“Being able to travel and share my talent with the world is one of the greatest joys of being a musician. It hasn’t been easy because I have been faced with negativity from persons in society at first. However, it all comes to you believing in your dream and taking advantage of opportunities when presented. God gave you your vision, he didn’t give it to anyone else. Therefore, you ought to take responsibility for your destiny as there is a world of endless possibilities. Don’t give up!” –– Keishaun Julien
When Steel Talks has keenly watched the growth of Keishaun Julien from youngster to young adult. Indeed, from an early age it was abundantly clear that Keishaun Julien was special. This exceptional talent has the unlimited potential to take the T&T entertainment and music industry to new heights through his sheer talent, keen understanding of modern marketing music technique and attention to details. In a When Steel Talks exclusive - performing artist, educator, arranger and panist Keishaun Julien shares his steelpan history as he exposes his deep passion for Pan.
WST - “When and how were you first introduced to the steelpan instrument?”
Keishaun J. - “My parents were the reason for me starting to play pan. They took me to Our Boys Steel Orchestra at the age of 4 as the band offered steelpan classes to youths. However not too long after I started pan lessons, there was an incident that prohibited the tutor from being able to continue teaching. This led to a premature end of my pan lessons. In addition, my parents encountered problems obtaining a refund for the classes and threatened to take legal action against the band. My parents and the band came to an agreement and they gave me an “old-rusted” tenor pan for me to practice with at home. That’s the story of how I was introduced to the steelpan and how I owned my first steelpan.”
WST - “You are a performing artist, steelpan player, an arranger and most importantly, a leader and a mentor to the younger members of the steelband fraternity. Which role defines you best? And which do you like the most?”
Keishaun J. - “I wouldn’t say one role best defines who I am because I am ever-changing and evolving, and I would serve different purposes to different people within the industry. Some people know me more for my performing, some have recently discovered my arranging abilities, others know me in the capacity as an educator. What I can say is that I am just a musical vessel doing God’s work. With that being said, I love performing the most.”
WST - “What keeps your passion for the instrument going?”
Keishaun J. - “The more I do and the more I accomplish, the more people I inspire. I have gotten hundreds of messages from persons around the world telling me how I have inspired them one way or another through my music. My ability to inspire others creates a synergy that turns back around and inspires me.”
WST - “Do any of your family members play pan? If so, tell us about them.”
Keishaun J. - “Surprisingly, none of my immediate family members play pan.”
WST - “If you had the power to change something in pan immediately what would that be?”
Keishaun J. - “I would flood the industry with electronic pans and see how creative steelpan musicians would get with its use.”
WST - “Do you play any other instruments?”
Keishaun J. - “I consider the steelpan as my first and only musical love at the moment. However, I played the drums a lot during Alpha Pan Pioneers practice sessions for Panorama 2020 which has opened my eyes to my potential on the instrument. I do plan on building on that foundation in the future.”
WST - “Most of the global steelpan community is very aware of your YouTube covers from an early age. What made you pursue this form of direct internet marketing? And, subsequently did any employment opportunities come your way?”
Keishaun J. - “My steelpan YouTube channel was a predecessor to a failed tech channel I had on YouTube. One of the driving forces that inspired me to start a steelpan YouTube channel was when I found out Justin Bieber got discovered by his manager through YouTube. It then occurred to me that it was a good platform to put content on.
“I first started uploading steelpan videos around 2010. However, I deleted my first steelpan channel by mistake in 2011 and had to create a new one. Although I was not the first steel panist on YouTube, my approach was different from what any other panist had done at the time. The few panists who were on YouTube used to shoot videos and upload with little or no editing. On the other hand, I treated my videos as a production rather as opposed to just playing and uploading.
“This resulted in me having to do several takes of the same song from different angles as I only had one camera. In addition, I always thought of my audience as people discovering the steelpan for the first time, so I wanted them to have video footage of the inside of the pan, but I also wanted to have frontal shots of myself for personal marketing purposes. I also found that many steelpan videos at the time didn’t have good audio quality. I improved on this by using headphones in my ears and then manually add the backing track to reduce excess background noise. This allowed my videos to stand out which and allowed me to grow a solid YouTube audience which is very difficult to do even today.
