LEON “SMOOTH” EDWARDS
‘PASS THE PEPPER’
Will Massy Trinidad All Stars have the guts
dance into the Final Night lead?
by Dalton Narine
© 2019 - All Rights Reserved.
Every once in a while there comes along a man so multi-talented in the arts that no one specific field can satisfy his creative energy.
An old saying has it that nothing concentrates the mind like the threat or thought of defeat.
All dramatic stories involve conflict. Typically, the narrative will open with some sense of a normal society, as in Smooth and Trinidad All Stars devise enough strategy to improve their Game.
Many of Shakespeare's plays begin with a large group scene (Leon “Smooth” Edwards, for example) in which everyone has a place and knows his or her place. It is a symbol of of social unity which could be broken and will not be restored until the closing scenes.
Then, something unusual and often unexpected happens to upset that normality. The event may be something natural, like a Panorama Championship. And supernatural as how a decision is made by say, Smooth Edwards, Trinidad All Stars’ longstanding arranger, devising a process that could revolutionize a militaristic steelband strategy.
Here’s how it could happen.
In a lecture about choosing or adopting the first satisfactory option that one comes across, as in the tendency of decision-makers to satisfice rather than look for the optimal solution, when you satisfice, you don't let an impossible quest for the perfect destroy your enjoyment of the good.
Satisficing is searching for the first alternative that is satisfactory.
“I’ll play your game and take into account the probability of winning.”
Trinidad All Stars
Because Smooth and Trinidad All Stars want to win by assigning a role for the deep-seated distaste of risk and the hatred of loss.
It’s like holding on to your favorite pen or cup.
Decisions are made with a question of trust.
“What are other arrangers and their bands doing?”
Will listeners like that change?
I know for a fact that elite members have brainstormed techniques and ideas to make the music sound sweet like, well “Woman on the Bass.”
What, Smooth worry?
You think the door seems to be locked, and the band is fumbling for the release?
You don’t know you know anything until you can write it down.
Pan is long hours of drudgery.
It is about living in delusions of knowledge that some arrangers don’t actually have.
Satisficing, then, is a good enough approach, a strategy geared toward finding an alternative that is good enough, but maybe not the best. In Post-War group therapy, we learned that decisions underlie many of the important outcome. of perception, reasoning, thinking thought and conscious thought.
The Pan war is no different.
There are real consequences to making good and bad decisions. The most attractive decision is the one that has the best justification.
“I really don’t want to blow away this guy in the bar, so I have a good reason to walk out.”
In my case a long time ago, I told two heavyset brothers on a plane from London to Miami that I’d bounce both of them from one side of the fuselage to the other if one of them doesn’t get out of my seat.
He got up and returned to his seat.
In Smooth’s scenario, it could be his decision of choice.
“I’ll play your game of Soca because I, too, love Soca.
“A lot of people love this sing-along song, “So Long,” a winning tune about the people,” Smooth would have you believe.”
And, why not?
Compare it to “Woman on the Bass.”
Now, it’s clicking.
It wasn’t always treated this way, but Pan is the VOICE of Panorama.
“Our supporters picked this tune after the band ran about 10 songs,” Smooth acknowledges.
“They start to dance in the yard.
“Woman on the Bass” was a different story,” Smooth admits. “Up to that time, nobody had won a Panorama outside of Lord Kitchener and the Mighty Sparrow. A set of youths from Belmont and Round the Bridge now invading the panyard. Youths prancing about and carrying on.”
On average, a week before the Preliminaries, Smooth runs a minute of music a day.
“This year, we started a week before Prelims, playing a dozen tunes. The supporters chose “So Long” and players responded accordingly. It went viral.
“Understand the culture of Trinidad & Tobago. They are participatory people. They tend to make reference to participatory situations.
‘The common people were alienated, and they had no participatory role. Now, they sing along and knock bottles. If I play a tune for Panorama, there’s no need for supporters to sit down. It’s already jumpy and infectious.
“An arrangement must reflect the mood of the people. They hum the song as if it’s Woman on the Bass.
“With a jumpy start like that, no need to look further.”
Smooth allows the song to repeat itself, and all he wants thereafter is a tune with his vaunted Idioms.
“A good arranger could change minds with a bad piece,” Smooth offers. “Take Curry Tabanca, Singer Trini’s voce turned off some people. The demeanor changed when we put down the melodic line.
“Sentences made up of good phrases, you can take and develop.
“A house divided can’t stand. I can work with this. Don’t get static. We want all of the players in this thing together. Easier to lead going forward.
“Bad vibes could deter you. As a team, there just might be too much turmoil, and we’ve bonded by being on the same page.
