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Carnivalitis: The Conflicting Discourse of Carnival


Steelpan , Calypso and the Calypsonian

gets the 2005 New York Pan Party
started with a Bang!

           Date: 06.14.05

Brooklyn, New York -

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Long before the event, pan lovers anxiously check their calendars to ensure that there are no conflicts, and that nothing stands in the way of their being at CrossFire's annual Fundraiser Barbecue. In little more than three years, this event has become the place "to be seen at" if you wish to make any kind of statement regarding your presence for the respective pan season - whether you are pan player, steel orchestra, or band management.  It is the unofficial, yet pivotal launch which opens the floodgates to what always turns out to be an intriguing and eventful summer season of steelpan for the New York pan scene.  Many bands send their musical "messages" that demand reckoning, not merely reasoning, with.

Dem Stars at the launch

Saturday June 11, 2005 was no different.  CASYM, Utopia Pan Soul:  the Next Generation, Harmony, Sonatas, Dem Stars, Sesame Flyers and Pantonic, all turned up to herald the new pan season once more.  Differences in this year's lineup included the absence of Marsicans, CYP and Pan Phoniks, though the latter has merged with Dem Stars for this panorama season, and appeared under the Dem Stars banner at the launch.

Although the flyer touted a 12 midday beginning, (which was probably more relevant to the time the food may have been available from), the first band - Harmony, began to play shortly after 8:00 PM - and only after repeated calls for players to get behind their pans.  As is always the case with all the bands, some youngsters who barely reached their pans the previous year had grown considerably, and cut a different figure at the launch.  Their arranger from last year, Brian Nicholas, was in charge of Harmony's musical mix.  The band pleasantly entertained many patrons who appreciated the musical efforts of the youngsters, especially in their second set.

Dem Stars, sporting their new structure bolstered by their merger with Pan Phoniks, performed next.  The resulting stamp from the combination was evident in both their sessions at the launch.

Sonatas at the launch, with arranger Yohan Popwell, right

The pan-loving audience then gathered around Sonatas, New York's 2004 panorama champions, to hear what they had in store, and were not disappointed.  Sonatas maintained their close relationship with arranger Yohan Popwell who came onboard in 2004, and was with the band at the launch.  Their repertoire, chockfull of Popwell's arrangements, was brand new.  The band's message and musical challenge, especially in their second set - was unmistakable - they have no intentions of relinquishing their championship title.  It was agreed by the majority of people present, that once again, Sonatas had the best sounding instruments in all the bands present, and probably on the New York pan scene.

Utopia Pan Soul:  the Next Generation, at the launch

Utopia Pan Soul:  the Next Generation, was compact but big on talent as always, showcasing daring and innovative selections and arrangements. Never to be underestimated, the band once again give a critical account of themselves, proving that size does not always matter, and that they are unafraid of taking steelpan to the next level.  Under the leadership of Sheldon Elcock, and with arranging talents of both Elcock and co-arranger Curt Rogers in evidence, the pan lovers at the launch lapped up all that the band delivered.

There was an interval thereafter, as the crowd continued to swell, with more pan lovers coming in.  Food and drink was plentiful, and pan lovers had their choices, with some going back for seconds.  Once again, it is apparent that this format of a pan launch works for the management of CrossFire, though it is a huge undertaking.  At most other launches, there is a suggested donation at the door which is collected before pan lovers are allowed entry.  For those who cannot afford, or choose not, to pay - the other option is to "hang-out" on the periphery, which usually draws unnecessary attention to the event.  Sonatas' annual band launch is the other well-attended event, and is also free (it is held on their block, which is shut down for that purpose).

At CrossFire, everyone came inside, mingled, and patronized as freely as they could afford at the fundraiser. The CrossFire management personnel and players were courteous and around to ensure that their guests and artists were comfortable.  Hugs, kisses and handshakes continued to be exchanged all around, as old acquaintances were renewed for yet another year.  Pan Trinbago's Patrick Arnold, in town for the upcoming World Steelband Music Festival, was present along with promoter Derrick Noel, also involved with festival arrangements. 

