Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

 

Tribute To Women In Pan

 

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Meet Shawndel George - Trinidad & Tobago

“Being a woman player in the world-famous Phase II Pan Groove is humbling. The idea of being affiliated with the band, not just as a female but as a regular member of the band is something to be proud of. However, when specifically talking about being a woman player in the band, I always feel comfortable and embraced by my male counterparts. The men look out for the women. They are like our brothers. I do not feel less of myself being a part of a band that is male-dominated. And to play the music of the great Mozart of Pan - Len “Boogsie” Sharpe - is indeed an honour.” 

She is a “pro.” And excellence is her game - whether as a media personality or panist for the world-renowned Phase II Pan Groove.  In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - Shawndel George shares her joy, experiences, and insight into the Steelband music art form and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about yourself; who is Shawndel George?”

Shawndel G. - “Humble, passionate, spontaneous. A career radio announcer who is currently in-between jobs and pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Management and Entrepreneurship, music has always played an integral role in my life.

“Hailing from the cultural capital of Point Fortin, I was exposed to music from a very tender age. My father played drums, my uncles Iwer, Naya and Devon George and sister-in-law Nadia Batson sing soca, my brother is a music producer and DJ. At age 10, I was taught to play guitar and soon after I joined the music ministry at church. I also participated in calypso competitions at school.”


WST - “When and how did you first become associated with the steelpan instrument; what captivated you?”

Shawndel G. - “My first association with the steelpan instrument was in 2006 when a friend of mine took me to Pandemonium in Belmont to play for Pan In The 21st Century. I played the tenor pan then. I’ve always had an interest in learning different musical instruments and while the guitar was my first love, the idea of playing our national instrument was one that wasn’t far from my mind, so I grasped the opportunity to play. I then moved to Woodbrook Playboyz where I played both the bass and guitar pans and in 2008 I made the big jump to a large band - Phase II Pan Groove. Besides playing the instrument, I also function as one of the announcers throughout the Panorama season. The love for our national instrument and the interest it holds across the world continue to captivate me.”


Shawndel George as radio announcer
Shawndel George as radio announcer

WST - “Over the years you have become one of the more recognized members synonymous with Phase II as one of their most experienced and top players; tell us about specifically being a woman player in the world-famous Phase II Pan Groove.”

Shawndel G. - “Being a woman player in the world-famous Phase II Pan Groove is humbling. The idea of being affiliated with the band, not just as a female but as a regular member of the band is something to be proud of. However, when specifically talking about being a woman player in the band, I always feel comfortable and embraced by my male counterparts. The men look out for the women. They are like our brothers. I do not feel less of myself being a part of a band that is male-dominated. And to play the music of the great Mozart of Pan - Len “Boogsie” Sharpe - is indeed an honour.”


WST - “Talk about your experiences, as a musician overall, with the orchestra over the years - performances, any travel?”

Shawndel G. - “As previously mentioned, the first instrument I fell in love with was the guitar, which I learned to play at age ten and I still play a bit now and then to this day. I also consider myself a good singer, LOL. However, since my new fascination with the steelpan, I find myself giving more attention to pan. Thus far, I have only performed with Phase II on the Panorama stage; this year making it my tenth.”


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

Shawndel G. - “Whenever I travel and people recognize me as being from Trinidad and Tobago, they are always fascinated by Carnival. And one thing that is synonymous with Carnival is pan. So whenever I am engaged in conversation with those abroad, I always talk about pan. Their interest and the way they zone into the intricacies of the instrument, keep my passion going. I am always happy to talk about the instrument. Also, the joy expressed on the faces of young people when they play pan warms my heart and that too, keeps my passion for the instrument going.”


WST - “Have you ever had challenges in illustrating/explaining the actual concept of the steel orchestra, and/or your own role in it - to non-Trinbagonian friends?”

Shawndel G. - “Not really. But if ever I encounter such instances, I know who to consult.”


WST - “How has Phase II’s leader and arranger - the legendary Len “Boogsie” Sharpe - influenced your own musical development?”

