STEELPAN ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON
By Dr. L. Trevor Grant
As part of the Celebration of Women and the Steelpan and Women’s History
Month, the Queens Borough Public Library presented the all-female steelband
from Brooklyn – Women in Steel – on March 20th 2005.
to a very responsive and captive audience comprised predominantly of
Americans (white and black), the eight piece ensemble provided a
scintillating mixture of calypso, jazz, samba, R & B, reggae and classical
music, much to the delight of the diverse audience that included a
surprisingly large number of children.
Despite the cold, soggy, rainy day, around 100 people paid their respects to
the new acoustic musical innovation of the 21st century – the steelpan – and
based on the thunderous ovations, those in attendance thoroughly enjoyed the
performance and were treated to an entertaining, lively, musical interlude.
As for the performance itself, Women in Steel led by Claudette Baptiste
played in a relaxed, laid back manner but got their musical message across.
I expected a few highly energized, individual, acoustic performances but
that was not to be. However, the synchronized group sound was audible, clear
and moderate. Although the acoustics in the auditorium was poor, the music
was soothing and enjoyable and resonated well with the audience.
Questions pertaining to Black Historians were posed to children in the
audience and they answered all the questions correctly.
question and answer session conducted between tunes went down well with the
audience who appeared to really appreciate the historical, educational
discourse and musical expression. It was also pleasant to see adults and
their children bonding, dancing and swaying to the sweet sounds of pan
music. In essence, the mini-concert turned out to be an entertaining family
Steelpan music is still a new, mystical musical expression for many and this
mini-concert by Women in Steel should be the beginning of regular concerts
by the many steel orchestras in New York City. Concerts should be held in
libraries and other cultural centers throughout the city on a regular basis.
Exposing the musical instrument to its many music fans would eventually be
beneficial to pannists who want to seek employment opportunities in the
profession. Steelpan music is big business now and pannists should be
compensated for their years of hard, unpaid work and pannists should also be
at the forefront of the musical evolution.
The presence of many children alongside the diverse adult audience speaks
volumes for the musical art form and culture and shows that the steelpan is
on its way to becoming not only a heavyweight instrument but a very
important addition to the cast of instruments already accepted by musicians
and musicologists. However, more laborious work lies ahead to create a
larger following for the steelpan while at the same time learning ways to
properly market and promote steelpan music in the Americas. The steelpan is
now an international instrument and business people should be given the task
to promote and secure the profits from this important musical innovation.
Dr. L. Trevor Grant is the author of Carnivalitis: The Conflicting Discourse
of Carnival – Available at website:
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