Hells Gate Steel Orchestra & Arranger Khan Cordice - Antigua & Barbuda Panorama Champions Once Again in 2017

So - ‘Hell’ let loose (musically) enough so Hells Gate slammed the door on the competition for the 2017 National Panorama, after the other eight steel orchestras had their say (or “play”). Never let it be said that the genius of Pan does not reside within the personage of Khan “KC” Cordice, side by side with humility and respect.

WST

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St. John’s, Antigua & Barbuda, W.I. - All nine bands were set for the country’s August 4th steelband showcase, officially designated the “Antigua Commercial Bank George “Nugget” Joseph Panorama Competition.”  The event was part of the country’s 60th Anniversary Carnival celebrations.  With hours of steel excellence expected, the field of the Antigua Recreation Grounds (ARG) aka Carnival City - was quite well populated with steelband music lovers even before the first notes were struck, and the crowd swelled even more into the night. Some had signs in support of their bands and arrangers and they thronged in front of the stage in anticipation, and for the best spots.

Hells Gate Steel Orchestra musician happily receives 2017 Panorama Championship trophy from Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne
Hells Gate Steel Orchestra musician delightedly receives the 2017 National Panorama Championship trophy from Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne

All “gunning” - musically-speaking, for the title of 2017 National Panorama champions were Panache, Harmonites International, Halcyon, West Side Symphony, Original, Gemonites, Ebonites, East Vibes, and Hells Gate steel orchestras - in that order.

Six judges were in the adjudication saddle, four from Trinidad and Tobago—Cuthbert Matthew, Seion Gomez, Darren Sheppard, Stephanie Power—and three from Antigua and Barbuda inclusive of Garvin Christopher and Jamal Eli. Theirs was the task to confer the title, and each succeeding position, as they took in the total presentations - from the defending champs Halcyon, and any who would potentially change their fortunes.  And dethroned and denied its fourteenth title was Halcyon, by Hells Gate Steel Orchestra which snagged its nineteenth National Panorama Championship in 2017.

The oldest steel orchestra in Antigua & Barbuda and last band on stage, Hells Gate, got started at 1:11 a.m.  Like fellow-competitors they had a warm-up for several seconds, with the frontline panists grooving in sync as all ninety-one musicians played the popular melody of Pérez Prado’s classic “Peanut Vendor.”  This, in fact, was the very song with which Hells Gate themselves won Antigua’s first Panorama competition back in 1949.

Hells Gate arranger Khan “KC” Cordice simply killed it on this night. He again reaffirmed why he is one of the première young steel orchestra arrangers in the world. For those of us who have followed Khan from the time he was a very promising youth almost ten years ago, it is no longer about potential. It is now about delivering the goods on that promise. He has—time and time again (this is his sixth National Panorama championship title)—and then some. Like the late great Master Clive Bradley explained to WST (When Steel Talks) - his modus operandi for Panorama success, was to simply take the judging out of the judges’ hands. Khan overwhelmed the judges musically, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. Furthermore, he and his orchestra left everyone with a permanent ‘smiley face.’

Khan Cordice is operating in rare air. Similarly to the impossibility to teach ‘height’ in basketball, one cannot teach what Khan possesses naturally. You either have it or you don’t.

Hells Gate Steel Orchestra on stage during the 2017 National Panorama
Hells Gate Steel Orchestra on their way to becoming the 2017 National Panorama champions

With Hells Gate’s tune of choice - Jumbie - Khan brought something old, something in the moment, something new, and something magical to the table.  And by the time Khan linked the traditional “jumbie” music movements with the “Thriller” riff, everyone knew it was over... In the process, he gave us a musical gem that merits the approval of both his great grand father, and great grand child, and one that will live on and be praised in the future - all the while totally capturing the imagination of the audience as they voiced heartfelt cheers.

