Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

 

Tribute To Women In Pan

 

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Meet Imari Bactowal - Brooklyn, New York

“I can’t remember when I was ever not aware of the existence of Steel Pan. I remember being about 7 years old, begging my dad to get my own Pan and learn how to play... My dad (Richard Bactowal “Buntin”) played in Pan Am North Stars in Trinidad, and was one of the founders of Brooklynaires here in New York, so Steel Pan has always been a part of my family. Both my family in the States (USA) and Trinidad support my love for the instrument and they are so proud that I play.”

To simply say that Pan is a major part of her life would be an understatement.  She is wrapped in the arms of the proverbial Pan-Jumbie - with no escape. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - panist and performing artist  Imari Bactowal shares her reflections, experiences and views on Pan, and the steelpan art form overall.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about Imari Bactowal?”

Imari B. - “My name is Imari Dhalwah Bactowal I am 27 years old from Brooklyn, New York and I play Tenor and Six Bass. I played with Harmony my first year then with Sonatas for 10 years and Radoes for 2. I have also played with Phase II and St. Margaret’s Superstars in Trinidad for the last 3 years and BSO (Brooklyn Steel Orchestra) for ICP (International Conference and Panorama) last summer. I have also been blessed to participate in other bands along the way.”


WST - “When and how did you first become aware of the steelpan instrument?”

Imari B. “I can’t remember when I was ever not aware of the existence of Steel Pan. I remember being about 7 years old, begging my dad to get my own Pan and learn how to play. My dad always played old pan songs on his reel-to-reel and cassette player, he still does to this day. Though I didn’t actually get to learn to play until I was 15.”


WST - “What keeps your passion for the instrument and music going?”

Imari B. - “My fellow pan players keep my passion for the instrument and music going. My drive to see Steel Pan become an international household name keeps me going. The kids that are following in our footsteps and the People that came before us that allowed us the opportunities we have in Steel Pan today, they makes me never want to give it up. That feeling I get when I hear a sweet tune... that’s what keeps me going.”


WST - “What does your family think about your involvement in Pan?”

Imari B. - “My family is very encouraging of my involvement in pan. Both of my parents are from Trinidad and Steel Pan is a part of my culture. During my dad’s time it was basically unheard of for a lady to be in a pan yard, all but forbidden. My mom was only allowed to go watch bands play if an older male relative was with her. The pan yard was thought to only be for ‘badjohns.’ My grandmother was shocked at first when she heard my mom let me play, but was convinced as soon as she saw me behind a pan - [that] it was meant for me.

“My two younger brothers Kadlif and Raimi Bactowal play as well. It was actually because of my mom seeing Harmony at a street fair that I finally got to play.  My dad (Richard Bactowal “Buntin”) played in Pan Am North Stars in Trinidad, and was one of the founders of Brooklynaires here in New York, so Steel Pan has always been a part of my family. Both my family in the States (USA) and Trinidad support my love for the instrument and they are so proud that I play.”

Imari Bactowal
Imari Bactowal

WST - “What is the greatest challenge facing this current generation of steelpan musicians in Pan?”

Imari B. - “I think the greatest challenge Steel Pan musicians in this generation have is a lack of communication and funds. I think we (my generation) for the most part, easily band together and help each other, I believe this was shown with BSO’s participation in ICP last year; but we need to bridge the gap between our elders and the youth in the pan community. As far as funds are concerned it is hard every year for bands to find a place to practice, prepare for the Panorama season, and keep their bands going throughout the year. I know from experience most of the time it’s the players and my peers on committees putting out to make sure their bands stay alive. It’s hard getting resources outside of ourselves to help out.

WST - “Describe your most memorable steelpan musical experience?”

Imari B. - “I have been fortunate enough to have many experiences with my beloved instrument but my most memorable steelpan musical experience would have to be playing for Panorama in Trinidad for the first time in 2014. Not only did I get to play with the legendary Len “Boogsie” Sharpe and Phase II but we won! I also got to share this experience with my Dad and two of my band mates and friends - Edward Clarke Jr., and Tristan Samuel. There is nothing like playing on the Savannah stage in the birthplace of the instrument, the mecca of Pan... there are no words. You must experience it for yourself to truly understand.”


WST - “What have you been most proud about as it relates to Pan?”

Imari B. - “I am most proud of seeing myself and my generation of Pan players in New York keep our culture going and not giving up despite how hard the struggle is to do so.”


WST - “What disappoints you the most in the steelpan movement?”

Imari B. - “I am most disappointed by the lackluster [efforts] to create more opportunities for pan outside of Panorama; that being said, I am proud of those who strive to both keep our culture intact but also think outside the box when it comes to pan so that there is a balance.”


WST - “If you had the power to change something in Pan immediately what would that be?”

Imari B. - “I would change the ignorance of its existence; yes, there are still people who don’t know what it is, where it came from, and what it can do. I would also then create more outlets for us to showcase the pan to the world, in ways people may not have once thought possible.”


WST - “How was your experience at the International Panorama?”

Imari B. - “Going to the International Panorama last summer with BSO was the BEST! I feel like it rejuvenated our love to play, and reminded us why we started playing to begin with, for the Love of the instrument. It brought the players who got to experience it closer together. Some of us never knew each other before this and now we are like one big family. Seeing my friends Marc, Kendall and Odie get to arrange and place 1st foreign band, and 4th overall with the top bands in Trinidad was unforgettable. I got to meet and share my joy with people from places like Japan, France, England, and Jamaica just to name a few. To be united purely by our love for pan was amazing!”


WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Imari B. - “Panorama to me is a way to display our talents, both players and arrangers alike, just on a bigger platform. Letting everyone into our world of hard work and love that go into steel pan. For a few minutes we get to share that experience with everyone else.”

Imari Bactowal
Imari Bactowal

WST - “Is Panorama a curse or blessing from your perspective?”

Imari B. - “I believe it can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it’s a chance to highlight up-and-coming talent in our community. But it may be a curse sometimes in that that’s the only focus: getting to Panorama. We put a lot of time into it and sacrifice a lot to make it there, but don’t benefit from it much these days. I can’t even remember the last time we got a professional video recording of [New York] Panorama so we can at least have our memories to share with future generations.”


WST - “Who is your favorite arranger?”

Imari B. - “If I had to choose one I would say “Boogsie,” but that being said, I enjoy songs by many other arrangers.”


WST - “What type of music do you listen to outside of Pan?”

Imari B. - “I listen to every genre of music, my parents always made sure we got to experience everything, you never know what or where you might get inspiration from.”


WST - “What is your vision for the steelpan instrument?”

Imari B. - “My vision is that (1) - everyone knows what a Steel Pan is and its history; (2) that it be implemented into school Music programs everywhere - full steel orchestras, not just an opening act or in the background, but as the headliner; (3) I want everyone to see the full potential of this instrument. There are no limits.”

Imari Bactowal
Imari Bactowal practicing for the ICP in 2015

WST - “Are there any other steelband-related matters you would like to bring forward?”

Imari B. - “I would like to see more events for Pan throughout the year, and all bands to help each other out. I just want to see Steel Pan keep progressing onwards and upwards, and for us to realize we were given a gift in this instrument and to never take it for granted.”


Imari Bactowal performing with Sonatas Steel Orchestra






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