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Sonatas performing at CrossFire's Launch

The CrossFire steel  orchestra annual  barbeque/launch is traditionally New York's opening salvo into the Steelband season.  A who's who in pan - as almost everyone of steelpan note is there, critiquing and comparing notes on any and every aspect of Steelband music-related to the participating bands' performances.  It is the place where bands send early messages to each other, as they jockey to shape favorable public opinion, and gain a psychological edge, that they expect to carry over into the panorama championship competition.  Each band is expected to produce a new and varied musical repertoire that touches multiple genres of popular music - usually rap, R&B, reggae, jazz in addition to soca and calypso offerings. 

New York's reigning panorama champions Sonatas Steel Orchestra let it be known loud and clear, that all roads to the 2005 NY steelband panorama championship will go through them.  Moreover they are more than just a panorama steelband.

Sonatas - At this annual CrossFire Steel orchestra barbecue/launch Sonatas reminded the world why they are the champions with a spirited and deft performance of a varied repertoire that highlighted the arranging talents of their arranger their Yohan Popwell.  As one senior Sonatas official put it "we have great instruments, very good players, an arranger that eats, sleeps and breathes music, and the kids love him. We are good to go."  The enthusiastic and fiery performance was clearly appreciated by the steelpan enthusiasts and Sonatas' fans present.


Dem Stars - The public got a first real glimpse of the revamped Dem Stars fueled with an infusion of players from Pan Phoniks Steel Orchestra.  Steelband mergers are always tricky and potentially volatile.  However, based on what we saw and heard from Dem Stars, it works for them.  The band's repertoire included fresh new tunes that were different in musical colors and arrangements than those we have previously become accustomed to hearing from this music ensemble.


Harmony - These young people continue to grow musically.  They have a good crowd following who showed them much support at this show.  In addition to their youth and enthusiasm their repertoire now includes more complex arrangements.  Kudos to Harmony for the strides they are making with arranger Brian Nicholas at their helm.  A particular crowd-pleaser from this band, was their rendition of John Legend's recent hit Ordinary People.

Utopia Pan Soul - In lots of ways they stole the show.  Innovative and daring, Utopia kept the audience captivated with their off-colored harmonies.  Their performance clearly moved the audience.   While the group is small, they are efficient and adept with the musicians they have.



Sesame Flyers  This band went through varied and enjoyable musical movements, much to the appreciation of the crowd.  Bob Marley's Pimper's Paradise was especially well-handled by Sesame Flyers' small contingent.  Arranger Andy Akiho was present, and alternated on the tenor pan and percussion.  Of special note is the band's young but extremely talented drummer - Keith Marcelle, Jr.  Already and accomplished pan player, Keith has moved on to now anchoring the band firmly as they move forward.


Pantonic Just when you thought it was over.  The old champions reminded us why they are one of the most respected steelband operations in the country.  Following Sonatas' heated performance - rather than match fire with fire, Pantonic took the audience on a journey with a measured but deliberate pace.  Musical stops included classics from the past to this year's soca hits.  Arranger Keith Roberts has placed his stamp on the group as the band sound is now well established.  In spite of their young age, Pantonic is indeed made up of seasoned musicians who know how to apply their craft.  For anyone concerned as to how they would rebound from last year's dethroning, that's the key - that was last year.


CASYM - Unfortunately When Steel Talks did not get to hear them because of our deadline.  However the group was present and waiting to play even though it was already into the wee hours of the morning.





Again congratulations to CrossFire for hosting another great season opener.  The members of CrossFire worked hard as always to pull this off.  A performance invitation to this launch is one of the hottest tickets for steelbands in North America.  The organizers can soon expect to be approached by bands nationally, if not, additionally, internationally, who wish to vie for the chance to make their musical statements.

Event organizer and CrossFire's president,  Martin Douglas (right)
with band arranger Brian "Bean" Griffith (left)

The wisdom of CrossFire in allowing free entry into the launch, was a move of genius, as they ensure a mammoth crowd who willingly patronize their event.  It allows young pan players and others who cannot necessarily afford entry fees, the opportunity to still socialize and support the pan fraternity.  At the same time, many patrons generously support CrossFire's fundraising goals by purchasing barbecues and other items.

However, management will now have to take full control of the performance order and guidelines in the future, as there were many disappointed and annoyed pan fans who did not get to see all the bands perform.  A pre-arranged schedule with specific time slots and time allotments for each band is now mandatory.  This is the responsibility of CrossFire because of consecutive successes, in what is widely regarded as the premier band launch of any panorama season.

Despite logistical challenges, ruffled feathers and what has been interpreted by some as insensitive behavior on the part of some participants, it was the place to be.   Nobody ever said that the New York pan scene was a piece of cake, but it rallies on.

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