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Panorama 2015 Notes - Raw Talk

Trinidad & Tobago National Steelband Panorama 2015

by Dalton Narine


Renegades - Panorama 2015
Renegades at 2015 Semi Finals

In an event where the analytics of music supposedly factor into the architecture of arranging, Duvone Stewart has eked out space at or near the top of the pinnacle - in the same vicinity of his mentor, Jit Samaroo, the winningest arranger in Panorama. You watch the rhythm thrumming through his body, tanganiki-tanganiki-tanganiki, yet, while he, like others, has succumbed to the madness of “conducting,” (Desperadoes’ Clive Bradley initiated the mockery to emphasize his creativity to the judges) he also delivers the material in an easygoing manner, though not as suave as his idol’s demeanor back in the day - on this very stage.  An energetic and expressive performance by Renegades that demystifies the jargon of lower Charlotte Street. - Dalton Narine

And once again, a San Fernando band must suffer the pain of rejection. In this business sometimes the magic works for you and sometimes it kicks you in the ass. In the end, in this town, you must accept your fate. Sometimes the voodoo works for you; sometimes it bites you in the butt.  

The conscious state precedes the feeling state, so how does this play in the Panorama regarding results, victory or loss? Bodily response brings conscious awareness - a trigger of fear or anger. It’s the biology of defeat. Like feteing alone. Worse than that. Ken “Professor” Philmore is the only panman I know who has felt such deep pain.  

Philmore’s work seems to have been crocheted together from familiar elements, though interlinked with fresh vibes - the celebration of Fonclaire’s 50th anniversary. However, Philmore embroiders the arrangement in ways that harmonize well with the texture he sets out to achieve.  

Philmore’s music has always been an acquired taste, but for those of us who still have that taste swishing around in our head, jumping aboard for the ride affords us that feel-good experience of hearing again the dance that comes naturally to him, ever since, well, Pan Ecstasy (1991).  

No, an earlier work. This could be dangerous ground, since a mere incidental mention usually would draw comparisons. Philmore appears to be spitting in the wind and comparisons blow back in our faces, for, in my mind, it suggests Pan by Storm - and the adrenaline-spiked winner of the 1990 Panorama (by all accounts other than Renegades) very well knows he is not breaking any new ground.  

You can’t be unlucky every year, but you can make us feel golden by blowing those 50 candles while blowing away the field. Maybe the professor prefers diamonds. - Dalton Narine 

CONDUCTING: Jerry Grossman, principal cellist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, how he responds to a conductor with murky body language. “It’s amazing how beautifully we play when we don’t know what the hell the guy on the podium is doing.”  

Thank you, Maestro. The fake ones down here in Trinidad who prance around in front of vast steel orchestras don’t know what they themselves are doing. Just that they must look busy and be conscious of the camera. Nothing at all to do with the music. We are people like that, doing strange things, performing stupid tasks. Gallerying is the word we dub such antics.

The Greens Flirting with Golden Goals
Dalton Narine

When it comes to Pan, the Greens may be a shiny new definition in our lexicon. Far, far from the maddening hell of a new kid on the blunt, soaring to such a stratospheric high as to experience “the greens.” Marijuana’s rude-boy buzz.  

No paranoia like that broke out a few years ago when the Greens, a stepchild of Panorama, received copious praise from their very own midwives, and sons and daughters. Except for few writers like myself who’d scoured every nook and cranny and stumbled upon the other side.  

For a story about the 2012 Semis, I filed the following notes: It feels so jarringly out of place, this good-looking but fragmented narrative of the Panorama. Fobbed off to pan enthusiasts as an extravagant musical soap opera, it certainly carries weight. Irresistible yet ostentatious. Mystifying, but oh so pompous. To a Grand Stander, the experience could well be a magnifying effect of a gran’ charge; pageantry over the edge of ordinariness; form suffusing substance. Still, I’m taking it all in with orgasmic relish.  

And now?  Ha! Bandwagon full. The ritzy enclosure has been panned by panists and North Stand natives, who, the buzz goes, may have not had a say in the Greenies’ plans. Whether true or not, even so, ordinary people could have bartered away their cultural pride for pappy-show. Who knows? Have retailers and assorted sorts been using food and drink and sprinklers and, yes, music, in motifs to bridge cultures between, say, a new stylized society and the North Stand jungle? Never happen? Had they intended to set up shop, cheek by jowl to the venerable halls of Panorama Sunday, so sacrilegious an enterprise? Yuh mad?     

