Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

 

Tribute To Women In Pan

 

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Meet Nakiya Athina de Freitas - Antigua

“I would tell any young female panist to go for it. If it’s something you love and enjoy, don’t let anything deter you from that passion. You will face many ups and downs and you will feel like giving up, but just keep going.” 

She is focused, driven and extremely talented. And represents the future of Pan. She is a music major who has firm ideas on the way forward in Pan. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - Nakiya Athina de Freitas shares her feelings, experiences, and insight into the Steelband music art form and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about Nakiya Athina de Freitas?”

Nakiya D. - “Well, I’m a peppy, open-minded, and multi-talented 20-year-old girl from Antigua who loves being in and around a steel pan. I’m creative by nature, dabbling in music, art and occasional photography. I didn’t have a strong musical atmosphere as a child, but I enjoyed (and still do) sitting behind the organist at church and singing along to the various harmonies. I strive to be an outstanding well-rounded individual with great communication and interpersonal skills.”


WST - “What were your earliest experiences with Pan?”

Nakiya D. - “My earliest pan experience dates to 2009; I was eleven, just starting the Antigua Girls’ High School. Being, in a new school was exciting, and I wanted to be apart of as many groups as possible. The school’s steel orchestra caught my interest as I always wanted to be apart of something musical but never had the opportunity. Out of all the groups I joined that term and throughout my high school career, the Antigua Girls’ High School Steel Orchestra was the one for me.”


WST - “Even though you are still young, you are a veteran panist who has performed with the likes of Antigua’s Hells Gate Steel Orchestra, Trinidad’s Exodus Steel Orchestra, and more; talk about these experiences through the years?”

Nakiya D. - “As I said previously, I started playing pan with the Antigua Girls’ High School Steel Orchestra which I captained for two years. With them, I participated in the National Junior Panorama for five years and travelled to Barbuda.

“In 2012, I participated, for the first time, in the National Panorama Competition with Harmonies Steel Orchestra International and did so for two years. I was a part of the National Youth Pan Orchestra in its revival stages, as well as the all-female pan group called Fem-Steel. From 2014, I have been playing with the AMP West Side Symphony during the National Panorama Competitions, as well as other small steel band competitions, such as the Gemonites 25-A-Side Competition. 2015 was my first year with Hells Gate Steel Orchestra, participating in the National Panorama Competition and gaining a lot of travel experience. I have been to Haiti for Carifesta XII, Guadeloupe for the Gwadadli Festival, and Montserrat. Presently, I am completing my degree in Music at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago.”

Nakiya Athina de Freitas
Nakiya Athina de Freitas

WST - “Were there any notable similarities, and differences, in your experiences with Hells Gate in Antigua, and steel orchestras in Trinidad?”

Nakiya D. - “One major difference that I noticed was the teaching styles/ note distribution. From the bands I’ve been to in Trinidad, the arrangers tend to teach the section leaders then they would teach the members of the section. At Hells Gate, it’s done a lot differently. Everyone is taught at the same time and the section leaders help to reinforce what was taught. However, I’ve noticed that the practice times are the same. Arrangers/drillers would run the band to the early hours of the morning.”


WST - “From your perspective, tell us about the steelband art form in Antigua & Barbuda.”

Nakiya Athina de Freitas with
Invaders Steel Orchestra
Nakiya Athina de Freitas

Nakiya D. - “I believe the steel band art form in Antigua is growing. Annually, there has been an increase in the amount of pan-centric activities outside of the National Panorama Competition during carnival in July and the National Schools Panorama Competition in October. Even secondary schools have been showing initiative and having Pan Block-o-ramas, inviting their fellow peers to take part in the festivities. However, like many other countries with pan fraternities, we face the same problems of insufficient funding, minimal cultural recognition from the government, and a Steelpan Association that is still in the process of development.”


WST - “Do you perform with a stage-side throughout the year? If so, contrast these occasions with annual Panorama seasons prep and performances.”

Nakiya D. - “No, I don’t play with a stage side.”


WST - “Being female, were you initially cautioned or perhaps even dissuaded in any way, from becoming involved in the Steelband art form?”

Nakiya D. - “I was surprisingly never dissuaded about playing pan. The main concern was usually about the late hours of practice and getting home safely, but once my parents saw how dedicated I was to the cause they knew they couldn’t have stopped me and that this is what I wanted to do. I was actually greatly encouraged by many persons who saw my potential to continue playing and to make a difference.”


WST - “Do any of your family members play pan?”

Nakiya D. - “Surprisingly, I’m the only one. However, in speaking with my grandmother and one of my uncles, I recently found out that my Grandfather was a manager of a band in Liberta Village, St. Paul’s, Antigua. They’re unsure about whether he played or not.”

WST - “You play multiple pans in the steel orchestra - do you have a preference?”

