Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

 

Tribute To Women In Pan

 

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Meet Leah Wilson - Brooklyn, New York

“*Sigh and smile* Bass is BAE! I must admit when I first was introduced to steel pan, from an optical perspective the bass was the pan I did NOT want to play. It looked so “obzocky” and “cumbersome.” Then I was left no option but to play the 6 bass and I was hesitant, but as soon as I played the first song I learned “Feeling hot hot hot” I knew that the bass and I would have an everlasting bond. This pan is truly my love.”

It’s a serious love affair between her and her bass. You only have to watch her perform once and witness the joy and exuberance she has for the art form. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - panist Leah Wilson 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 Leah Wilson?”

Leah W. - “I am known as Leah but my name is Marriler; due to the difficulty of pronouncing my name I go by Leah. Born to a Tobagonian family I relate more to my Caribbean culture than anything else. I’m an advocate for women equality and not only try to better myself but strive for those around me to do better as well.”


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

Leah W. - “The first time I heard and saw the steelpan instrument was when I first visited Trinidad and Tobago at the age of 6 with my Granny. I was not fully aware of the instrument until I was 17 years old, when I joined Pantonic Steel Orchestra.”


WST - “The contributions of women to the steelpan movement are undeniable. Do you believe women are finally getting that acknowledgment?”

Leah W. - “Women are getting the recognition and acknowledgment. When pan first started women weren’t that prevalent in the artform and would play in remote sections; now women are playing in every section of the band. For example Michelle Huggins-Watts who arranges for Valley Harps Steel Orchestra and Shenelle Abraham who arranges for St. Margaret’s SuperstarsJeannine Remy for Hatters Steel Orchestra and locally Sadé Constantine in Brooklyn. There are also female drillers and soloists who I am also proud of.”


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

Leah W. - “The greatest challenge that this current generation is facing is lack of practice space and respect for the art form.”


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

Leah W. - “There are many things that keep my passion for the instrument going for example: listening to arrangements from the past and the present (more Clive Bradley than anything), also conversing with those who played pan in years (decades) prior, and hearing their experience and how we as this generation can try and learn from them and better ourselves.”

Leah Wilson
Leah Wilson

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

Leah W. - “I’m not sure if this would qualify as a “change” per say but more of an addition. I would like to see a school or an academy that is strictly designated for the steel pan art form in the greater New York area. There are many in other parts of the world in countries such as Canada, Great Britain and even in Australia. I think that it would be befitting that we have one in New York.”


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

Leah W. - “I am most proud of the fact that there was an International Panorama (ICP). I was very happy to see bands not just from other parts of the Caribbean or the US and Canada, but to see bands from Europe and Asia was very exciting. There was a band from Africa that I really wanted hear, but due to certain circumstances they weren’t able to participate. Hopefully next ICP there will be more bands from other countries.”


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

Leah W. - “What disappoints me the most is that as the years go by in Brooklyn it seems as if people have lost their interest for pan.  I’m not sure if it’s because [of] the lack of space for the bands to practice why their interest is going down, or if it’s because times are changing. Whatever it is - I would like to see more people involved in the steelpan community.”


WST - “You are a valued member of Pantonic Steel Orchestra. What makes Pantonic so special?”

Leah W. - “The band felt like a family. Pantonic is an iconic band in New York due to their wins and the man who lead them through the wins, Clive Bradley.”


WST - “What would be your advice to the thousands of young female panists all over the world who are dreaming of becoming involved with the steelpan instrument as a career move?”

Leah W. - “I would tell them, like many careers and/or occupations, don’t be intimidated by what may seem to be a male-dominant field. We are no lesser than our male counterparts, we have to utilize our resources and be able to showcase our talents.”

Leah Wilson participating in New York's J'Ouvert
Leah Wilson participating in New York’s J’Ouvert

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Leah W. - “Panorama is like our version of Wrestlemania, I’m not sure if that’s a good analogy hahaha. Everybody is trying to win that championship title along with bragging rights.”


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

Leah W. - “Panorama is both a curse and a blessing. It’s a blessing because we still have our culture, which we try to keep alive but it’s also a curse because of the lack of space in Brooklyn. Due to the growing population, any available lots are designated for apartments or retail space. So it’s really hard to enjoy the Panorama season when you have neighbors complaining about the “noise” and police shutting down the bands by 11:00 p.m.”


WST - “It is obvious that you are in heaven when you’re on your Bass. Why is that? Can anything else compare?”

Leah W. - “*Sigh and smile* Bass is BAE! I must admit when I first was introduced to steel pan, from an optical perspective the bass was the pan I did NOT want to play. It looked so “obzocky” and “cumbersome.” Then I was left no option but to play the 6 bass and I was hesitant, but as soon as I played the first song I learned “Feeling hot hot hot” I knew that the bass and I would have an everlasting bond. This pan is truly my love.”

Leah Wilson on six bass
Leah Wilson on six bass

WST - “Last year you participated in the International Panorama in Trinidad. Describe that experience.”

Leah W. - “The ICP (International Conference and Panorama) was probably my most proudest and memorable experience that I have thus far. To do what I love in a place where I love is truly amazing. The fact that steel pan has reached every continent and people from other countries come to compete in the Mecca of steel pan was and still is a true feat. The experience for the ICP is one that I will NEVER forget.”


WST - “Recently, BSO (Brooklyn Steel Orchestra) and you included, received a proclamation from New York City. How do you feel about that?”

Leah W. - “For the band to receive a proclamation from the City of New York was pretty surreal. Not only did we gain recognition but we also gained respect from those who were doubtful.”


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

Leah W. - “I listen to a wide variety of music. I do not only listen to soca, R&B and hip hop, I love Afrobeats/pop, Bachata, Korean Pop funk, soft rock, soul and neo soul. The list could go on forever but those are just some of the musical stylings that I enjoy.”


WST - “Who, and what are your musical influences?”

Leah W. - “As vague as it may seem, I seek influence in anyone who plays steelpan.  To see people who play steelpan whether they are young, old, or even handicapped - I see them accomplishing something that they put their minds to. It makes me smile when I see young children who stand up on crates and pieces of ply board to play the tenor because they can’t reach. When I hear the older heads talk about their experiences in Trinidad and compare it to New York makes me feel like I’m there in Trini with them. One time I remember seeing a young woman playing either a seconds or a guitar and she had a cast on her leg and she was outperforming the band hahaha. Things and people like that influence me to keep playing.”

Leah Wilson with Pantonic on stage for New York Panorama
Leah Wilson with Pantonic on stage for New York Panorama

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

Leah W. - “My vision for the steelpan instrument along with others is to see this art form on a larger scale. It’s amazing that it has hit every continent (thankfully) but it’s for all of us to push it and make it grander.”


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

Leah W. - “There are many issues that the steel pan community face but one that seems to be unspoken is the communication between management and players. The band is a like an army - you have those who are in authority and you have those who implement the plan.  If you are one who is in authority and make decisions and vaguely explain it to those who have to carry it out, problems will occur. Appreciation is another thing that is lacked, many of us do this for recreation and it would help that our work doesn’t go unnoticed.”

Leah Wilson performing with Brooklyn Steel Orchestra at ICP




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