Interview with Debra Sarjeant,
Co-Director, Pan United
is in Dorchester, [New England, next door to] Boston and we are chatting with
Debra Sarjeant one of the co-directors of Pan United... and
When Steel Talks
and thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule.
us about this 5th annual band launching...
[as it gets
darker in the evening, people are pouring into the band launching.]
This is our fifth year as Pan United - Pan United started off with
Charleston and my daughter
Quianna - we all used to play because
I used to arrange for pan for a while -- and they've always been in
the pan yard since they were young. My father is Denzel
Botus... so they wanted to start something and they said it was the
two of them, so it was 'pan united' - and it started from there.
We stated five years ago. Our first couple of years we were at a
different location. And we had a lot of older members - but
right now there are a lot of youth in the band... A lot of the
kids go to Boston Arts Academy which is a music school... Charlie
[Charleston] just graduated from there... We have a lot musical kids...
they are really into pan and into the music and learning about
WST: So what
approximately is the size of Pan United, when it is a stageside?
When it is a stageside... I'd say twelve.
The only competition for steelbands is going to
be the bomb competition for J'ouvert.
WST: How many bands
usually take part in that?
Four bands - so we are going to try and see what we are going to do
How much support can you muster around
J'ouvert time? Do you have a van pulling you guys or do
you have enough people power?
DS: Well - we have a van pulling
us - but we've had people power before - like the first year that we
actually went on the road, the van broke down - so by force we had
people power - and it was fun...
[This year there was no panorama in Boston
however there was a Bomb competition for J'Ouvert... Pan
United Steel Orchestra went on to win 2nd place at that 2005
J'Ouvert with just nine pan players. Other bands competing had
upwards of thirty players, including Branches Steel Orchestra who
reportedly had sixty players.]
WST: Tell us about
your history because I understand that you have won panorama six
times as an arranger... you accomplished the same feat as your
dad Denzel Botus of Despers USA tell us a bit more about 'Debra Sarjeant'...
The first time I arranged I was sixteen years old. I arranged for
this band up here - Branches Steelband. Then I was arranging for
Mystic Vibe which is more like a stageside-type of band - it never
went out on the road. Then in 92' I arranged for Hartford
Steel Symphony and that was the first year I won... Then I
went on and did it for the next six years with the same band.
Then the following year I arranged for Boston Jammers and also won
that year too.
What makes up your year, for instance
you are with Pan United, you're also a teacher -
Yes, I am also a producer - I play keyboards, I sing and produce R&B
music, I have a studio, I have a reggae band
WST: What is the name of the reggae band?
'N Dat"... and I'm the lead singer for
that band and we also incorporate pan into that band - so everything
that I do I try to incorporate the pan into the band.
Do you have any recordings?
Yes, we released a CD last year and we're about to release another CD
And incidentally are there any recordings of Pan United as a stage
Last year we recorded two songs and are trying to come up with some more
songs to do a CD - but we are also working with my father recording
his CD.... and then once carnival season comes
everything gets put aside for that - so once the season is
over we will get back to that...
Let's get back to J'ouvert for a moment. How many members do
you muster for that particular day? and is there a combination of
any other bands with Pan United?
Yes, the band that I used to arrange for, Hartford Symphony - they're
going to be combining with us. What we do is - either me or Charlie
will go down to Hartford for a few days, work with them, while the
other one works up here. And then we all come together.
They're going to come up here like Wednesday...
WST: So you can go
through the material together...
WST: Well Charlie or
Charleston is not here at the moment... Tell us about Charlie, tell
us about Quianna at the same time because they are obviously both in
love with the pan instrument in addition to other instrument
DS: Charlie, since he
was little - maybe four - he was trying to play a keyboard - trying to
play other instruments, he was always in the panyard - first he used
to just 'shadow' moving the right movements with the wrong notes. I think the first time he played was in the New York Panorama.
no. He played the year before in Boston - he finally played when he
was like seven - he started playing bass - and he was always still
playing keyboard. From the time he started playing he knew how to
make his own chords really early. He used arrange little
songs between him and his sister...