“We, not I, is the band’s work ethic. There was an old saying, ‘You fail to prepare, prepare to fail.’
“We prepare hard until we’re satisfied.
“Until the last note is played, the band ensures the rhythm — and everybody is tight.
And where does arranger Smooth settle in?
In the middle of the Iron section. Yep, Leon ‘Smooth’ Edwards conducts Trinidad All Stars from the Engine Room.
“Hey, we garner the most crowd when the band is on the road. How’s that!
Smooth doesn’t celebrate after Panorama grinds to a halt. Instead, the fella who attends Church services regularly with his ‘fully supportive wife,’ Sharon, thanks God for “the gumption to produce the music.
Smooth’s life is separate from music making, though the couple say they belong together and form a whole. There’s a strong link between his head and his heart.
When Smooth makes music, he still has that authority. Indeed, when he makes music, his authority is unsurpassed. The day Smooth took over the job as arranger, he already had immense experience.
“You welcome style — people just chipping along with the Bass. The beauty of it all.”
So what’s at stake, you may ask?
“Our aim is to put forward our best effort, and every year our work stands up to our goal. We’ve got such discipline from the band’s first leaders in Neville Jules and Jerry Jemmott that it gave us a guideline to move forward.”
Dichotomies between the technical and the artistic sides of Trinidad All Stars are never unrealistic.
“For instance,” Smooth reflects, “punctuality is key, but in this era, players arrive late.”
Bragging rites remain at stake, though. The top three bands in the Panorama display 31 victories:
BP Renegades: 10
Massy Trinidad All Stars: 10
So, Smooth, what’s your legacy and how do we judge it?
“We’re trying hard to make it eleven victories. I don’t like to tap myself on the shoulder. It’s about the band, about us, not me.
Such a magic piece of theater with a streak of engaging, sly humor and playfulness that take listeners into a world of Savannah grass, where realism and surrealism (the creative potential of the unconscious mind, or the need for listeners and viewers to decipher the band’s annual works) sit side by side.
“Let us all pay respect to these artists that push the instrument the world over, Smooth reminds, “for, in today’s exotic world of Pan, the nation should never question our work ethic and /or the bravery.”
Of course, there’s a moral dimension in protecting our property and the creative works of our artists, as well as our virtue and grandness in bringing entertainment to the masses.
Pan music is an earthly spree. And the silence that follows Smooth and his players reaches us as a haughty but spiritual rapport with audiences.
Now, here’s the thing. Will Smooth do it again, a la Woman on the Bass?
Or, to listen to Gerry Carter, a Bronze Star medic with whom I served in the First Infantry Division in Vietnam, there’s more in the mortar than the pestle.
“With all that Pan Trinbago is going through, the society still seems to be in calamity,” Carter says.
Yours truly suggests that there should be a saint attached to the drum beat, for Pan is the VOICE of the Panorama. The silence of the music gone, mere minutes following the announcement of scores amid the edifyingly strong sell of this now worldwide festival of steel drums and its plethora of notes and splashy sounds of our songs.
And, now, will Smooth and the band spawn another era where, especially in London and the United States, Saturday night parties sell out, and shell out, their space, the whole gang chipping out the door singing Woman on the Bass, well, lately, this number instead:
I Thought Yuh
Hiding Ah Thought Yuh Went Foreign
Look How Ting Does Happen Nah
Look How Ting Does Happen Nah
So Lemme Hug Up N' Squeeze Yuh
Ah Doh Even Want To Leave Yuh
A victory by Trinidad All Stars should certainly address Leon “Cool Hand Smooth” Edwards’ botheration to reminisce a reality so fanciful as to top off what might have been an unrealistic goal.
Coming from behind and reveling in the art of the dance ain’t easy. Supporters of Desperadoes and BP Renegades might wish their offerings are made in the shade.
Does anybody know?
Only time will tell.
As for Mr. Smooth, he’d like to think the band has it corked.
Why, he very well could be dabbling in the shallows of the Dry River.
Anyhow, if members dance along Charlotte Street and circle Behind the Bridge, count on the drama to fetch strains of that real-life Pan teacher in the Southland. The Woman on the Bass, self.
So long as she understands.
This is the fifth in a series by Dalton Narine, leading up to the Panorama Finals
Dalton Narine is a Belmont-born Trinidadian who dabbled in the arts and wrote about Trinidad & Tobago culture. He spent the other half of his career as a filmmaker and TV broadcaster during T&T’s annual Carnival. Narine is an avid collector of calypsos by The Mighty Shadow, a singer, he says, who had a knack for telling stories on himself and his own country that, at last, has embraced him.
contact Dalton Narine at: firstname.lastname@example.org