“I currently have 1.9 million cumulative views of all the videos on my channel and I’m almost at 10,000 subscribers on my channel which lands my channel to be one of the most subscribed steelpan channels on YouTube today. Through YouTube and Facebook, I have been able to tap into corporate Trinidad and Tobago and the local wedding industry as a vendor offering steelpan services.”
WST - “Talk about your production methods in your early days of posting on YouTube, especially from an audio perspective, and the evolution to your most recent audio-video works?”
Keishaun J. - “During my early days on YouTube, I used the camera audio to capture the sound of my pan. As mentioned previously, I would use headphones to listen to the background instrumental track while I was playing and would later sync that audio file with the video and audio of my pan (similar to how music videos are done). It must be noted that I also did the video editing for myself in the ‘earlies.’
“Over the years I have improved upon my audio and video quality and started recording the audio at my friend’s home studio before I shoot the video which I started doing professionally by another friend. However, this presented its own set of challenges regarding the synchronization of the audio and visual as it has always been difficult for me to reproduce improvisations that I may have made on the track in the studio. This required me to be more disciplined as I had to learn over my improvisations for the visual.
“Overall, dealing with various social media platforms over the years for my steelpan videos has allowed me to understand how the algorithm works on these platforms and has allowed me to gain knowledge in social media marketing and SEO (Search Engine Optimization).”
Keishaun Julien (foreground) - arranger, with Alpha Pan Pioneers Steel Orchestra
WST - “What would be your advice given to someone who is interested in traveling and pursuing performing in various countries around the world, such as yourself?”
Keishaun J. - “Being able to travel and share my talent with the world is one of the greatest joys of being a musician. It hasn’t been easy because I have been faced with negativity from persons in society at first. However, it all comes to you believing in your dream and taking advantage of opportunities when presented. God gave you your vision, he didn’t give it to anyone else. Therefore, you ought to take responsibility for your destiny as there is a world of endless possibilities. Don’t give up!”
WST - “Talk about some of your international experiences as a performing artist, to date, and your overall impressions of other countries?”
Keishaun J. - “I have performed in many countries throughout the world including France, Belgium, Canada, Mexico, Belize and Japan, to mention a few. One thing that always stands out to me when I travel is the level of respect I am treated with for my craft. It is always a reminder of how much of a gift the steelpan is to the world, yet we continue to settle for disrespect back home. However, I must add that based on my experience, Trinidad and Tobago is ahead in terms of our infrastructure in and around the steelpan industry, but that could change within the next decade if we continue to take our craft for granted.”
WST - “For the first time in the history of the Medium band competition, the finals were held in the sister isle of Tobago. What are your thoughts on this?”
Keishaun J. - “First of all, I want to commend the Pan Trinbago President [Beverley Ramsey-Moore] for her exceptional leadership. The steelpan culture in Tobago and Trinidad is really different. As a Tobagonian, I can tell you that the average Tobagonian doesn’t support pan as much as the average Trinidadian. It is evident in the based on the turn out to steelpan events on the island. However, the way in which the 2020 Medium Panorama was marketed allowed for many supporters from both Trinidad and Tobago to come out to witness the historic event.
“In addition, we must remember the country is ‘Trinidad and Tobago.’ Every year Tobagonians travel to Trinidad, losing practice nights, but yet we still give Trinidad bands “a run for their money.” So it was only fair that Trinidad bands experience the bittersweet feeling of interisland to participate in the competition.”
WST - “What do you think about the overall changes implemented into Panorama 2020?”
Keishaun J. - “I think it is a step in the right direction that needs a little tweaking. It was a very exhausting season with the Single Pans starting in November and Large Conventional Bands ending in February. Nevertheless, I must say that it allowed for players to be interoperable between the various categories and it allowed each category to have its own shine like never before.”
WST - “Who, and what are your musical influences?”