WST: He hit the
DS: Yea, he used to
teach her things and they would play songs together... And
really got more into the pan when he was thirteen. And he is really into
Kitchener [the late Aldwyn Roberts, aka
Lord Kitchener] - most teenagers would listen to hip-hop...
If you ask him
[Charlie] the name of any of the latest songs he doesn't know, but he has every
single recording of Kitchener... He is a Kitchener fanatic.
As a matter of fact he plays in this city wide orchestra where he
plays vibes, and he got a chance to arrange a song with the whole big
band/orchestra and he did [Kitchener's] "My Pussin," and they performed at Symphony
Hall. He is very intelligent and focused on his music. And he
actually just got accepted to Berklee College [of Music].... He is doing
good, he's on the right track.
WST: How many
instruments does he play?
DS: He plays vibes,
keyboards, he plays all the pans and he play percussions,
WST: Tell us about
DS: She was always
in the pan yard but started getting into it later than Charlie.
She likes to sing; I sing too. Quianna was Charlie's guinea pig, when
he trying to figure out how to arrange stuff he would have Kiki [Quianna] play
this. She was into it but not as much as Charlie. She
really liked singing. She really got into the pans - I'd
say about five years ago when they started their own Pan
United together. She plays seconds and is her
section leader now. She is very good at pan and also goes to
Boston Arts Academy. She studies music theory there and
vocals. She hasn't been to Trinidad yet. She wants to go and
play in panorama in Trinidad. I have another daughter who plays
in the band as well - Tiara - she plays guitar pan. Tiara has
special needs... but the pan - the music... she can play "Flight
of the Bumble Bee" on the pan, which is not an easy song to play...
she's really into it, sometimes late at night you'll hear her
playing... Charlie does that too - it'll be three o'clock in the
morning, he's under covers with a flashlight in his room playing...
they're all really into the pan because we all have been around it. And
I've always tried to make sure they know about pan and where it
comes from and our culture... they just took off and went from
WST: Quianna's dream
is to play in the Trinidad panorama - has she played in the New York
panorama as yet?
DS: No, she hasn't
played in New York's panorama. But she just wants to go to Trinidad...
but I think she will eventually go to New York.
WST: ... Pan is
essentially your life, where would you like to see pan go - re:
Pan United, and on the
wider global stage?
DS: Well, I would
like people to take pan more seriously. Like some people will
say - is it a steel band or a music band? I say it's the same thing
it's all music, it's an instrument. You know some people don't
take pan as a serious instrument. And it is - you can play
anything on the pan that you can play on any other instrument.
You know - sometime I go and perform and people go "how do you know
where the notes are?" How does a piano player know where the
notes are? So I would like to see people take pan more
seriously. I think is up to us as Trinidadians to take that a
little bit further... A lot of Trinidadians just come out for
pan around carnival time. It's up to us to push it - or
somebody else will. In some ways it is happening, and we've got to stop
that. Pan is a beautiful instrument. Imagine you can
get such beautiful music out of an oil drum.
teach at Roxbury Community College. How much interest is there in
the pan instrument, even though you teach music production on a
DS: On a faculty
level a lot of people 'know' about it, but they don't know much about
it... They think it is a novelty type of instrument. I
brought my pan in a few times demonstrating what you can do.
WST: What about the
students? How do they feel about it?
DS: They are all
interested in it, it is just the 'higher-up people' that are holding
it down. They don't think the kids are going to be
interested - but the kids are interested. I've even had some of
my students come here. It's up to the 'higher-ups' - the people
with the money, and the administration. They're holding it down.
But the students do want to hear more about it.
Contact Pan United by
calling Charleston Sarjeant at 1 (617) 436-1632 or 1 (617)
435-2438 or emailing