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An Interview with Raf Robertson
Musician, Former Panorama Judge and birdsong Arranger

Trinidad & Tobago National Steelband Panorama 2015

by Dalton Narine

Trinidad and Tobago, W.I.

* Minstrels without blackface, that’s what happening now with Junior Panorama. Under 21 winner bp Renegades Youth Steel Orchestra - the piece they played was an accompaniment to a show they putting on. They played Ola by Olatunji and the players are dressed in African gear. The runner-up, Revelation Institute of Performing Education (RIPE), played what I call a satire on Clive Bradley’s arrangement of Stranger for a band in the New York Panorama, which he won. Not to be outdone by Renegades, these players dressed like alien spacemen. When you think like that you cannot be surprised when they take it up a notch. 

* FOUR FELLAS IN A RUM SHOP: And then there was a show with four chairs on the Savannah stage. The occupants began a conversation about copyrights, the Greens, Panorama and Soca, topics that, clearly, none of them knew about. Worse, it was being televised, so you could imagine the comments such misinformation generated on Facebook. They came off as four fellas in a rum shop. What bothered me is that these guys are rational and intelligent. Just goes to show that in the republic of mediocrity excellence is fatal. They know they’re not good and that is the tragedy of mediocrity. It simmering right through the year and at Carnival, it just blows up.

* As for Calypso at Skinner Park, the Fiesta gets boring, though, in between you find a few good songs. It’s a festival of nothingness. They don’t have the craft and yet they want to write a song. It also happens in Panorama. Arrangers like Ray Holman, Clive Bradley, Earl Rodney - they learned the thing. Craftsmen.

Meanwhile, the mystery of Panorama is the logic of the festival. You need musical smarts to accompany your talent and skills, because the two weeks between the semifinals and finals could destroy your arrangement, the purpose. Everybody on the same page in the Fiesta and the Panorama.

[No doubt, Raf entertains a more sacred view of our cultural development, akin to an anthropologist about the science of humankind. - Narine]

Raf Robertson
Raf Roberson

* The science of steelband arranging is being able to take a song, arrange it in such a way that musicians could like it, play it and make you feel good. The emotion must vibrate in the music. Music is a language. You have to speak to people in a language that they speak.

Bradley, Ray Holman and “Boogsie”
They changed the dynamic completely. They were able to get simple melodies and still have substance and bacchanal.

Bradley didn’t stint at getting it right. All the ingredients he put in elicited emotion from the audience. Chromaticism was in pan for years. It was a device to raise emotions.

But it’s different today, Creative chromatics are used by many bands to mask the lack of creativity. Pan is a linear instrument and an arranger shouldn’t be limited to runs throughout the piece.

BRADLEY: When he first went to Desperadoes, they told him to find another part. Meaning, in their realm, play it as it is. So he had to find a way. And, with his musical background as a keyboardist with Esquires, he did. With pan, the mechanics of the instrument are different from keyboards, so, in order to give them the sound they wanted he had to reinvent himself. He had come from an acoustic situation writing and phrasing for bass, horns and keyboard. Generally, he’d write the bass chords and then the bass man find a groove. So he became a genius by the task at hand.

Listening to Robert Greenidge he had to transfer what they saying into the creativity. So everyone was successful. Bradley did it with impunity. Because you could sing his music. And the players didn’t bash the pans. They played with a certain verve.

BOOGSIE VS BRADLEY: With Bradley you couldn’t accuse him of dumbing it down to win.

PHASE II, HAPPINESS: I’m suspicious of the sample he had in the introduction. He doesn’t have to do it. That’s for people with lesser creativity.

Boogsie can ghost arrange a top arranger easily. He could go by Despers now and be like Bradley easily.

In 2014, Boogsie saw All Stars as the band to beat. He arranged like Smooth in the style that Smooth likes to use - runs, which are pyrotechnical to the judges. Smooth has a good frontline so a lot of the arrangement is for them. Dazzling, not necessarily musical. Pan on fire. Boogsie watched that and he had to beat that. So he copied the style of runs and put his musical spin on it. Boogsie-esque

DUVONNE STEWART, RENEGADES: A fiery arranger who’s learning quickly the art of Panorama. Don’t count him out. He’s brash and confident, hungry. He could very well take the Panorama title. He’s been exposed to good music.

Their chances are very good because every player is in sync and so the band always gives a polished treatment to their song. Any given night you get a masterful performance. As with All Stars, on the night of the competition they shine.

Last year’s Excitement became the focal point in the arrangement, panists jumping around. Same thing? That’s the catalyst for change. We’re at a point where we have to go somewhere. A show band. A final night band. Because of their history and organization a lot of things work for them. They’ve got good players; when they execute there’s always some kind of theater. And that sums up the reality of modern Panorama.

The music comes out of the community and they left it on the hill. They need that nut vendor feel, the parlor next door. They’re in the middle of nowhere. What can you achieve? The whole vibes of the hill is that it looks down on Port of Spain. Desperadoes had to separate themselves from the spirit of Rudolph Charles which lives on the hill.

I’m aware that Panorama also has mystery. The mystery of competition. I don’t think any band is stamped with victory. But this mystery thing could be invoked this year - a band come from way out and take the Panorama. Which might be a good thing. It could lend itself to people’s perception that the competition is fair and not necessarily the dominance of the stakeholders.

They’re conducting the judges, drawing their attention to certain parts.

Did this band find its way into the heart of the people, or managed to find the heart of the people?


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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