Keishaun J. - “I have many musical influences. However, Duvone Stewart is my main musical influence. I first saw him perform at an event called “Pan Jazz in The Yard” back in 2008 and I was just blown away. I sent him a message on Hi5 telling him how I enjoyed his performance and he responded which had me in disbelief! A year later I was a member of the short-lived National Youth Steel Orchestra and for our inaugural performance, Duvone was a guest performer and also did a song with the ensemble. These were the two moments that allowed me to gravitate to his work and look up to him. He is a genius!
WST - “You are a member of the champion Renegades steelband franchise in Trinidad & Tobago. Describe that experience.”
Keishaun J. - “Ever since I moved to Trinidad to pursue my studies, Duvone invited me to play with Renegades every year but I never reached until 2019. I must say, playing with Renegades has been a dream come true. It is an honor to be a part of the greatest and most organized steel orchestra in Trinidad and Tobago. With Duvone Stewart being the arranger and “Pan In A Minor” by Jit Samaroo being my favorite Panorama arrangement of all time, it was inevitable that I would become part of the band’s legacy.”
WST - “What is Panorama to you?”
Keishaun J. - “Panorama is a blissful time for me. There is a certain type of energy that’s in the air around Panorama time that just puts you on a high. From the long nights in the yard, to networking and making new friends from around the world, to going on the stage and executing; the entire Panorama experience is one that is second to none.”
WST - “This year you added Panorama arranger to your résumé. Describe that experience?”
Keishaun J. - “Before I get into my experience, I want to say a big “Thank You” to Tony “Pan Jumbie” Williams for believing in me and gracing me with the opportunity to work alongside Marina Marfan with Alpha Pan Pioneers. The entire experience was that of a learning one. I quickly realized that being a steelpan arranger is more than just arranging a Panorama song and distributing the music. There are a lot of nuanced roles that I had to perform such as being a mentor, advisor for non-related pan stuff, logistical personnel, and the list goes on. However, hearing the band perform the arrangement on Panorama night was pore-raising. It’s a different feeling from being a player. As a player, you play what is given to you. As an arranger, you manipulate that of which you cannot see and turn it into a performance that is spectacular to listen to and watch. Seeing the entire process unfold in front of my eyes was priceless.”
WST - “Is Panorama a curse or blessing from your perspective?”
Keishaun J. - “It’s both a blessing and a curse. Panorama allows players to learn music and the steelpan in the “University of the Pan Yard.” This is unlike any other educational institution and it’s embedded right into our culture and carnival season. There are some things money can’t buy. The tuition to the “University of the Pan Yard” is one.
“On the other hand, Panorama is a curse because many steelpan musicians and bands have not come to the realization that there is life after Panorama. They are blinded by the bliss and glitter of the season.”
WST - “How would you describe your personal journey with Pan thus far?”
Keishaun J. - “My steelpan journey thus far has been purposeful. Through this instrument, I was able to realize the purpose for my existence and I have been able to channel that energy to help inspire others to find that purpose through their various passions.”
WST - “Do you envision yourself pursuing an advanced degree in the future?”
Keishaun J. - “I have recently completed my BA in Musical Arts at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad. I feel like I need a break from the formal education for a bit. I may go on to do a master’s later on, but it’s not a priority at the moment. I want to really focus on continuing to build my brand.”
WST - “What is your vision for Pan in Trinidad & Tobago going forward - a decade from now?”
Keishaun J. - “I would like to see self-sufficient steelbands. I think our industry depends too heavily on the Government and Pan Trinbago for sustainability which isn’t a good thing. Hopefully in the next decade this won’t be still true.”
WST - “Are there any other steelband-related matters you would like to bring forward?”
Keishaun J. - “I just want to say that it is a pity that in 2020, steelpan musicians are the last to get paid for Panorama.”
WST - “What is next for Keishaun Julien?”
Keishaun J. - “My ultimate goal is for my brand to be a franchise in the music industry in Trinidad and Tobago. With that being said, I’m planning on extending the services I offer within the music industry; among other stuff. Feel free to follow me on Facebook and Instagram (@keishaunjulienmusic) for updates.”
photos provided by Keishaun Julien
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