Khan defies his age in telling a coherent story musically through the family of steelpan instruments. His deft skills as a player, composer and arranger now facilitate his epic and dramatic Panorama pieces that are not just winning, but will be remembered. The music of Khan, in conjunction with the excellent execution of Hells Gate Steel Orchestra, has ‘left the shores of Antigua’ and gone global. Can we get an ‘AAAWWWOOOOOO?!!!’

Panache Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama
Panache Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama

Both Hells Gate, last on stage, and the first band, Panache Steel Orchestra, played Jumbie. For Panache, it was a night of ‘firsts’ as well. In this, its tenth year of existence, Panache celebrated by making its first appearance in the National Panorama arena - and in a first in Antigua and Barbuda, went with the first female arranger in the history of the Panorama competition. Zahra Lake led the band performing her intriguing arrangement of Jumbie, to which fifty-seven enthusiastic young players gave their full musical attention and energy. The Lady in the Arranging Limelight “did herself proud,” was the opinion of many in attendance.  Dressed in black, the players wore T-shirts imprinted with their band logo and jumbie faces, and sported arresting “jumbie” masks.

101-year-old panman George “Nugget” Joseph expresses gratitude for recognition, and his award
101-year-old panman George “Nugget” Joseph expresses gratitude for recognition, and his award

Just before the second competing orchestra’s panists made their musical mark, the ‘man of the moment’ in whose name the National Panorama was staged  - George “Nugget” Joseph - made his way on stage for the formal acknowledgement of his lifetime contribution to the steelband art form.  Regarded as a pioneer of Antigua and Barbuda’s steelband movement, the dapper 101-year-old “Nugget” received an award in recognition of his “outstanding and dedicated service” to the Pan movement in Antigua and Barbuda.  A founding member of the country’s oldest steel orchestra, Hells Gate - in the early years of the steelband movement Joseph was the face in Antigua who more often than not stood strong (especially via the newspaper medium) against the adverse opinion and community push-back which opposed the steelband fraternity.

Immediately after this presentation, with a golden “50th Anniversary 1967-2017” proudly emblazoned atop its main rack, was Harmonites International Steel Orchestra which is celebrating fifty years of existence as a musical organization. Their theme was “Celebrating the Past... Envisioning the Future.”  Holder of eight Panorama championships with the first and last being in 1968 and 2004, respectively, this was not to be their night.  Still, wearing bright yellow-gold T-Shirts paired with black slacks, Harmonites International rocked in their racks as they played through their version of Menace’s Miserable arranged by Aubrey “Lacu” Samuel. They ended their showcase with an explosion of celebratory fireworks illuminating the night sky.

Harmonites International Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama
Harmonites International Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama

Defending champions Halcyon took the stage 92-members-strong, intent on putting that fourteenth notch on their already-considerable belt of National Panorama titles. They were super-confident they had another winning arrangement in their hands courtesy their champion arranger Devon Bachelor, and, that they had the skilled ‘chops’ to deliver the performance it deserved.

Halcyon Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama
Halcyon Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama

Halcyon’s musicians had a real party on stage as they performed the smash soca hit, Menace’s cheeky Miserable (same as Harmonites International which preceded them).  If you have seen the video to this song, you would understand why the players were having a ‘whale’ of a time. Driller and arranger in his own right Cheo Cato was holding things down in the rhythm section. By 10:05 p.m. Halcyon had turned in what was eventually judged a showing ahead of seven of their challengers, bringing them second-place honors overall. The band dedicated its performance to one of their former players Jerome Graham who passed away recently. 

West Side Symphony performs during the 2017 National Panorama
West Side Symphony performs during the 2017 National Panorama

By 10:31 p.m. it was the turn of band number four in the competition, West Side Symphony (which placed second last year); they were dressed in all white and led musically by Gavin Francis. This was the sole band to perform an original piece written by its arranger. Sung by Edimelo, Francis’ arrangement of his own composition In De Panyard and the orchestra’s delivery were definitely one of the highlights of the evening.

