Celebration of Women
and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

Clive Bradley - Memories and Current Thoughts Related to Women
in the Steelpan World

Clive Bradley, Arranger

Bradley reminisces about the early days of women in pan:

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"The first time that I remember seeing women play Steelpan was around 1968, somewhere around there - when three women joined Desperadoes; one of them was Ursula, on the tenor pan, and she still plays with the band today.  The other, Carol, played tenor pan too, and the third, whose name I can't recall right now, played the Bass.  It was a sort of status symbol for those guys because there were not too many bands with women playing.  They were good players.  As a matter of fact, I believe that Scrunter (Owen Reyes Johnson) wrote Woman On the Bass for particularly that girl.

Regarding the most noticeable changes/differences in pan-playing women since the 60s, and today in the 21st century, Bradley says:

It was kind of taboo for anybody of "decent" - quote, unquote - upbringing to play in a steelband, but at that time, it was sort of very strange to see a woman playing a pan.  So right now, here, there are bands which are complete with only women.  Most of the bands I work with now have more women than men; they are very good too!  It is easier to work with women. 

Why is it easier?

They have more ability to understand; they like to sit down and listen, they take instructions better; they give less problems, they are usually more punctual than the guys.  The only problem I have with them is that they usually have to go home earlier than the guys!  Eventually, some of the guys are jealous of them, because they learn faster, they retain more, they're more dedicated to what they're doing.   In Desperadoes  [stage side] in particular, now we have about eight girls playing.  Carnival time we have around twenty.   [Women] are biologically more suited - - their wrists seem to be - I think I read it somewhere, or I was told - that their wrists are more flexible. 

I remember working with Pandemonium one time and there was this little girl who used to play the music with such ease as compared to the guys playing the same music - the same pan; and then the guys had this complex, because they never wanted the girls to learn the music before they knew it. And it always was that way...  the girls used to learn the music before.

In Desperadoes, the band that I work with right now- Desperadoes the girls, they are on par with the guys right now. There are girls I would go and give any type of music, and they learn it first.  As a matter of fact, we had some girls coming from France and England this last carnival, and the guys didn't want nothing  with them - these girls came from England and the States and they were better than most of the guys.  You see, the people who come from away, they usually - you see they only have a limited time here so they don't want to waste their time hanging out.  I have met a lot of girls both here and in the States, and they are more dedicated to their work.  They spend more time on the instrument.

Is there anything special that women impart when it comes to his arrangements?  According to Bradley:

Most of the time, the girls, the foreign girls, they are involved in doing formal music.  There are some girls from France - they usually understand the music.  You see the local girls, they play the music mostly by rote, by practice, and then they have prior knowledge of the type of music, of the calypso and stuff.  But these people who come here, they have to learn it.  In their mind, the attitude to the music is that they have to do it.  I think I met some people from St. Lucia.  We have very few girls coming from the Caribbean islands to Trinidad, but there are girls out there who play, because I've done some stuff in Grenada, and there are very good girls out there. 

On his thoughts about note-worthy women in the steelpan world, Bradley considers:

Well Ursula for one, they wrote about her in the papers and stuff like that, she has been given trophies and commendations for the work that she does.  And there are women who arrange - there's a girl who arranges -Michelle [Huggins-Watts] I think is her name, I think she arranges for Valley Harps.  I admire her work because she is currently doing a very good job in my opinion.

The first woman who was really involved that deeply in pan was Merle de Coteau.  She was Merle Albino [at that time].  Merle Albino-de Coteau.  She was one of the first captains of a steelband, Savoy; she used to arrange for Savoy. Unfortunately I don't remember the names of all the women.  I know that there are girls who are deeply into the music, you know?  I believe there is a girl who does some work by Renegades, and then there is another from another band... I don't remember the names.

Message to upcoming women who are interested in playing and/or arranging, and are inspired by your works:

They have to be really dedicated because there is a lot of opposition especially from the guys.  The opposition is mainly based on jealousy, as far as I have observed, you know?  The first question they [male players] ask is:  "She could arrange anything?"  Guys - they don't like to take music from the women - you know, it's a macho type of thing.  They [women] should not fall into the thing like the guys, who really don't like to learn any formal music, they don't take the time to do it, they don't think it is necessary, but it is necessary.  But there is a limit to how much of that formal music they can try to impart to the players, because the guys they usually have to work with, they are not accustomed to taking the music in that way. 

I saw a girl, and she was trying to work with a band, and she had this big sheet of music, you know, and working out of it.  And I told her she wouldn't be able to do it that way; and she really was not able to.  She wasn't very successful at that.  You see, she did some formal music and she tried to follow that same methodology with the steelband. 

But steelband people don't listen, most of them, they don't listen to what you're telling them.  They learn better when you show them.  Because I'll tell you something - a lot of the guys I work with - a lot of them didn't have too much school.   When most of the guys come into the pan yard in the first instance, they learn by looking at another guy play.  Remember in my instance I'm working with a band that comes from what is called - quote, unquote - a depressed area where a lot of the people leave school at a very young, very tender age.  I'm learning that the poorer the area from which the band comes, the less of this attitude toward the [formal] music. 

Regarding women on the New York pan scene:

Pound for pound, the New York steelbands have some very, very good girls.  They come to the pan yard with more enthusiasm, it's like if you live by the sea, you don't bathe in the sea too often; in Trinidad, the pans and pan yards are all nearby.  Up there it's a chance to get out of the house, there's a certain time [each year], aside from the stage sides. 

On Glenda Gamory, president of Pantonic Steel Orchestra, four-time New York Panorama champs for whom Bradley arranged on those occasions

Glenda is a facilitator.  Nothing is impossible to get done.  She gets things done; she has reach, and is willing to make the sacrifice that some day and some time, you are going to get back.  I've known a lot of steelband people/leaders who complain about the amount of money they have to be putting out all the time, they complain.  But Glenda doesn't really complain, she just observes, and she takes note.  She is more, more organization-oriented.  She thinks about the needs of the players, more than the average person.
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