Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer (center) takes in
Five Alive Contest at MOP 2006
Antigua and Barbuda
- Let's be totally honest here. How many Heads of State can
honestly say that they listen to pan music religiously or
even say they love steelpan music? How many Heads of State
will actually take in steelpan shows because they really want
to be there? Is there any Head of State who can call themselves a
panman or a panwoman? One in Antigua & Barbuda can.
In fact, the current prime minister of Antigua & Barbuda, the
Honorable Baldwin Spencer once served as the president
of the Antiguan Steelband Association. The Prime Minster
of Antigua & Barbuda is unapologetic about his passion and support of
the steelpan movement and music. Mr. Spencer has often
blended in with his countrymen in an unassuming and unannounced capacity, taking
in a pan show such as
When Steel Talks (WST) experienced at
Moods of Pan Festival on this pan weekend.
Antigua has and continues to play a significant role in
the development of the steelpan music instrument.
In fact, Antigua can proudly boast of being the first in
many critical areas of steelpan. Among the
Antiguan's 'firsts' is -- the first steelband association,
the first steelband recording, the first steelband
publication, the first steelband to win a steelband
competition, the first steelband to travel to New York.
In 1948 Antigua formed the world's
first steelband association.
Ivan "Jones" Edwards was the first President. This
organization was formed to challenge and protect
the steelbands from the hostility they suffered from the
plantation owners and the middle class professionals who
feared the steelbands, because they had the ability to
mobilize the masses and moreover challenge their
authority to rule. The middle class professionals
were known for turning loose their dogs on marching
The Antigua Steelband
Association released The Steel Band Herald, the
newspaper of the association in December 1949,
making it by default, the first
steelband news publication. In this edition,
according to Antiguan scholar and historian Leonard Tim
Hector, the paper "called for an end to Colonialism, and
saw colonialism as the root of all evils which afflicted
steelbands and society in general. It was a new
departure in point of view." There were steelbands in every village in
Antigua. Those like Hells Gate, Red Army and
Brute Force were much more than music groups - as they were often at
the head of many demonstrations and marches leading the
charge for [political and social] change.
The first Steelband recording
ever was done by an Antiguan Steelband in 1952 on the Cook
label. The first steelband to travel to New York
was the legendary Brute Force Steelband out of Antigua.
The first steelband competition in the
world - ever - was organized in St. Thomas, with
Antigua's Hells Gate
steel orchestra emerging the winners. The first calypso
competition in Antigua had steelband accompaniment.
Lord Black Shirt won the calypso competition in 1952
while being accompanied by Hells Gate.
recent trip to Antigua
Talks visited the
country's leading radio station
Observer Radio 91.1 FM,
which offers a daily steelpan music show six days a week as
part of its programming. In an on-air chat
with the show's host this past Sunday,
WST experienced first hand the passion and knowledge the
Antiguans and Barbudans have about their pan music and pan
history. One caller to the show informed
when Brute Force Steelband (at the time one of Antigua's
leading bands) landed in New York, they were stopped at
Customs and refused entry into the US because the
customs agents had never seen steelpan instruments.
When informed that they were instruments, the
customs agents (who did not believe them) instructed them
to prove it. Brute Force performed for them and the
rest is, as they say, history. They were allowed
entry and became the first
steelband to ever travel to New York.