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Date: 10.13.06             

Members of the Steelband Community celebrate Carifesta IX and Feature Historical Highlights of The Steelband Movement
 

In Pictures

 

Port-of-Spain, Trinidad - Members of the steelband community again were part of the Carifesta IX celebrations when an event featuring both the voices of pan and its Elders, simultaneously hosted visiting members of the Jamaican Carifesta IX contingent.  The venue was the panyard of Renegades Steel Orchestra in Port-of-Spain.

The community fest was slated to begin at 5:00 PM, and many people were milling around beforehand; the stageside steel orchestras who would be playing during the evening were putting things in place for their respective performances.   Veteran pan musicians, there in the beginning when Renegades steel orchestra decided on its name, were now considered 'Elders' (pictured right)  and they too were present for the upcoming mini-dialogue on the band's history, which was a key item on the event's agenda.  In the meantime though, they roamed around the panyard, renewing acquaintances with others who they had not seen in some time.  It proved the perfect time for When Steel Talks (WST) to have a quick one-on-one with Renwick 'Rico' Alexander, one of the founding members of Renegades.  Rico (below left, in red) told WST  he had been all of fourteen years old at the time.  He added that though the band's name was officially acquired around 1947 or 1948, he emphasized that they 'used to play pan before that, since 1945' - just not as Renegades.  Now in his seventies, Rico remained a tenor player with the band until a few years ago, and later enjoyed taking a picture beside one the band's current tenor players as they performed.  Another founding member, Newton James (below center), also took time out for a few moments with WST.

Before the formal start of the event, Harlem Syncopators Steel Orchestra (above right), one of the featured bands for the evening, and with several young pannists in its line-up along with the adults, had already been in the spotlight.  Led by Daisy McClean they performed several selections, including Roberta Flack's classic The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.  Now they officially opened the program with the national anthem.  Hostess for the evening and Desperadoes Public Relations Officer, Folade Mutota, welcomed all to the event.  As part of her address, Ms. Mutota (right) shared with the audience the concept and details behind the evening's program. 

"...Within Carifesta IX activities, there have been several community festivals held throughout the country; if you're talking Laventille, you're talking East Port-of-Spain, and then you're definitely talking pan.  Members of the organizing committee for the Laventille community Festival thought that it would be a fitting tribute to the contribution that Laventille has made to the panworld, if they were to have a major steelband body [presence] [at the Laventille edition of the community festivals] for Carifesta IX.  And to go a little bit further, we thought it would be very, very useful to all of us, to ensure and use this perfect opportunity to document some aspects of the evolution of pan in the East Dry River area." 

"...Later on - there will be a discussion among pan elders who will talk about how the steelband evolved in the East Port-of-Spain area, chronicling the journey since the 1940s, and how it has influenced the movement since then, up to present day, and its enduring legacy, and how it continues to move today's steelbands and pannists to higher and higher levels."   Before she closed, Ms. Mutota again welcomed and thanked everyone present, including the communities of Laventille and East Dry River, and then singled out for special mention, the visiting members of the Jamaican contingent in Trinidad for Carifesta.

Host band Renegades Steel Orchestra (below left) was called upon to perform for the benefit of the Jamaicans before they were to take their leave. The band's musicians obliged, and delivered a music set that had the visitors at some point taking their place in front of the band and dancing away. Then the contingent took it one step further:  the ladies and gentlemen became 'Stars' or more specifically 'Jamaican All Stars' (below center) for a few minutes, as they took up positions behind the instruments of Trinidad All Stars (below right) which had been set up in readiness for the band's performance later that evening. The Jamaicans playfully emulated pan players for a few moments, before taking their leave.