Original Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama
Original Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama

Returning with arranger Robert Simmons, Original Steel Orchestra followed next on stage. Orange T-Shirts with Miserable, the name of their Panorama tune printed in yellow, and black pants completed the look for the young players. They showed off to their supporters and the audience the results of their hard work put in over the last several weeks. The group probably had one of the most “original” endings of the night as they finished with an extreme diminuendo fading to silence, in tandem with the dimming of the stage lights to darkness. It took a few seconds for the crowd to figure that Original’s performance had - ended, starting up slow applause as that realization set in.

Gemonites Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama
Gemonites Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama

Gemonites Steel Orchestra was last Panorama champion in 2005, its third title - and has not won since. For 2017 the band managed to make it into third spot by delivering a musical routine of Tizzy’s Expose that was both sassy and skillful, with musicians dancing and singing along as they played. Their performance was as fiery as their red tops which were complemented by white bottoms and sun visors.

Ebonites Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama
Ebonites Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama

Captained by Cuthbert “Tiny” Thomas, Ebonites Steel Orchestra was the first band up after midnight, at 12:08 a.m., playing in what hopefully would have been the “lucky 7” spot - had they triumphed, that is. Ebonites, champs as recently as 2014, teased the crowd awaiting their start with their racks outlined in flashing neon lighting while the stage was in complete darkness. As they went through their paces with tune of choice Ah Wanna See, their arranger Dayne “Wadika” Gomes kept his troops whipping along musically from his place in the midst of the orchestra. A glimpse of the song’s vocalist Claudette “CP” Peters on stage moving to the band’s music was also caught toward the end.

East Vibes Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama
East Vibes Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama

Appearing in the penultimate position in the competition at 12:39 a.m. was East Vibes with fifty players, and 95% of them being under age seventeen.  Their exuberance was quite apparent, with some of the younger players jumping like jelly beans at certain points in the performance. East  Vibes took an Oath literally - the music of soca artist Tian Winter - and played their hearts out. And the crowd responded to their energy, cheering them on. Champion arranger Victor “Babu” Samuel undertook the responsibility as driller, directing the youngsters whose enthusiasm and “vibes” were infectious - including the ‘tiny mites’ who barely reached over the top of their guitar pans.

ACB board member Daryll Matthew presents Halcyon Steel Orchestra player with second-place trophy
ACB board member Daryll Matthew presents Halcyon Steel Orchestra player with second-place trophy

For those unable to attend the show in person, they would thank FLOW for providing a free, relatively OK-quality stream of the Panorama, and apparently several other Antigua & Barbuda Carnival-related events. Pan lovers from all over the world had global access. By far, FLOW’s stream was the most consistent and reliable of what WST has seen from the Caribbean in a long time.

On a skill set note, the Video director/switcher could do with a tutorial in basic directing - far too much switching for some really good but brief angles, to allow the viewers to digest.  Perhaps communication was not synced between cameras and the director?  And audio accompanying video was mediocre. However the audio broadcast on Observer Radio was superior, in comparison.  But, the pan community was still fairly happy to have some option to take in the steelband showcase.

National Festivals Commission Chairman Maurice Merchant presents representative of Gemonites Steel Orchestra with third-place trophy
National Festivals Commission Chairman Maurice Merchant presents representative of Gemonites Steel Orchestra with third-place trophy

Panorama Sub-committee member Cleveroy Thomas took over from master of ceremonies Sam Roberts to handle the duties for the ‘presentation ceremony’ and announced the results. Chairman of the National Festivals Commission Maurice Merchant along with Antigua Commercial Bank (ACB) board member Daryll Matthew and the Honourable Prime Minister Gaston Browne were on hand to present trophies to the three top-placing bands as results were revealed by Thomas.

