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Festival International de Steelpan de Montreal 2011

Week-Ends du MONDE au parc Jean-Drapeau -- Au Rythme de ma Culture! provides an exceptional cultural backdrop for F.I.S.M.

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The way to all the happenings at Parc Jean-Drapeau
The way to all the happenings at Parc Jean-Drapeau

Montreal - There are times in history when certain moments and/or events are so pivotal to the future developments and accomplishments of a movement and culture, that they can actually dwarf the moment.  Liken this instant to a star that has gone supernova a million years ago, and is only now visible in our solar system to us. The fortuitous coming together of the Festival International de Steelpan de Montreal (F.I.S.M.) and Week-Ends du MONDE is such an occurrence. What took place at this 2011 festival will have major implications that will be felt globally for generations to come.

Like a scene out of the Pied Piper calling and leading his enchanted flock through the hypnotic sound of his musical instrument - similarly the sweet sounds of the steelpan from three orchestras descended over the twin islands of Parc Jean-Drapeau.  With no less effect than a mystical mist like that from a magical Aladdin lamp - thousands of people with faces of wonderment followed the sound emanating from the steelpan instruments.  Indeed a star was born that day, as the multitudes of unsuspecting visitors were greeted by the music from the steel orchestras present for the festival.

The islands (Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame, comprising Parc Jean-Drapeau) were the site of the Expo ‘67 World’s Fair.  Île Notre-Dame was constructed for the exposition.  The park was renamed in honour of Jean Drapeau, the late mayor of Montreal, and initiator of Expo ‘67.

Salah's Steelpan Academy performing with the sphere from the '67 Expo as a backdrop
Salah’s Steelpan Academy performing with the sphere from the ‘67 Expo as a backdrop

This site is also historic and steeped in the annals of steelpan music history.  On August 11, 1967, twenty-two members of the National Steelband left Trinidad and Tobago for Expo ‘67.  By all accounts, including that of a visitor to this year’s festival - who herself vividly remembers the impact the steelband had on the Expo -  they stole the show back then on a daily basis during the World Fair.

Art and culture continue to be the benchmark by what manner great civilizations are measured. This fact has not been trivialized or lost on the city of Montréal in Quebec, Canada and its leaders.  Moreover the championing of the human aspect, importance and intrinsic social, economic, creative and educative value of Montreal’s arts and cultural experiences - are astounding.

Parc Jean-Drapeau

Parc Jean-Drapeau is one of the most visible parks in the Montreal area. The geodesic dome of the Biosphere and the Lévis tower are visible from the Old Port. The park encompasses two islands, Île Sainte-Hélène, named in honour of Hélène Boullé, the young wife of explorer Samuel de Champlain, and Île Notre-Dame, which is entirely man-made. The islands exist in their present form due to work done in preparation for Expo ‘67, the international world’s fair held here in 1967.  Originally, Île Sainte-Hélène had been on its own in that part of the river, with only tiny Île Ronde downstream. Île Sainte-Hélène was used by the army and later as a city park. In the early 1960s Île Notre-Dame was built alongside it, using earth and rocks dug up during excavations for the metro system.

Illustrative map of the twin-island setting for Les Week-Ends du Monde
 Illustrative map of the twin-island setting for Les Week-Ends du Monde - click for April 1967 aerial view of the twin-island site

Montreal has one of the most cultured and diverse dynamic communities in the world. Through the Week-Ends du MONDE au parc Jean Drapeau, in conjunction with the Festival International de Steelpan de Montreal, When Steel Talks (WST) experienced a massive undertaking that facilitates coming into contact with, communicating, sharing and exchanging cultural identities.  Montreal has successfully found a way to serve everyone while simultaneously maintaining that diversity and celebrating it - over fifty (50) cultures from around the world in two weekends. In short, the visitor is really allowed to experience global cultures in an authentic manner.

The F.I.S.M. at the Week-Ends du Monde (July 10th) was accompanied by three other major cultural experiences - Festival de la Cuisine Méditerranéenne, EUROfEST: les cultures européennes à Montréal and Journée dominicaine.  The previous day (July 9th) featured Festival gastronomique Saveurs du Pérou et de l’Amérique latine, Le Festival du Monde Arabe présente le Maure Show, Jamaica Day and Festival Turc du Québec.  And the final weekend (July 16th ) & (July 17th) would showcase Festival Cambodgien, La Chine à Montréal, Festival Cubain de Montréal, Festival Afro-Monde « Ngondo » Nuits des Pêcheurs, Festival National de la Colombie, Mexique Ici Présent, Festival Montréal Sou Konpa, and Carnaval d’été brésilien de Montréal.

