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The House of Champions
- CASYM, Sonatas, Despers USA, Pantonic

Elite crew continues the launch of successful great steelband music weekend

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New York - The New York middle leg or ‘day two’ of the “great weekend of pan” was matched, held and sustained at the Pantonic launch.  Ironically or coincidentally, while it was not originally planned that way - this launch could easily have been named the “launch of champions.”  All four of this event’s participants are past New York panorama champions.  Moreover, among active bands, these distinguished steelband music franchises cover every single panorama win to date except one.  They share twenty-one panorama wins among themselves.  The lone exception would be ADLIB Steel Orchestra, last year’s (2008) panorama winner, which is now also a member of this elite group - and who interestingly also had their band launch on the same day as well, but in Long Island!

In spite of the late start, steelpan fans were treated to a classic show.  Anytime you bring the likes of CASYM, Sonatas, Despers USA and Pantonic together, one is in for a memorable musical experience.  These four organizations represent the big guns of North American pan.  They all have outstanding musical and community accomplishments, a very large loyal fan base locally and internationally, and each can easily top the 100-man limit at the panorama competition.

Beyond the lofty status, these organizations each bring a history of delivering big time musical  performances.  Their stage sides all have a recognizable and distinct sound and style that is engraved in their musical DNA.  The players may change but their high musical standards, sound and approach remain consistent.  Clearly the fans came with high expectations and the bands all delivered.


CASYM Steel Orchestra opened the show - their high energy act dropping such classics like Shadow’s “Dingolay” that had the crowd immediately dancing and singing.  Under the direction of their captain Mr. Travis Roberts, the audience was treated to the full range of the CASYM repertoire and playing styles.  CASYM showed that it was equally adept, comfortable and competent in nailing a populace piece - “Dollar Wine” - as it was at executing a full, world test piece arrangement of “Pan in A Minor.”  CASYM maintains their standards while constantly bringing new players in their line-up to gain experience.


Sonatas as always came with a world-class approach - tight executions, colorful arrangements, awesome instruments and full complement of players.  Simply put: Sonatas pulled out all stops.  On display was why Sonatas is one of finest orchestras in North America.  Under the musical direction of arranger Yohan Popwell - beyond their crowd pleasers - Sonatas brought some new ‘wrinkles’ to their program.  Their back-in-time medley of old calypsos such as Lord Kitcheners “My Pussin’” and Lord Blakie’s  “Steelband Clash,” was much appreciated by many of the attendees.  In addition, Sonatas served early notice that the 2009 panorama championship title belongs in their house again, as they gave the folks a well-seasoned taste of their 2009 panorama selection “Bandoleros.”

Despers USA

Despers USA - fresh off their own successful launch of the previous night - showed that they are just as good outside the friendly confines of home court advantages of their panyard.  Despers held the crowd in the palm of their hands from their opening note.  The look on the faces of the audience told the full story, as the entire range of expressions and emotions - from utter joy to abject melancholy - was displayed unfiltered and in public.  From their classic “Dancing Queen” to “Tell Me Why” - Despers’ musical poise and lineage shine through.  They remain a New York musical original.


The host Pantonic Steel Orchestra closed the musical affair by providing the audience with - as per one of their aptly-named CDs - Tonic for the Soul.  From their classic renditions of songs like “Tiny Winey” to “Earth Ah Run Red,” their fans and attendees soaked in the vibes of their performance despite the drizzle and wee hour of the morning.  Although Pantonic is the youngest music organization of the performing champions for the evening - they are no less formidable and established in their musical abilities.  Under the musical directive of Mr. Keith Roberts, Pantonic has established itself beyond its recognized panorama excellence.  Pantonic continues to be a group that connects with youth as they will drop a Ne-Yo or Rhianna hit as easily they will deliver on a Kitchener classic.

Pantonic’s panyard is located in a section of Flatbush, Brooklyn which is populated by a community that is primarily from the Caribbean, and who are no strangers to great steelpan music.  And last night’s launch was special in the performances and musical characters it brought together, whether you were a member of the Caribbean community, or a visitor from out of town.  You could feel it in the air.

Steelbands in New York are very competitive by nature and history.  Yet that competitive situation does not preclude the organizations working together to achieve a common goal and for the good of community.  Indeed the pan organizations showed the maturity to putting aside petty pan politics for the greater good of the steelband fraternity.  These launches displayed a high level of corporation that bodes well for the future of Pan in New York.

Look for Pantonic’s Yard to be noted among the other well-known institutions within Flatbush area which include the formerly-named Erasmus Hall High School, Parade Grounds, the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church, Brooklyn College, and Ebbets Field, to name a few.  The Steelband launches, as they expand, attract a wider audience; leading to their becoming a fixture in the New York entertainment and music culture arena.

The great steelband music weekend continues... Next up: Sonatas launch.

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