Well then, why the music over there keep grazing over here, trampling on sacred turf, an heirloom from the old guard of the Turf Club benefitting Pan and befitting the culture for a single magisterial day? - Dalton Narine

Les Slater, Former Highlanders Arranger and Founder of PAN MAGAZINE

I surprised myself and went to the bitter end of the pan "show" and was left wondering what Boogsie's pre-game hype about his "can't miss" material was all about. When they were done I immediately felt that the Phase was very beatable...unlike last year.

On All Stars' behalf, it was good that Smooth got out of the sameness box we (Les and I) talked about. I want to feel that because they had a composition that was a bit more interesting than usual to begin with (which is unusual "pan tune" commentary coming from me), that may have had a big hand in how the product turned out...

Desperadoes - Panorama 2015
Desperadoes at 2015 Semi Finals

ANTHONY McQUILKIN, senior member of WITCO Desperadoes and Pan Trinbago’s treasurer
As the band’s assistant manger in 2011, I was on the committee that pushed to resume Panorama rehearsals in Laventille, but the experiment lasted just a week. We couldn’t do it. We can’t compete with 40 players when it should be 120.

On the Drag, even supporters from the Hill are few. Taxis don’t work late, and people need transport to get back home.

We don’t like the temporary panyard on Cadiz Road and the Savannah North because the atmosphere is different. We really miss the Hill, though the stage side practice up there when the Carnival is over.

When will we be able to conduct Panorama rehearsals in Laventille? Even the Minister of National Security can’t tell you. By now, we’re used to challenges.

Controversy flared up in 2014 when more than a dozen players complained about the song, Excitement.

Trinidad All Stars crossing the Savannah stage - 2015 Carnival
Trinidad All Stars crossing the Savannah stage - 2015 Carnival

“I don’t even listen to the tune when it is released. I don’t get involved. But we have to support the composer (Clive Telemaque) and the arranger (Leon “Smooth” Edwards).”

Hunte not so much as mediated between the group and Edwards as to reason with them that the band’s winning tradition must be maintained at all costs. “What would you like us to play?” he asked the posse.

Not a note from them.

And so the band went to the Panorama with Excitement, placing second in the finals.

The band prepares for any scenario in the competition, especially the draw for position. It plays a key part, Hunte says. “If we draw no. 1, we must be flawless and start the show with a bang. So now, the judges must compare the rest of the field to you.”

It could be challenging to the Stars, but “you could play first and win.”

No idle boast, that, from Hunte.


* Boogsie knows what he’s coming up against  

*  How the band deals with people taping our performance and trying to beat us with it? We go back to our version of the old school when they leaned the Bomb after midnight by substituting fingers for pan sticks.  

*  Do you find the intro lengthy? No, typical intro of what’s to come. It is mostly enshrouded with my little version of a dramatic separation.  

*  The music of the middle pans is unmistakable. What are you doing there?  Timing surprises. The cellos, guitars and four pans are playing lines, an imitation of an orchestra. No chords. A lot of contrapuntal (counterpoint) music. So there’s no option now. Instead we give you homophonic music, like melody and accompaniment. A chance for the middle pans do something other than strum. As for the basses, I came and met the (Neville) Jules sound (the Chaguaramas basses) and stuck with it.  

*  Unquestionable - the first time I put it on pan I said, This is it. The variety of idioms, phrases, themes jumped out at me. (Clive) Telemaque has been a member of the band for more than 30 years, so he’s an inside link, the way he knows what goes on. As a composer, definite advantage.  

* Your arranging style: I don’t concentrate on one band. That’s limited. My mind is always on beating the field.  

*  How did you pull it off, winning the semi finals and  the finals?

*  How did we pull it off? So there’d be no questions. Unquestionable


*  For the semi finals we had a makeshift introduction and ending, and we are 2.5 points behind. That’s nothing in the big scheme of things.  

Phase II - Panorama 2015
Phase II at 2015 Semi Finals

*  About some critics chiding Boogsie Sharpe for his sample of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”: Two judges liked it.   * The degree of difficulty is greater than in the last two Panoramas, which, of course, we won.  

* We’ve retained the sampling of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” (a popular children’s song with a catchy tune) in the introduction, which he made more lively  and appealing since the semi finals.  

*  The ending: “Over the past two weeks leading up to the finals we worked on and scrapped different versions. But there’s always a corollary. He would tell the players, “Even though we scrapped some versions, keep them in your head.”  

True to form Sharpe fashioned a new coda at 4 on Friday morning.  

Skerritt said he wouldn’t be surprised if the arranger didn’t alter it Saturday morning. “That’s the way he works. He has that confidence and liberty to do things like that because of his faith in the players.  

“We cleaned up a lot of the passages in the middle pans. We carry eight quadrophonics. Other bands don’t seem to use the instrument like he does.    Some of them enhance the melody but he actually arranges a separate voice throughout the song not only for the quads but also nine four pans.  