Nakiya D. - “I don’t really have a specific pan of preference. However, If I had to make a choice in a low pan section it would either be 3 Cello, 4 Cello or Bass and if it’s the high section I love playing harmony in the double tenors.”


WST - “What keeps your passion for pan going?”

Nakiya D. - “My passion for pan is driven by the wealth of things that I still have to learn about this instrument. Yes, I know how to play it, but I want to learn the mechanics behind it; the building, tuning and continuous development all interest me. All in all, I generally just enjoy pan and music in general. Pan is my Passion.”


WST - “Who/what are your musical influences?”

Nakiya D. - “My main musical influences are the musicians who I’m surrounded by, so many talented musicians I call friends. Persons such as, Patrick “Stone” Johnson (who was responsible for getting me into pan in the first place and encouraging me to continue), Gavin Francis, Robert Quintyne, Zahra Lake, Robert Simmons, Maurisha Potter, Khan Cordice, Barry Mannette, Kimdale Mackellar and the list continues. Then there are legends such as Andy Narell, Liam Teague, Jit and Amrit Samaroo.”


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

Nakiya D. - “The increase of youth within the steel band fraternity is something I’ve been really proud of. Seeing so many youths playing, even arranging, as well as the wealth of talent they exhibit.”


WST - “What about the Pan fraternity do you find most disappointing?”

Nakiya D. - “I feel like there isn’t enough unity within the pan fraternity. There are so many varying opinions with so many ulterior and personal motives that it blinds so many people. Instead of trying to help or improve it continues to destroy what little we already have.”

Nakiya Athina de Freitas
Nakiya Athina de Freitas

WST - “What is Panorama to you, personally?”

Nakiya D. - “Panorama for me is an avenue to explore and have fun. There’s something about the energy of jamming behind a pan; the rush of finally getting a run accurately; the sound of the minor as it sends shivers down your spine. I just enjoy it so much.”


WST - “Overall, is it (Panorama) a curse or blessing from your perspective?”

Nakiya D. - “Despite the many downfalls and imperfections surrounding judging and finances - culturally, I believe Panorama is a blessing. It is one of the few times of the year, where bands can showcase hours of hard work, dedication and creativity. It’s also the largest crowd.”


WST - “This year (2018) you performed with Invaders Steel Orchestra in the Trinidad & Tobago National Panorama. What was that experience like and how did it differ from your other Panorama experiences?”

Nakiya D. - “Playing with Invaders was a great experience. I honestly had a lot of fun. This year I played 4-Cello with them which was the first time I played one in about 4-5 years. One of the things that I found interesting that I personally never experienced in Antigua was the inclusion of Tassa into a Panorama arrangement. It gave a different kind of mood to the arrangement. I found this intriguing as in Antigua we don’t have a diverse cultural community.”


WST - “What is your vision for Pan in the next decade?”

Nakiya D. - “Within the next decade, it would be great to see better instructional videos or handbooks on proper technique surrounding the pan. There are so many books that exist on how to play the marimba, piano or even the drums, but for pan there are not many good standardized text materials or videos on pan playing and performance.”


WST - “If you could change one thing about Pan what would that be?”

Nakiya D. - “Its portability. Back in secondary school, I used to play the six-bass and in an all-girls school, no one wanted to help lift heavy six-bass pans. It was even more of a challenge considering we didn’t have racks. I wish there was a way to get the same powerful sound in a lighter or even more portable instrument.”

Nakiya Athina de Freitas
Nakiya Athina de Freitas

WST - “What advice would you give to young and upcoming females who would like to follow in your footsteps as a female steelpan musician?”

Nakiya D. - “I would tell any young female panist to go for it. If it’s something you love and enjoy, don’t let anything deter you from that passion. You will face many ups and downs and you will feel like giving up, but just keep going.”


WST - “After playing Pan for some time, several young adults eventually cease playing. Do you have any plans in this regard?”

Nakiya D. - “I don’t think I would ever stop playing pan as a young person. There’s something about playing well-developed Panorama arrangements or just playing the pan general; it feels like a rush of adrenaline. There’s always a drive for me to do better, to be better.”


WST - “What is next for Nakiya Athena de Freitas?”

Nakiya D. - “Well, presently I am completing my Certificate in Music (Pan) at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus. Next academic year I plan to return to Trinidad to completely my B.A. in Music here at the University. It has crossed my mind to do my Masters but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. After completing my studies, I want to enter the arranging arena back home in Antigua, possibly starting a band in my community of Liberta. I also plan to start teaching and finding talented youths, like myself on a musical journey. I believe that’s it important to harness whatever talent you have especially if it’s something that you enjoy.”


photos provided by Nakiya Athina de Freitas


 
   Nakiya Athina de Freitas performs with Invaders Steel Orchestra during the orchestra’s 2018 Panorama Finals Performance




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