Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

 

Tribute To Women In Pan

 

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Meet Sheleen Baynes - Trinidad & Tobago

“What keeps my passion for the instrument and art form going, is having people walk up to me and express their appreciation for my skills of playing the instrument, having kids wanting to be like me some day and competing, and making my community, family and friends and sponsors proud.” 

She is both a seasoned musician and ranking steelband administrator. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks -  veteran panist Sheleen Baynes shares her insight, experience and knowledge in meeting the challenges of performing with and administrating - an established Trinidad steel orchestra.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about yourself - who is Sheleen Baynes?”

Sheleen B. - “I am Sheleen Baynes, member and Secretary of Courts Sound Specialists of Laventille Steel Orchestra; entrepreneur, born and raised in Eastern Quarry, Laventille, Trinidad.”


WST - “How and when did you first become involved with Pan?”

Sheleen B. - “I became involved with steel pan at the age of ten years. My grandfather Alson Bruce (deceased), and his best friend (also deceased) - Kelvin “Zuzie” St. Rose - who was the tuner for many bands including Sound Specialists of Laventille, taught me my first song “Blue Moon” by Frank Sinatra, and I fell in love with the instrument since.”


WST - “Over the years you have become one of the more recognized members synonymous with Laventille Sound Specialists Steel Orchestra - tell us about being a woman player in this orchestra.”

Sheleen B. - “Being a female member of Courts Sound Specialists of Laventille is just as being a male player of the orchestra. They do not show favour to the male or female gender; everyone is treated equally across the board and respect runs both ways. But however, I do feel extra protected by the men in the band, because they do look out for the women always.”

Sheleen Baynes
Sheleen Baynes

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

Sheleen B. - “What keeps my passion for the instrument and art form going, is having people walk up to me and express their appreciation for my skills of playing the instrument, having kids wanting to be like me some day and competing, and making my community, family and friends and sponsors proud.”


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

Sheleen B. - “My musical influence after both my grandfather and Mr. St. Rose departed, is Rudo Forteau; I’ve always admired [him] and aspire to be as good a player as he is. I’m also inspired by arrangers Ken Philmore, Seion Gomez, Duvone Stewart, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe and Cary Codrington who showed me that hard work does pay off and practice is important.”


WST - “In your life in Pan, you have had the roles of administrator and player. Talk about the respective roles, how they may complement each other, and if you have a preference?”

Sheleen Baynes
Sheleen Baynes

Sheleen B. - “Being an administrator of the orchestra, I always put myself in the shoes of a regular player. I am always 100% honest and supportive of each member, I like taking care of my players, doing the extra work to ensure that Sound Specialists succeeds as well as keeping our sponsors Courts (Unicomer Limited) proud.”


WST - “In this day and age where people play with multiple bands for Panorama, has this affected Laventille Sound Specialists, and if so - how does the orchestra address this?”

Sheleen B. - “Courts Sound Specialists of Laventille is a community-based orchestra; yes we are affected by persons playing with multiple bands, but not by a wide margin considering that 85% of our members are residents of our community. And they are very loyal Sound Specialists members ‘TRUE and THROUGH’.”


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 or people in general?”

Sheleen B. - “Yes, I’ve had to explain to foreigners about the birth of our national instrument and show them how easy it is to play.”


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

Sheleen B. - “No one ever discouraged me as a woman from being involved with steelpan; instead I was encouraged to continue playing and making my contribution towards keeping this art alive.”


WST - “If you have traveled abroad to perform with the band, share what some of these experiences were like.”

Sheleen B. - “I had the opportunity of travelling abroad with Sound Specialists. My greatest experiences were competing and placing in the top five of the World Steelband Music Festival held in Madison Square Garden, New York, in 2005, and performing for the Vice President and other dignitaries in Abuja, Nigeria. We were the only performers featured on BBC World News in 2011.”


WST - “What is your opinion on the state of Pan in Trinidad & Tobago?”

Sheleen B. - “With regard to the state of Pan in Trinidad and Tobago, I believe that pan players should be given more recognition, respect and more opportunity to use pan as a gateway to form relationships with other countries. We need to realize how much the foreigners are in love with our instrument and we must allow the art to grow internationally.”


WST - “Do you favor any particular genre of music to perform on pan?”

Sheleen B. - “I prefer Calypso music on pan, songs like ‘The Hammer,’ ‘Soca Baptist,’ any Super Blue, Baron, or my favorite Black Stalin.”


WST - “Who is your favorite arranger and why?”

Sheleen B. - “My favorite arranger is Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, though I’ve never played any of his music. There isn’t a Panorama arrangement from him that I can’t sing along [to]. I like the fact that he does original pieces, and the height he takes you to with his arrangements is amazing to me.”


Sheleen Baynes with Sound Specialists of Laventille
Sheleen Baynes with Sound Specialists of Laventille

WST - “What is your favorite Panorama arrangement, and what about it makes it so special for you?”

Sheleen B. - “My favorite Panorama arrangement is Courts Sound Specialists of Laventille’s “Hooked” arranged and composed by Ken Philmore and sung by Destra Garcia. “Hooked” to me was the best performance for Sound Specialists ever in Panorama. Having won the title that year pole to pole. I can remember the pans singing throughout that song “When you get hooked on the music” and hooked is exactly how I felt,  lost in a trance performing to the best of my ability, not caring about the results but enjoying the performance.”


WST - “What are those eight/ten minutes like on stage for you, performing in Panorama?”

Sheleen B. - “For me performing on the Panorama stage is a terrific feeling. I feel proud - I put my all out there for my band, community, sponsors and myself. I love performing, I love the nervous feeling just before the song counts and the confident feeling after I perform my all; it is definitely an amazing feeling.”


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

Sheleen B. - “I would change the fact that there are no longer regional Panoramas. I would like to see each region/zone have their own Panorama.”


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

Sheleen B. - “My proudest moment as a steelpan player is travelling and wearing our national colours proudly and leaving a good impression of Trinidad and Tobago to people abroad.”


Sheleen Baynes

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

Sheleen B. - “What disappoints me the most is the love for the instrument being replaced by money. Some persons only see it as a money venture and they no longer want to practice and play for the love of it.”


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

Sheleen B. - “My advice to other women wanting to join the art form is to push through. Practice hard and do it for the love. Enjoy all the experiences and opportunities that come along with playing and make sure to pass on the talent in order to keep it alive.”


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

Sheleen B. - “Definitely a blessings for me.”


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

Sheleen B. - “To become globally aware.”


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

Sheleen B. - “I would like to see more opportunities to showcase the steelpan outside of the Panorama season.”


WST - “What is next for Ms. Sheleen Baynes?”

Sheleen B. - “To continue playing and teaching others about the steelpan and its possibilities.”


Experience yet Another Facet of Sheleen!

photos provided by Sheleen Baynes


   Sheleen Baynes with Sound Specialists of Laventille during the orchestra’s 2018 Panorama Finals ‘On D Drag’ rehearsal




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