Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

 

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Meet Chantal Esdelle - Trinidad & Tobago

“I am most proud about being the first female and youngest panist to win the Pan is Beautiful pan festival solo competition in 1992.”

“I am most saddened by the legacy of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade which obscures our ability to remember our goodness and interrupt any mistreatment of our fraternity, music and instrument because of its association with the working class and with African people.”  --- Chantal Esdelle

Although she is a scholar, an intellect and a deep thinker  with many awards she remains humble.  Indeed, it is her deep roots, knowledge of self and conscious awareness of who we are as a people amongst her vast accomplishments - that make her so special. She is a Trinidad and Tobago treasure.

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - the panist, ethnomusicologist, musician composer, arranger and educator gives us an honest glimpse into who she is - her observations and concerns along with her love and unrestrained passion for  the culture, history, steelpan instrument, its music, the art form and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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

Chantal E. - “I feel as though I have always known about pan. My dad played with Highlanders in the  late fifties/early sixties; Ronald Esdelle (Chakos/Chakal) - and my mum Glenda Esdelle functioned as PRO of All Stars for some time. I was first introduced to playing it at Pan Pipers Music School where the founder and principal, Louise McIntosh used the instrument to engender cultural pride and hone ensemble playing.  I studied at her music school from age four to eighteen achieving honours in Royal Schools Piano (grade VIII), voice (grade VIII), and theory (grade VII) and accolades at Pan Festivals and Music Festivals before heading to Berklee College of Music.  At Berklee my principal instrument was piano but I did numerous gigs with my tenor pan, particularly with Ron Reid’s Sun Steel.  My Masters’ thesis at York was informed by my experience as a member of the steelband fraternity.  “In Our House: The Realization of Self through sound in Clive Bradley’s Musical Arrangement of the Calypso “In My House” for the Desperadoes Steel Orchestra.””


WST - “You are an organizer, an ethnomusicologist, performing artist, educator, steelpan player, jazz pianist. Which role defines you best? Which role do you like the most?”

Chantal E. - “I define myself as a musician because all of those things are me. Studying the role of music informs how I play. My experience as a pianist informs how I learn on the pan. My love for music informs the attention I place on sharing my craft as an educator, my dedication to channeling our experience in the New World motivates me to compose, for my band, for film and, when I have had the honour, for pan. I organise because I find it necessary to do so to create the space for me and my peers to do all of the above.  This has resulted in my loving my role as leader and pianist of the Caribbean Jazz Group, Chantal Esdelle and Moyenne, enjoying composing and recording my original work, cherishing my membership in Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, relishing my private teaching practice, enjoying my artistic direction of the Ethnic Jazz Club and the EJC’s Jazz studio, appreciating my underscore contribution to Mariel Brown’s films and priding my academic writing, one area I hope to do more in.”


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

Chantal E. - “My favourite arranger is Clive Bradley. His orchestration, chord voicing, song development, storytelling are unmatched. He is also a great example of the golden thread that connects the calypso and its development on the steelpan, having been a significant calypso and steelpan arranger. Most of the calypsos I love and arrangements I dream of are of his making. Nelson’s “Liar” and “Disco Daddy” immediately come to mind for the calypso and “In My House”, “Rebecca”, “Sailing” and “Party Tonight” come to mind as arrangements.”


Chantal Esdelle and Moyenne
Chantal Esdelle and Moyenne

WST - “Who are your musical influences?”

Chantal E. - “As musicians and for the role that they have played as musical activists in the region I recognise Andre Tanker, Chucho Valdez, Earl Rodney, Papo Luca, Clive Bradley as my influences. As my personal instructors I recognise Louise McIntosh (piano and pan) and Joslynne Sealey (voice) as my musical influences.”


WST - “What are your feelings on the embracing of popular tunes by the large bands for Panorama?”

Chantal E. - “Natural. It has been the dominant trend in Panorama’s near-six-decade history. There was a slight deviation for a decade or so, and so we have returned to the state in which pan enforces the songs of the season.”


WST - “What is the greatest challenge facing this current generation of steelband musicians from both an educator’s perspective, and that of a player?”