“In addition, the four pan cellos join the quads to play a countermelody in a minor key. On top of that solo, played at a lower register is counterpoint music by the tenors and double tenors in higher register. At certain times of the performance they amplify the melody line, which guarantees what is being heard.”  

* Performing at no. 2: “It is important that we have a dynamic intro and ending to leave a lasting impression on the listeners. We worked so hard to achieve that.” 


Managers rarely speak about competitors, but Berry Hunte was effusive in his praise of De Puna Band, an eponymous song about Exodus, unlike Kitchener’s curious calypso, the imaginary Toco Band.


Exodus on the road for Carnival 2015
Exodus on the road for Carnival 2015

BUSINESS OF PAN: Business people once were part of Pan Trinbago’s board, but not anymore. The executive used to accept that kind of support, but so far it has not materialized, though over the years they’d take on business people for specific projects.  

Panorama: Since the introduction of categories  - single, small, medium and large bands - there are four pan champions. Used to be there was a Panorama champion. Now the prestige is watered down. It’d be more appealing if the competition was just about large bands and small bands. The point is single pan bands are not in position to take the music forward. There are no double pans, no six bass.  

Songs: It’s a steelband competition and whichever song you choose to consider is your right. I remember how it started - the music from the calypsonians would be released so late it was a problem for arrangers. So they cut your song from 10 minutes to eight because they aren’t played on radio stations. There’s no review later to see if the objective was done. It does not help us to take the steelband movement where it should be better.



It was disturbing; hard to concentrate to get a good count, a good start. The problem was the PA system over there, which they promised to cut this year. We were the second band, so the early bands got the brunt of the feedback from the Greens. So we couldn’t play under those circumstances.  

birdsong - Panorama 2015
birdsong at 2015 Semi Finals

Pan Trinbago wanted a reason for the delay and we told them to drop the volume. That’s Frustrating. Real sad that this whole thing is about money. The organization is entrusted to promote and defend steelbands in Trinidad & Tobago and they’re promoting a fete next door and it’s interfering with the biggest show they have. Follow the money.  

THE PERFORMANCE: I was happy with what we accomplished this year. Good vibes all of January. The band was bigger. It improved the international program - 55 players from foreign countries, 115 players in all.  

The engine room is part of our story. I didn’t have the committed players that I needed. But every year I make sure we have a good drummer.  

NOTE: RAF ROBERTSON, FORMER BIRDSONG ARRANGER was on stage trying to understand what was going on. They could have controlled the music grazing onto the stage. In addition you’re dealing with the North Stand that cannot be quiet.


SEMIS: Dey treat Despers rough. Robbie did a good job, he deserve much much better. Sorry, yuh band All Stars going too much for the glam and glitz now, no substance.  

Renegades? nah, though de boy Stewart tryin. De problem is, a setta mindless songs claiming to be written fuh pan. Not like Ray Holman Oh Trinidad. So the panmen have to dance around the drum instead of really playing it. No wonder Invaders move up wid ah ole tune. Dey should give a Tobago band...shake up de ting...  

I enjoyed, for example, Phase II coming up the drag, a party on wheels, infectious, congas going, players touching pans lightly, fans' faces aglow. no pressure, happy taking a chip, Woodbrook in de house, proud. A kind of grace, the kind of atmosphere that reminds us what Trinidad was/could be. The banner HAPPINESS high above it all. Remember, I'm no Phase ll fan. i just know instances of beauty in the Panorama. This was one. Even the shoving was gentle. The opposite to Renegades, whose intent was to 'jam dem hard'!  

ON THE PANORAMA STAGE: What happens to bands once they mount that stage? Speed. Almost a deliberate incoherence. Playing to show off skills rather than to do justice to the music. All bands can make runs, at this level. The judges must at certain points get vex, such is the repetitious assault on the ear. not that Andy Narell's almost melancholic pace this year is in any way what we need. But his respect for music is. Sad that the disrespectful noise from the Greens put him even more to the test.

I think the grandmaster's music used to force arrangers to hold their horses, to remember there was once a track in the savannah, to let them go only after Major Grell waved the flag. Someone said once that the competition of Panorama, with its pyrotechnics, its frenzy, is the ruin of pan. it doesn't have to be, as long as the arranger holds to the integrity of the music. As long as the composers don't dash off silly same-old lyrics with little or no melody.  

Whatever happened to sweetness?  

Perhaps the collaboration between calypsonian (I mean the real ones) and panman should be encouraged once more, when bands used to play a tuneful composition, not necessarily written for pan, but having all the picong for a good tenor, all the doubl'entendre for a good bass run. Doh back-back, for example. maybe we should.   Just reflecting, Dalton. Many will disagree...  