Joey Horsford, left, and Albert 'Bing' Reid, right

Marsicans' bandleaders Albert "Bing" Reid, and Joey Horsford, drew When Steel Talks aside to go on record and firmly squash rumors circulating about the band's status.  "We want everyone to know that Marsicans is alive and kicking, and coming as strong as ever, if not stronger, for 2005" declared Reid.  "There is absolutely no truth in what people are saying, those that are going around proclaiming that Marsicans 'mash-up',"  adding "please let our supporters know."

Brian 'Bean' Griffith, left, and Martin Douglas, right

CrossFire's manager and main organizer of the popular band launching, Martin Douglas, worked hard as always taking care of business, with all his additional support.  He did however find time to pose briefly for a picture with his band's arranger Brian "Bean" Griffith, who also took care of music business for the band in 2004.

When it was time for the steelband music to resume after the brief break, to the surprise of many present, Harmony started up for a second set, followed again by Dem Stars.  Some patrons had assumed that the other bands who had not performed as yet would have been next.  These patrons grumbled audibly at not being able to hear them at that point, especially as they were set up to play.   Some left in disgust with children in tow, because it was now later into the night.  At this juncture, yet to play for even the first time were Sesame Flyers, CASYM and Pantonic, and all awaited their turn.  It appeared that two of these bands had been set up and ready to perform.

Sesame Flyers at the launch

After Dem Stars, Sesame Flyers seized their chance to play.  They had a small representation, but were not at all inhibited in their performance.  Their set was a bit shorter than that of the other bands but nonetheless, the band's interpretation of Andy Akiho's arrangements was well-received by all of the pan lovers who encircled the band.

Sonatas then struck up their second set, followed by Pantonic, who were entertaining the audience for the first time, with CASYM ready but relegated to last position.

Harmony at the launch

Perhaps next year CrossFire management can maintain order by conveying to bands clear-cut guidelines beforehand - such as they are to perform once only, and for a pre-determined amount of time, and that second sets would be in order only if other bands were not present or ready to play, which was not the case on Saturday.  Certainly this rule of thumb could be under consideration, if only in fairness to the music lovers who come out, some with their families, to enjoy not only the evening, but mainly the music of as many steelbands as possible.  Many people in the crowd could even be heard commenting that this was not the first time that this chain of events had transpired at a CrossFire band launch.

Pantonic at the launch

Maybe the management of CrossFire may wish to consider that with a minimum of six bands usually performing, generally for no shorter than forty-five minutes each, an earlier start is advisable. But it is not only CrossFire management who can contribute to an overall improvement in time-management.  A few bands  were actually set up on Saturday, and some pan players present but very few patrons were on hand to perform for.  It is obviously a somewhat sensitive balance, with responsibility on the parts of all concerned.

In the end, it appears unfair to many pan lovers who gathered for the opportunity to hear all the bands at least once, to leave disgruntled, especially those who were there long before 8:00 PM when the first band began to play.  For some, this is the only pan launch that they actually get around to attending.  Even When Steel Talks left the event around 2:55 AM, when Pantonic was into their first set. Unfortunately, CASYM had yet to play and when they did perform, at that time the vast majority of the pan lovers had left.

But for the record, the CrossFire Fundraiser and Barbecue was definitely the place to be on Saturday if you were a pan lover.  When Steel Talks chatted with a couple of people who almost missed the launch, thinking it was scheduled for Sunday, but caught themselves in time and made it out in the late evening.  Then again, WST bumped into a few others the next day who were kicking themselves for not being aware that the launch was on in the first place and therefore missed the event entirely.

After all is said and done - it's still hats off to the entire CrossFire team, management and players, for graciously hosting another spectacular, popular (and delicious!) otherwise well-organized event, where people of all ages, from the babies to the elders in the pan community, can meet and indulge in a safe and classy steelpan affair.  And we can't wait for 2006!!

 Basement Press Corp.
2005 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved

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2005 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved