Men in Steel

Meet Jelani Cielto -  Panist Extraordinaire

A When Steel Talks Exclusive
GB -special contributor

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Is Jelani Cielto a special talent?  Absolutely.  He also has that type of gift that makes a very select few see partial differential equations as child’s play.   Blessed with the innate ability of a photographic memory, he has used his gift to play in multiple steel orchestras during the annual national Panorama season.  This has become a point of focus.  In a When Steel Talks exclusive - performing artist and panist extraordinaire Jelani Cielto - an individual of few words - gets his points of view across very succinctly, while leaving no doubt about the depth of his passion for the instrument, in this interview.

WST - “Tell us about Jelani Cielto?”

Jelani Cielto with his Mom
Jelani Cielto with his Mom

Jelani C. - “Well there ain’t much to tell about Jelani; I’m a cool, down-to-earth guy but when it comes to my pan I make sure I enjoy it. That’s my approach to life.”

WST - “When and how did you first become aware of the steelpan instrument?”

Jelani C. - “It was when I moved to St. Ann’s. I was about 10 and I wanted a reason to be outside. There was a panside right downstairs where I lived named Bar 22. Prior to that I was always around pan because of my father, Gregory Bowrin.  He played with Phase II.”

WST - “Do you have perfect pitch and/or a photographic memory?”

Jelani C. - “I am sure I don’t have perfect pitch, but I have a photographic memory.”

WST - “What’s your secret to committing a Panorama tune to memory?”

Jelani C. - “Maths. It’s kind of hard to explain; I don’t think I even fully understand, but it has to do with number sequence.”

WST - “On average, how long does it take you to learn an arrangement?”

Jelani C. - “Relatively quick but it depends on the difficulty of the arrangement.”

WST - “Are you able to remember songs from a few years ago?”

Jelani C. - “For sure. Sometimes for a laugh, I would play an arrangement from ten years ago and the arranger would watch in disbelief.”

WST - “Do you have a favorite pan?”

Jelani C. - “Believer it or not Bass is my favorite pan but I’m mainly a frontline or quads player.”

WST - “What do you practice daily?”

Jelani C. - “I don’t practice outside of Panorama but I recently started running my hand now and then.”

WST - “Do you also improvise, or arrange?”

Jelani C. - “Sometimes, but I enjoy playing more, to be honest.”

Jelani Cielto (at right) in full flight with Silver Stars Steel Orchestra
Jelani Cielto (at right) in full flight with Silver Stars Steel Orchestra

WST - “Do you prefer any specific genre of music on Pan?”

Jelani C. - “Nope, music is universal.”

WST - “Outside Panorama, what are your musical interests?”

Jelani C. - “Just playing and enjoying sweet music.”

WST - “What is your most memorable experience in Pan?”

Jelani C. - “2009; helping the band I grew into the player I am today—Silver Stars—win their first large band Panorama victory.”

  Jelani Cielto performs in the front line with Silver Stars Steel Orchestra - 2009 Panorama victory

WST - “Initially, what was the general opinion of your family, friends and community, regarding your involvement in and love for, the steelband art form in your early days? Did you always have their support?”

Jelani C. - “Yes I did, because the first band was heavily community-based and my dad was a panman so I had the support.”

WST - “What is a “crackshot” to you?  And do you find that tag an insult or a compliment?”

Jelani C. - “Lol, it’s amusing; I’ve been referred to as one. They use the term to define someone who can take and execute a song in a limited amount of time, although now the term is being used rather loosely.”

WST - “If one band was willing to pay what you are truly worth as a stellar musician - meaning, for example, you are paid the cost of playing with, say, six orchestras, but - a single band is paying you that overall fee (six orchestras’ worth of fees) - would you refuse the other offers?”

Jelani C. - “Ummm, this one is ticklish because so many of my friends are arrangers so I try to help them out, but it would be nice to be paid what you are worth.”

WST - “Do you get a thrill from playing in multiple bands or is it simply business?”

Jelani C. - “I enjoy every arrangement I play.  It’s interesting watching everyone’s different approach.”

WST - “Which player most represents your approach to pan? [Michael] Jordan, Kobe [Bryant], LeBron [James]?”

Jelani C. - “Kobe Bryant.”

WST - “Since at times you are technically competing against yourself - what does the concept of “winning” mean to you? Can you (personally) ever truly feel the joy of a win?”

Jelani C. - “When you dedicate time and effort into trying to perfect your craft, of course you enjoy the win.”

WST - “How are you recruited? Who contacts whom?”

Jelani C. - “Band members or leaders contact players most times.”

WST - “How is the price set for the services of a crackshot? Are some crackshots worth more than others, and if so, are they financially rewarded in that manner?”

Jelani C. - “Some are paid more but it still doesn’t compensate.”

Jelani Cielto
Jelani Cielto

WST - “You have a beautiful young daughter who just turned two. Has her presence changed your perspective on your involvement in Pan?”

Jelani C. - “Yes it has. I would like for her to have it easier and to be rewarded better as a panist.”

WST - “Would you dissuade her (your daughter) from being involved in Pan if she developed your skillet at an early age?”

Jelani C. - “Never,  I would be her biggest supporter.”

WST - “Do you think it is time for there to be a union that represents the interest of the players?”

Jelani C. - “Yes, once their head is in the right place.”

WST - “Do you have an agent and/or a music lawyer?”

Jelani C. - “No, I don’t, it’s something I’ve studied.”

WST - “Have any of your clients been late with their payment, or refused to honor their contract with you?”

Jelani C. - “That’s an everyday struggle all players go trough it.”

WST - “You have absolutely no fear of social media. What makes you so different than your peers - who have failed so miserably at navigating these [social media] waters?”

Jelani C. - “I really don’t know, I’m just me.  I say what I have to and I’ve always been this way.”

WST - “If you were the president of the steelpan players association, would you allow your members to participate in any competition where their payment is not already locked up in escrow before the competition has begun?”

Jelani C. - “Yes I would, because like any job, once the person that hiring name [is] good - it’s fine by me.”

WST - “Given your experiences as a player - could you be part of management?”

Jelani C. - “Yes I could, but most likely my management team would be upset because I would surely be for my players first.”

WST - “If you had the power to change something in Pan immediately what would that be?”

Jelani C. - “Treatment and payment of the players.”

WST - “What have you been most proud about as it relates to Pan?”

Jelani C. - “The progress that’s taking place; just some more clarity - and we good.”

WST - “What disappoints you the most in the steelpan movement?”

Jelani C. - “Judging.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Jelani C. - “A movement, a love, a togetherness that brings all pan players together. The competition is the smaller part for me.”

WST - “Is Panorama a curse or blessing from your perspective?”

Jelani C. - “A blessing.  Some people try to make it a curse.”

WST - “What is your vision for the steelpan instrument?”

Jelani C. - “Just to grow together in love.”

WST - “Are there any other steelband-related matters you would like to bring forward?”

Jelani C. - “Nope.”

WST - “What is next for Jelani Cielto?”

Jelani C. - “Just to continue growing as a person and be a better example.”

photos provided by Jelani Cielto

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