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Dominica Mourns the Loss of Great Steelpan Arranger

Alan Jno. Baptiste

Former President of Dominica's National Pan Association, noted calypso writer, steelpan arranger and  instructor Alan Jno. Baptiste recently passed in his native country of Dominica, W.I.  Alan spent over 12 years in the UK spreading the knowledge of and promoting the steelpan instrument.  Three and a half years ago he returned to Dominica where his passion and commitment to the instrument helped rejuvenate the Dominican steelpan industry.  Alan Baptiste was fifty-seven years old.  He passed on September twenty-eighth of this year.

In addition to his steelpan music accomplishments, Baptiste was a successful writer for veteran calypsonians Checker, Ventura, Tronada, Charmer and Lady Star.

Dominica's cultural officer Pearle Christian said that Baptiste played a monumental role in the development and preservation of pan music in Dominica.

Performing at Baptiste's service were Phillip Jno. Baptiste, the Brizee's Cultural Drama Club, Phase V Steelband and Genesis Steelband.

The Maestro’s Message

I dreamed, breathed and lived music.  I created, played and taught music.  I passed my gift on to my children, my friends, my clients, my people.  Unlike many of us, very early in life, I discovered that my purpose in life was music.

What was I telling my children, my wife? What was I telling you?

To understand my message you must understand my journey.

It was not easy for me to realize that like so many other musicians, my own country would not allow me to earn a decent living for myself and my family based on my talents as a musician.  It was not easy to have to work outside of my gifted area in order to help support the family but I did.  It was not easy for me to keep creating music and watch others benefit while I struggled to make ends meet.   But I never stopped creating, writing, playing and teaching music.

It was not easy for me to watch my children growing up without being able to use my gift to help them how a father wants to help.  But I never stopped creating, writing, playing and teaching.

It was not easy for me to embrace the PAN as my instrument of choice and be paid a pittance for performing while others who chose non-Caribbean instruments and used electronics instead of musicianship to create music were paid thousands for pressing buttons.   But I never stopped creating, writing, playing and teaching.

It was not easy to perform and to have to walk the streets, knock on doors and make calls seeking to collect my fees.  It was not easy to perform and not be paid.  Yet I never stopped creating, writing, playing and teaching.

It was not easy to leave my family, my home, my friends, my country for England to try to use my gift to earn a living.  But I did.  Strangely, it was there that I discovered that the respect, appreciation and rewards I received for my gift in that foreign place far exceeded what I and many others still experience here in Dominica. I seized the opportunities to get professional training, to travel widely and to share my blossoming gift with strangers.  I grew as a musician, as a person.  I developed into a more complete musician, writer and performer.

What then did I do?  Did I get angry with you for treating me and my gift with disrespect?  Did I say like so many others who live overseas, that I would never return to that place that has caused me and my family so much pain?

No!  Alan was bigger than that.  Alan was greater than the pettiness and hard times that he knew so well and that he knew still existed in Dominica.   I had prepared myself to come back home and that is exactly what I did.  I came home to continue the journey of creating, writing, playing and teaching music and promoting PAN.

What is the Maestro’s message to you?

First, I am reminding you that everyone has been given a gift by the Creator.   We must take the time to discover that gift, to nurture and develop it and most important, to share it with others.  I remind you that our gifts are not meant solely for our own enrichment but must be shared freely with all who need and want it.

I am telling the musicians and artistes that notwithstanding the hardships, the disrespect, the loneliness, the financial challenges associated with being a gifted person, we must never stop creating and never stop sharing.  Even at great risk to my own family, I never stopped giving.

My message, The Maestro’s message, is simple.  We must reach out to the children that we teach, to the patrons that we please, to other artistes that we compose for and play music for, and most important to the family that loves us no matter what...

I remind you that we are all God’s children and we all have something inside that makes us special.

I ask that we each take the time to discover our gift.  Parents, take the time with your children and with other children to help them discover their gifts.  We may wish things for our children that we think will make us proud but what about the child? Will the child be proud and happy do something that we as parents want them to do rather than doing what they have the gift and talent to do?

I remind you again that all gifts are special.  I remind you that being a pan player, a singer, a composer, a teacher, is just as valuable and wonderful as being a Doctor, lawyer or engineer.  I remind you that long before there were these other professions, there was music.  I remind you that long after these professions are gone, there will be music, art, literature, dance, painting, sculpting.

I remind you to teach the children how to listen to their heart and their soul in order that they discover their gifts.

I remind you to have respect for each other regardless of our profession. The most important thing that we can give each other is a chance to be the best that we can be.   A chance to experience the peace and comfort that comes from giving and sharing.

It is time to start appreciating and celebrating all the wonderful gifted persons that we have here in Dominica.  It is time that we stop using money and authority to determine who lives well and who lives as a sufferer.  In the final analysis, it is not who we are or what position we hold that matters.  It is what we do with our gifts that really matters.

These are some of the messages that I tried to deliver with my music.  Sadly, it seems that only those who were really close to me ever understood my message.

As I move on, I urge all of you to learn to celebrate and elevate each other.  In particular, learn to celebrate and elevate the artistes of Dominica.  Because it means so much to me, I would want us all to celebrate and elevate the instrument that I loved so much — the PAN.

There is an orchestra awaiting my arrival.  I will meet pan players, calypsonians, writers and composers from throughout the Caribbean and the world and I will be right at home with the Creator’s gift. I will give back to the Creator what he tried to share with you through me for the last 58 years.  This time, I know for sure that I will be appreciated, respected and loved as I return this gift of music and the wonder of PAN from whence it came — the Creator.

Finally, “pan paradise” for the Maestro.

Alan Jno. Baptiste photos courtesy Kirk


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