter Teddy Francis, did the honors for those ranked fourth, Babonneau Steel Orchestra.  North Stars Steel Orchestra received their third-place reward from SLNSA president Nikki Calderon.  Panorama champions Diamond Steel happily and triumphantly collected the fruits of their long nights of musical labor from the show’s main sponsor Cable & Wireless.  Mr. Usman Saadat, the organization’s Chief Executive was on hand for the transaction and the joy was mutual for both parties involved, with Cable & Wireless also being the champion steel orchestra’s benefactor.

Listeners taking in the show on Radio St. Lucia and over the internet were privy to an educational and enhanced experience professionally delivered by the knowledgeable trio who made up the outside broadcast team. Any one listening to the show had the opportunity to access and learn about the steelpan history and culture as applicable to St. Lucia.  It harkened back to the days when one would be physically present at an event, but still opting for the ability to clutch a small transistor radio next to one’s ear to be totally in sync with the events unfolding in front of them.

There were also kudos coming in from all around for the pan association with reference to the night’s show, along with the comment that “if other shows were as well produced and organized as the pan show, things would be great.”  The steelband scene in St. Lucia is no doubt destined for even greater things in the future.  If the dedication and determination on the part of the present executive of the SLNSA are any indication, the ongoing resurgence of pan on the island, buttressed by the mushrooming support of major sponsors, augers well not only for the steelpan culture in St. Lucia and the wider Caribbean, but can serve as a beacon for all throughout the world who care about the future evolution of the artform.

RESULTS, PRIZES for St. Lucia’s 2008 Panorama

Results / Points

Order of Appearance

Bands

Prizes

Songs

Arrangers

1st / 429

No. 6

Cable & Wireless Diamond Steel Orchestra

EC$ 38,000.00

Celebration

Aimran Simmonds

2nd / 416

No. 3

Digicel Pantime Steel Orchestra

EC$ 30,000.00

Pan Baby

Amrit Samaroo

3rd / 415

No. 4

Leverage Management North Stars Steel Orchestra

EC$ 25,000.00

Guy Love Dance

Ivan Smith

4th / 403

No. 5

Courts Babonneau Steel Orchestra

EC$ 20,000.00

Calypso Jail

Allison Marquis

5th / 384

No. 2

Busta Emerald Steel Orchestra

EC$ 15,000.00

Dance Hall for Two Days

Guy Innocent

6th / 342

No. 1

Harmonites Steel Orchestra

EC$ 10,000.00

Dong de Road

 Hausan ‘Zorro’ Griffith

 


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