Canadian-based musician, educator and director Salah Wilson and his team, have been successfully championing the steelpan instrument, music and art form for a number of years now, particularly through his performance and educative endeavors - the prestigious Salah’s Steelpan Academy and the renowned annual Festival International Steelpan de Montreal (F.I.S.M.).  Casting this international Steelpan music festival within the overall Week-Ends du Monde was simply a stroke of genius.  This mutually beneficial relationship is a no-lose affiliation for all the parties involved.  F.I.S.M. is already riding the wave of its own popularity and was afforded an additional platform to showcase the magic and culture of the steelpan instrument and its music. This association is a win, win, win opportunity for the city and people of Montreal.

F.I.S.M. at the Week-Ends du Monde is simply one of the great places to be to experience the steelpan art form.  This event is an educator’s, ethnomusicologist’s and/or a steel panist/enthusiast’s dream activity.  It should be experienced by all.

The Concert

On a picture-perfect 80-degree-plus day When Steel Talks had again traveled north to the island of Montréal.  The 11th annual Festival International de Steelpan de Montreal was already in full swing.  It was now day three of the festival.  With much anticipation and high expectations of experiencing another fantastic music event - again spotlighting stellar performances by the participating orchestras - WST looked forward to arriving in Quebec.  Cruising at an altitude of 27,000ft - fifty-five minutes later we touched down in Montreal’s airport via Delta Airlines from New York’s JFK airport.

F.I.S.M. is truly international in nature as the original program was scheduled to bring together performers from the United States, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom and Canada. Representing the USA was Pan Coalition from the state of Maine; CCAH (Caribbean Association of Halton) hailed from Ontario and of course there was Montreal’s own Salah’s Steelpan Academy, the defending Montreal panorama champions.  CSI (Caribbean Steel International) from the UK had been tapped to participate, while Starlift Juniors from the Caribbean island of Trinidad were unable to make the trip to Canada, for what would have been their second consecutive F.I.S.M. appearance - due to the last-minute denial of funding from Trinidad & Tobago’s cultural Ministry.

Before the evening performances of the festival, Parc Jean-Drapeau visitors were treated to some command performances by all three orchestras from mid-afternoon. The orchestras were properly positioned in different parts of the park, generating  maximum exposure to, interest for and unbridled curiosity by, those who had never before seen a steelpan  instrument or heard a steel orchestra. Dumbfounded,  looks of wonderment permeated their faces. All promised to be back for the main performances later that evening.

The competitive phase of the F.I.S.M. was the center piece of the evening showcase.  Each orchestra performed two prepared pieces - one popular music piece for the “Bomb Competition” and the other, a traditional calypso for the “Panorama Competition.”  The audience was completely captivated by the contest. Moreover they were able to experience an important aspect of the steelpan art form’s culture, “Panorama.”

The professionalism, musical accomplishments and successes of Salah’s Steelpan Academy have firmly established it as one of Canada’s leading steel orchestras. The group again delivered a rousing performance, allowing the audience to experience the intensity and power of an award-winning, Panorama-class performing orchestra.  In addition, Salah’s Steelpan Academy showcased its youth division Music education and youth development are critical components of the organization’s mandate - which it has been successfully executing within the city of Montreal and its educational system for years now. 

Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me A River and Eunice Peters’ How We Coming were played by the steel orchestra, to regale the audience as their ‘Bomb’ and Panorama tunes, respectively.  The latter was arranged by Salah himself, while daughter Miriyam joined him to work on the former.

Salah's Steelpan Academy performs at the 11th Annual F.I.S.M. at les Week-Ends du Monde au Parc Jean-Drapeau
Salah’s Steelpan Academy performs at the 11th Annual F.I.S.M. during les Week-Ends du Monde au Parc Jean-Drapeau

Special Connection performs at F.I.S.M.
Special Connection performs at F.I.S.M.

Of special note was the appearance by Special Connection who did just that - connected with the audience - as they stole hearts with their performance.  They demonstrated the powerful ability of the steelpan instrument to resonate with all, especially those who play it.  Salah’s Steelpan Academy’s exemplary work with Special Connection demonstrates that the organization is far more than just a steel orchestra; it is in fact a vital part of the community that meets the challenges and social needs of its citizens.  Special Connection delighted the audience with Shakira’s Waka Waka (This Time For Africa) as arranged by Miriyam Wilson.

Pan Coalition, under the direction of Nigel Chase, is an accomplished orchestra that has an impressive performance legacy and an appealing repertoire; it is a veteran organization made up of some excellent young musicians.  Pan Coalition’s mastery of the art form is outstanding. Their infectious enthusiasm and engaging spirit always left the Week-Ends du MONDE audience wowed.  The group’s varied repertoire allowed the extremely appreciative and sometimes stunned audience to experience the full musical possibilities of the steel orchestra, as it transitioned with ease between popular hits and known Caribbean standards.  When in the spotlight for the Panorama and ‘Bomb tune’ categories, the Maine-based steel orchestra treated the crowd to Destra Garcia’s Calling Meh and Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie as arranged by Nigel Chase.

Pan Coalition performs at the 11th Annual F.I.S.M. at les Week-Ends du Monde au Parc Jean-Drapeau
Pan Coalition performs at the 11th Annual F.I.S.M. during les Week-Ends du Monde au Parc Jean-Drapeau

CCAH took the stage with a larger contingent than in their previous appearances at F.I.S.M.  They were active, animated and featured their youth division in their opening segment.  Arranged by Albert John, Do Something for Pan was CCAH’s entry for the Panorama competition, while they trained their sights on the Bomb tune arena with Train’s Soul Sister.  CCAH officials stated that in spite of the exorbitant costs associated with participating in F.I.S.M. it was well worth it based on the reception they received, and the experience.

CCAH performs at the 11th Annual F.I.S.M. at les Week-Ends du Monde au Parc Jean-Drapeau
CCAH performs at the 11th Annual F.I.S.M. during les Week-Ends du Monde au Parc Jean-Drapeau

In addition to the steelband competitions, immediately after their conclusion the audience was treated to solo performances by panists Salah Wilson, Raynald Drouin and Pepeto Pinto.

As is the custom at Montreal events, the show’s MC Michael P. Farkas made all the announcements and introductions in both French and English.  The versatile and community-oriented Farkas who wears many hats, is himself a singer-songwriter and also serves as the Director for Youth In Motion, a youth center for youngsters in the inner-city part of town in Montreal; he spoke to WST after the show.  “It was magnificent!  The bands all played really, really well; the participants - it would have been nice to have them play more,” opined Farkas with regard to this year’s F.I.S.M.  On the event’s change of venue from downtown Montreal, he had some initial reservations, was apparent that it could bring even more exposure and to a different crowd, Farkas explained.  “The space [at Parc Jean-Drapeau] is really more convenient for a presentation like that.  Not only that, but down there, everything is for the arts and culture. ....I think most of the patrons that were there had a really great time too.”

Indeed, like the afore-mentioned attendee who had been at the ‘67 Expo, and referenced the major impact the steelpan performers had made on her decades before - the musical showcase put on by these steel orchestras was permanently etched in the minds of the crowds who visited Week-Ends du MONDE and experienced F.I.S.M.

Programme for 2011 Les Week-Ends du Monde au parc Jean-Drapeau

The organizers of Week-Ends du monde demonstrated a serious commitment to the success of the Festival International de Steelpan Montréal with their marketing activities both in print and electronic media.  Leading up to the event Salah Wilson taped promotional commercials on Salut Bonjour - Quebec’s most-watched French morning TV talk show airing on CTV.  By what was witnessed, their efforts were effective and resulted in a very large turn out of interested people.  In addition, the partnership of the Festival International de Steelpan de Montreal and Week-Ends du MONDE afforded the normally large crowd that attends the  annual F.I.S.M. additional global cultural experiences conveniently available at the event.

Lorraine Marleau, an administrative coordinator for Week-Ends du Monde and one of the facilitators for the F.I.S.M. component, told When Steel Talks that they were very pleased with this year’s event and are already working on the 2012 program.  And can visitors expect to enjoy the Festival International de Steelpan de Montreal next year at Les Week-Ends du Monde au Parc Jean-Drapeau?   “Of Course!”  confirms Ms. Marleau.  “Steelpan was a new event in the festival and I think that it will stay for a long time!”

Both in terms of opportunities for the performing artist, and a major cultural experience for event attendees - this is the place to be.  The joint association between the Festival International de Steelpan de Montreal Festival and Week-Ends du MONDE can make this easily become one of the premiere performing events for steelpan music in the world. Mark your calendars for the anticipated 2012 F.I.S.M. appearance at Les Week-Ends du MONDE.

Contact Salah Wilson at for information on performing at the Festival International de Steelpan de Montreal Festival.

Related content:

Montreal International Steelpan Festival 2010

Montreal International Steelpan Festival 2009


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