Shawndel G. - “OMG. This man is indeed a genius. To be under his leadership, to see him in his element and play his music is a great honour. This year is ten years I’ve been playing his music and every year I am in awe at his musical ability and pore-raising arrangements. I can safely say that after all these years I am more confident playing music and I have a deeper understanding of how steelpan music is arranged.”


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

Shawndel G. - “I am a lover of music in general. I listen to all genres of music and because of that I have so many musical influences, but I’ll just point out a few - Anita Baker, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Marc Anthony, Al Jarreau, Leon Foster Thomas and Duvone Stewart.”

WST - “What do friends, extended family, think of your involvement with the steelband art form?”

Shawndel G. - “They are super proud of my accomplishments and continue to push me where music is concerned.”


WST - “Being female, were you ever cautioned or perhaps even dissuaded in any way, from becoming involved in steelband?”

Shawndel G. - “Not at all.”


WST - “In your opinion, do you think women are being accorded respect and acknowledgment as equals as steelpan musicians?”

Shawndel G. - “Yes. We still have some work to do in this regard but women are definitely getting the respect and acknowledgment we so deserve.”


WST - “And regarding the country’s steelband community overall, and its players - are they respected generally in Trinidad & Tobago’s society, and by the government?”

Shawndel G. - “While I am elated at the number of people who come to the Savannah for Panorama or who visit panyards during Panorama season, I however am peeved when I hear other people, other Trinbagonian people bash steelpan and its music.

“The government definitely has to get its act together where steelpan is concerned. The people behind moving the steelpan from an ordinary oil drum and those who play the music ought to be treated with a bit more courtesy. We feel proud to play the instrument and in my opinion, a steelpan player should be one of the highest paid in the country. Steelpan should also be included in every government event and in every event where the government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is represented. The government really needs to start investing in the steelpan. After all, it is our national instrument.”


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

Shawndel G. - “The attention we give to the instrument and the music after the Panorama season. Why aren’t there more platforms where the steelpan is showcased?”

Shawndel George on stage for 2017 Panorama semi-finalsShawndel George on stage for 2017 Panorama semi-finals

WST - “What has been your most memorable moment in pan?”

Shawndel G. - “My first year on a Panorama stage. It was semi-final night in 2008. When those lights went on and the arranger counted the song and those 6-8 minutes of musical ecstasy... unforgettable!”


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

Shawndel G. - “The lack of camaraderie among players/bands.”


WST - “What would be your advice to the thousands of young female players all over the world who are dreaming of following in footsteps such as yours?”

Shawndel G. - “Ladies, respect yourself... stay focused on your craft... stay away from negativity. My biggest message and advice would be RESPECT.”


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

Shawndel G. - “It is a blessing. During the year, pan is hardly ever recognized globally. At Panorama time, the most amount of advertising of the instrument is done and it is at this time, the world is tuned in. However, I wish we could have more festivals during the year to showcase our instrument.”


WST - “There were reports of poor audience numbers for the 2018 Panorama final night competition; certainly the North Stand saw less attendance. If you witnessed this, what are your thoughts, and what do you believe might turn things around?”

Shawndel G. - “I didn’t see this but maybe a lesser-priced entrance fee.”

Shawndel George, finals night, 2018 Trinidad & Tobago National Panorama
Shawndel George, finals night, 2018 Trinidad & Tobago National Panorama

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

Shawndel G. - “I would like to see that after showcasing our instrument on a Panorama stage, the top bands - maybe top three bands - are afforded the opportunity to go on tour. In this way, the manner in which we treat with the instrument and the music we play on the instrument would be shown to a wider audience.”


WST - “What is next for Shawndel George?”

Shawndel G. - “I will definitely be a part of the steelpan fraternity for as long as I can. I will also continue to focus on growing as a musician and my next step is to pursue Music education.”


photos provided by Shawndel George

   Shawndel George performs with Phase II Pan Groove during the orchestra’s 2018 Panorama finals performance




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