Speaking with ABS TV’s Terry Andrew after the presentation, winning band leader Veron Henry proudly uplifted the very young pan musicians who were part of their 2017 success: “We’re very, very excited, very, very, proud of the youngsters. All those nine-year-olds, ten-year-olds that stay hours and hours in the pan yard, practicing - very proud of them.  Very, very happy to have this championship behind our belt this evening.” Henry also attributed the band’s success to his father, “He has done so much for this band over the past seventy years, because he is one of the founders and he is still around up to now.  He worked tirelessly to bring the band to a level where we could take it from and bring it to this level now.”  About what Hells Gate relationship to the steelband movement in the country, and how it operates, Henry says: “Hells Gate stands for everything in Pan. We highlight our youngsters, we train them, we put them forward, we let the public know who they are....What we got from the older guys [band elders] is, teach everyone everything that you know. And that’s what we have been doing over the years, and is evidenced now in the performance of the youngsters.”

Hells Gate Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama
Hells Gate Steel Orchestra performs during the 2017 National Panorama

Results are below; only the top three places were given. The remaining competitors are listed in alphabetical order:

UPDATE - full results, with scores, now follow, courtesy the country's steelband association:

A ‘High/Low’ system method of adjudication was utilized, with a panel of seven (7) judges. They were Darren Sheppard, Seion Gomez, Stephanie Power and Cuthbert Matthew from Trinidad & Tobago - and from Antigua & Barbuda - Gavin Christopher, Jemal Elize and Cuthwin Weston.


Antigua & Barbuda 2017 Panorama RESULTS

Result / score / play position Band /
 # of Players
Selection/
Performer
Arranger, Tuner, Captain
1st

449 pts



( #9 )
Hells Gate Steel Orchestra

 91 players

Jumbie
 
(King Obstinate)
Arranger:
Khan Cordice
Khan “KC” Cordice


Tuner:
Veron Henry
Veron Henry

 Captain:
Veron Henry
 
2nd

412 pts



( #3 )
Halcyon Steel Orchestra

 92 players

Miserable

(Menace)
Arranger:
Devon Bachelor

Tuner:
Dudley Dickson
 
Captain:
Dwayne Mussington
3rd

408 pts



( #6 )
Gemonites Steel Orchestra

 

Expose

(Tizzy)
Arranger:
Johnny Gonsalves


Tuner:
Bertram “Birch” Kelman
Bertram “Birch” Kelman


Captain:
 Joseph Henry
4th

389 pts



( #7 )
Ebonites Steel Orchestra

Ah Wanna See

(Claudette “CP” Peters)
Arranger:
Dayne “Wadika” Gomes


Tuner:
Ronald Matthew


Captain:
Cuthbert “Tiny” Thomas
5th

384 pts



( #4)
Westside Symphony Steel Orchestra

 

In De Panyard

(Edimelo)
Arranger:
Gavin Francis
Gavin Francis



Tuner:
Emily Lemmerman
Emily Lemmerman


Captain:
Eugene Davis
6th

362 pts



( #1 )
Panache Steel Orchestra

57 players

Jumbie

(King Obstinate)
Arranger:
Zahra Lake
Zahra Lake


Captain:
Robin Margetson
Robin Margetson
 
7th

355 pts



( #2 )
Harmonites Steel Orchestra International

Miserable

(Menace)
Arranger:
Aubrey “Lacu” Samuel
Aubrey “Lacu” Samuel


Tuners:
Eustace “Gattux” Harris
&

Veron Henry
Veron Henry

Captain:
Alston Davis
8th

352 pts



( #8 )
East Vibes Steel Orchestra

50 players

 

Oath

(Tian Winter)
Arranger
Curtis “CC” Cochrane
Curtis “CC” Cochrane


Tuner:
Veron Henry
Veron Henry


Captain:
Curtis “CC” Cochrane


9th

328 pts



( #5 )
Original Steel Orchestra

 

Miserable

(Menace)
Arranger:
Robert Simmons
Robert Simmons


Tuner:

Veron Henry
Veron Henry

Captain:
Elvis Whetherill

Archived Panorama Video stream



 
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