Nigeria - the land of PANLAND
an initiative of Xcel Steel Orchestra
Nigeria - Panland is an entity owned and created by the Xcel Steelband in Nigeria, as a response to miscellaneous needs which arose through the activities of Xcel. Xcel was formed by Bowei Sonnei Bowei in February of 2001. Before that, the only existing steelband was that of the Nigerian army.
Xcel Steelband's repertoire includes an assortment of music including their native juju, fuji, highlife, gospel, calypso, jazz, country, reggae and classics, and whenever Xcel performed, they were asked about audio/CD recordings. To accommodate these requests, Sonnei Bowei developed the idea of setting up a small recording studio so that they could fulfill that need. After acquiring about an acre of land, with the space available to them they now began to think in terms of expanding in other areas relating to the steelband. New instruments would be required, so they added a pan factory to their list of "should have's." Chroming of front line instruments was extremely expensive for the band, so that too became part of the Panland line-up. Now, Panland boasts of the ability to chrome even full bass pans. Rounding out the list of services at Panland is a training school. In a nutshell, Panland has a steelpan training school, a steeldrum factory and an electroplating plant for chroming steeldrums. Panland also accommodates a digital and analog studio big enough to take a steel band. It also houses a visual studio from where a TV programme, PAN AROUND DE WORLD would be aired very soon. The official commissioning of Panland is scheduled for later on this year.
Back in 1977, Olusegun Obasanjo was the military head of state who was responsible for bringing Trinidad and Tobago's Starlift Steel Orchestra to Nigeria to participate in FESTAC (the Festival of Arts and Culture). Today, Obasanjo is Nigeria's president; however that almost twenty-nine year old nexus does not mean that the steelpan art form actually registers on the national agenda of Nigeria. Much time has passed, and priorities and areas of focus and interest differ now.
Xcel Steelband's founder Sonnei Bowei (pictured at right) says that since 2001, he has been trying to encourage the establishment of as many steel orchestras in Nigeria as possible. Presently he is working on a project involving the setting up of a steel orchestra for the Nigerian Navy. This appears to be an autonomous decision of top navy personnel, and came about after the navy saw Xcel perform, sent their own people for training and expressed an interest in having their own steel orchestra. Bowei indicated that an all-female gospel orchestra is also in the works.
The previous military steelband, that of the Nigerian army, got its start out of the 1977 FESTAC. At this event, different countries displayed their culture, and Trinidad and Tobago showcased the steel orchestra - Starlift. Rather than traveling with unwieldy steelpan instruments for the entire orchestra, and incurring the cost of shipping, it was decided that the pans Starlift would use for the festival would be manufactured in Nigeria.
Arrangements were made to use the facilities of the Nigerian Army Band Corps Headquarters in Lagos for this task. After the festival, the steelpan instruments were left behind with the army, and this led to them eventually dispatching about nine soldiers for training on how to play these new instruments that were now in their possession. Upon their return they set up the Nigerian Army Steelband, which was the only steel orchestra in existence in Nigeria until 2001 when the Xcel Steelband came into being.
However, outside of military activities and events, the Nigerian army was not really active in the years that followed their formation. Many of the general population in Nigeria did not even know of the existence of the army steelband. It is this aspect of the steelpan art form in Nigeria that Sonnei Bowei looks forward to changing. According to him, the greatest challenge that Panland faces, is expanding awareness of the steelpan instrument since the country is naturally fertile ground for such a cultural outreach. Interestingly enough, there are only three pan tuners in Nigeria - two are with the Nigerian army, and the other is Sonnei Bowei himself.
Bowei Sonnei Bowei looks forward to the growing exposure of Xcel Steelband, and also the role of Panland throughout Nigeria and Africa as a whole. He foresees the facilities and services offered by Panland as having critical impact on the steelpan landscape throughout the African continent, via performances, the exporting of instruments and training.
C. Phillips, Basement
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