The mini-dialogue featuring the Pan Elders included Newton James, Joseph Reid, Rudy Marshall, Kelvin Brown and Renwick 'Rico' Alexander among others.  Some of those present took the opportunity to individually share with the audience, the band history as they had experienced and remembered it.  Also present was Tokyo pan elder Herbert Sam de Suze, who was well equipped with pictures and newspaper clippings to support the information he documented.  When one person made mention of a key fact, the others would join in, adding quick words to further emphasize the point.  One of the more colorful characters taking part in the discussion was Rupert 'Little Axe' Mader (pictured standing, left).  One of his declarations that stood out in the discussion was "when yuh cut one ah we, yuh cut ALL ah we!"   Ms. Folade Mutota would agree later on, and further develop that theme while chatting with WST.  She said that if you spoke to Desperadoes, they told you the very same thing, and had "this 'one for all, all for one'" [attitude] - which came from the African people.  Joining the Elders briefly toward the end of the discussion was Stephanie Simon, niece of the late Winston 'Spree' Simon.

There was valuable information imparted by the Elders; unfortunately a two-fold factor made the majority of what they said inaudible to even those in very close proximity.  They were seated near the refreshment area, and subsequently the people present in that locale were not interested in the presentation, being there rather for the 'lime' and the actual pan music.  The discussion was broadcast live on local radio, and it is hoped that since the Elders were directly miced, that the radio audience fared better than those in the pan yard who tried in vain to hear what was being said. 

WST  caught up with Ms. Mutota sometime afterward to get her thoughts on the panel discussion.  The Desperadoes PRO found that one of the first things that struck her, was the similarity of the sagas of how the steel orchestras came by their names - such as Desperadoes and Renegades.  She recounted what had a short while before, been said by the Elders of Renegades.  "They [pan players] went to a cinema show that included 'Renegades' in the film's name; 'when they came out of the cinema, they said on that day, 'this [Renegades] is going to be our name.'  The story was very similar to that of Desperadoes, but Ms. Mutota went on to state that it was not only that they [the bands] got their names from a movie, but that in both cases they said as they came out of the movie house, the decision was made.  In Desperadoes' case, the players 'went back up on the hill, sat down on the steps', and said 'from this day on...,'" explained Ms. Mutota who went on to say that the band has been planning to documenting its history.

But there was another aspect that stood out in her mind from the discussion that evening - the names.  "One of them [the Renegades Elders] said the first captain was Yankee Boy; but somehow Yankee Boy did not seem to have what they were looking for [in a captain] in a band like that, so he was replaced, with a man named Cecil Dead!  And I think that the names gave a sense of the character of the band(s) at that time."  Ms. Mutota also noted that once Elders get together and begin talking, one realizes the connections between the bands.  When Herbert Sam de Suze (right), the only Elder present hailing from Tokyo Steel Orchestra, pulled out a picture from the set he had brought with him to illustrate his points in the discussion, but relative to Tokyo, Ms. Mutota said she realized then that the picture was one of two Desperadoes men!  "There were always those connections between the bands, and you can see [that] from the time they begin talking about their history when they're together!"

For this community festival, everyone in Renegades' pan yard enjoyed mega doses of pan music from all the bands present including Harlem Syncopators (who played earlier in the evening), and Trinidad All Stars who included in their set such favorites as Footprints, Tequila, Imagine and Craw Fish.  When it was the turn of the Tokyo Youths Steel Orchestra (left), they kicked off with a great rendition of Toto's Africa, and later on in their set also played When Somebody Loves You Back and To Sir With Love.  One of the senior members of Harlem Syncopators introduced their leader, Daisy McClean to WST.  He said he was very pleased with the performance of the band's young pannists, and added that they were continually urged to play at any chance that presented itself.  "We've got a repertoire that rivals that of any of the big bands," he proudly declared in ending.

As WST departed Renegades' pan yard, it was to the sounds of Trinidad All Stars as they played on into the night with a crowd of music lovers around them, lapping up one selection after another.  It was an event with a difference, the Laventille edition in the round of Carifesta IX Community Festivals hosted at Renegades pan yard.  With the historic timeline laid down by the pan elders, and the performances from the steel orchestras, it had been 'edutainment' to the max.

Community Event in Pictures


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