As you know, I did not go to the stands, so cannot say who performed well on stage. 

Impressions thus far --- Plenty rehashing by many  

Despers: Tame and identifiably Robbie, meaning nothing really new.  

Phase II: Boogsie especially to the end of the tune, "deja heard" last year’s Minor, similar bass line and some "concoction" which he will have to change to step up.  

All Stars: I have not yet heard them properly, but lots of people did not agree with the judging that night, they thought that the Phase should have won. As you know I am not necessarily a Smooth fan with the excessive ad nauseum runs. As usual they are well drilled and do execute well.  

Invaders: Very impressive, I think their strongest year for some time, They played This Melody Sweet, On the drag they were firing on all cylinders. Some were surprised that did not place higher.  

Fonclaire: Also strong drag performance, as expected from Mr "excitement" Ken Philmore  

Birdsong: Our boy still trying to dictate to us about what a Panorama  arrangement should be like. I think he may have speeded up this year. I noted it and heard others comment (Earl  La Pierre, “Dougie” Redon) the Iron was weak. No disrespect or bias, but out of the four guys , only one looked like a Trini, and an old one at that, the others were young "tourists". Nice tone, arrangement, beautiful use of the combination of notes in his chords, music for another occasion.  

Exodus: I like the tune, by the way another first, they did a YouTube video --check Farmer Nappy ‘Puna Band--. Pelham did a good job thus far, to win he may have to get a little more "excitement".  

Renegades: Duvone is a true Jit protégé. Band well drilled as usual, middle pans strong presence, plenty of runs of course, usual prominent bongos and the latin type rhythm piece put in, but overall strong performance.  

Tropical Angel Harps: Very nice is all I can say for now. I must mention that in the Single Pans Duvone with San Juan East Side was truly outstanding followed by “BJ” Marcelle with the Regiment Band.


Radio pounding out salvos of chatter in interviews, salient and warped alike.  

Would that commentators instead pound the ground for the grit of the humanity and inhumanity that the soul of the drum has spawned.  

That they find the dirt underneath the nails.  

As for TV, sitting in lounge chairs doesn’t cut it. Ask the viewers. I hear from  some of them. I tell them I’ll be out of place. They insist. They don’t seem to have a voice.  

Come on man, Panorama is activity, frenzy, emotions. Panists are laying it out on the line. Grovel on the ground where everything’s happening, and pick up earthy vibes. Lot of verbiage, and no color smacks of laziness and selfishness. Panists deserve better. They‘ve got stories, too. Not just the arrangers that are interviewed.    

I wouldn't be surprised if the storyline in the plays out in favor of any band other than Trinidad All Stars and Phase II (which could probably end in a tie by these two), what with Renegades and Exodus holding strain round the bend and the Rama suspiciously looking for a serious rift in the monopoly. Not at all, I won't. For this three-peat enigma can be worrisome to the truth.  

Truth to tell, I was speaking on the phone with a former arranger on Monday and we shared opinions, one bellowing from the well and the other reporting from the bucket.  

Yet, those thoughts the arranger and I  shared are still hanging on the line in the sun.  

TRINIDAD ALL STARS: They seem to be all super-panists. No spare parts here. And, unlike 2014 - when a shade more than a dozen players had a beef with  the arranger about “Excitement,” only to be admonished by Hunte to trust the music - they ride “Smooth’s” back to the dark side, where talkers and naysayers have banished him until he comes up with new stuff.  Panorama brings that kinda stray-way fickle talk as if running second is, well, no. 2. Ha Lord! Save us from ourselves!  

“Smooth” Edwards’ nickname evinces a cold vein running through the hot-to-trot Stars.  

INVADERS players versifying upon Baron’s chorus. Lord, this melody sweet. Love it.  

Phase II
was born to the profession

Lagniappe from Dalton Narine:  

The case of the disappearing steelbands. In the old days when there were too many bands, some of them were “illing” it. Whereas Pamberi, ‘Blanca, like they fall apart, to paraphrase Achebe.  

Meanwhile, as Vanessa Herbert, a DJ at Talk City (91fm) warned listeners on Panorama Wednesday night, “This year's Panorama will be boss! Really competitive!  Oh yeah, she was all fired up, matching mood with even corn soup connoisseurs. And, man, was she on the money.


Dalton Narine
Dalton Narine

Dalton Narine joined Trinidad All Stars when the band played in the Garret, the attic of the building housing Maple Leaf Club on Charlotte Street. While serving as a Carnival and Panorama commentator and interviewer on Trinidad & Tobago Television for more than 20 years, he continued to play the Bomb every J’Ouvert until he switched to filmmaking.

contact Dalton Narine at:




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