Chantal Esdelle and Desperadoes
Chantal Esdelle

Chantal E. - “As someone who is not a member of this current generation I can notice that one drawback for today’s young panists is how much their creativity and playing is centered around Panorama. It has stunted their exploration of harmony, improvisation and playing technique. Panists of my era, Herbert, Stewart, Teague, Joseph (Natasha), Sheppard, Marcelle (Curtis), Sobers, and many others benefited from adapting music for festivals, transcribing solos for Pan Ramajay and performing extensively throughout the year with numerous small ensembles. The size of the Panorama ensemble also lends itself to a certain measure of anonymity which makes it difficult for the new wave of panists to receive named recognition.”


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

Chantal E. - “My understanding of myself as an African Heritage person in the Americas makes it fundamental that I continue the tradition of marking, representing and recording our hiStory through sound. I am motivated by this.”


WST - “You play the pan and piano. Are there any other instruments you play?”

Chantal E. - “As a young person I played the flute in orchestra. I also had classical voice training. As an adult, however, piano and pan are my staples.”


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

Chantal E. - ““In Pan” describes so many things. For me I would focus on changing the economics of Carnival so that the people who produce the music, especially players, benefit more from the product. As it stands, service providers of everything from transport to pyrotechnics make more than the artists.”


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

Chantal E. - “I am most proud about being the first female and youngest panist to win the Pan is Beautiful pan festival solo competition in 1992.”


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

Chantal E. - “I am most saddened by the legacy of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade which obscures our ability to remember our goodness and interrupt any mistreatment of our fraternity, music and instrument because of its association with the working class and with African people.”



Chantal the composer and deep thinker
Chantal the composer and deep thinker

WST - “Do you believe women are finally getting the acknowledgment and opportunities they deserve?”

Chantal E. - “No.”


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?”

Chantal E. - “Stop dreaming, act. Do what you understand you were sent here to do.”


Chantal Esdelle - 1992 Joint National Champion Pan Soloist with Liam Teague at Pan is Beautiful VI at the National Steelband Music Festival.
Chantal Esdelle - 1992 Joint National Champion Pan Soloist with Liam Teague at Pan is Beautiful VI at the National Steelband Music Festival.

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Chantal E. - “A steelband carnival activity.”


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

Chantal E. - “Neither. It becomes limiting when it is the only thing that a band focuses on for carnival.”


WST - “As an educator and an ethnomusicologist what have you learned from approaching music the Trinidadian way?”

Chantal E. - “Holding your own at the centre keeps you grounded and distinguishes your sound as a performer, composer and writer.”


WST - “There has been a concerted effort on your part to bring attention to the great musical works by standout artists of Trinidad and Tobago. Ella Andall, Clive “Zanda” Alexander, André Tanker to name a few who come to mind. What is the reason of this under-appreciation of these musical, cultural and performing arts giants?”

Chantal E. - “When playing standards or arranging standards, particularly for my jazz group Chantal Esdelle and Moyenne, we focus on Trinidad and Tobago’s anthology and our originals because this is the music that represents us and forms a solid base for our improvisation and musical story telling.”

Chantal Esdelle
Chantal Esdelle

WST - “What is the future of Pan Jazz?”

Chantal E. - “I hope that it remains an important part of Trinidadian expression and continues to be enjoyed by both participants - musicians and audiences alike.”


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

Chantal Esdelle - with Desperadoes Steel Orchestra
Chantal Esdelle - with Desperadoes Steel Orchestra

Chantal E. - “One vision I would like to project is the use of the steelpan in all aspects of Carnival performance. There are many instances where a steelband section (two tenors, a double tenor, a double second) can be as effective as a brass section or even more so.”


WST - This past Panorama you provided excellent commentary on TTT (Trinidad & Tobago Television) for the broadcast. How was that experience and can we expect more of you in the broadcast booth in the future?”

Chantal E. - “I loved it. And I am overjoyed that so many people appreciated the commentary. I hope that I am invited to give voice to the steelband fraternity during Panorama in the form of colour commentary during carnival again next year.”


More on Chantal Esdelle



photos provided by Chantal Esdelle-facebook



 
   Chantal Esdelle performing at Bloom Concert




Their Story, Their Voice, Their Life, Their Dreams - click for more stories

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