Follow When Steel Talks
WST google search WST Forum WST facebook page WST on Twitter WST RSS feed WST Steelpan music videos on You Tube WST Newsletter Global Steelband listings

  Bookmark and Share

Bowei keeps Steelpan flag flying in Nigeria

Against the odds

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

Chief Bowie Sonnie Bowei, president of Nigeria's Steelband Association
Chief Bowie Sonnie Bowei, president of Nigeria's Steelband Association

Nigeria - That the second annual Secondary School Steel Band Competition in Lagos, Nigeria came off at all, is itself testimony to a love of the steelband culture and art form, embodied in the personage of Nigerian Bowie Sonnie Bowei.  Exactly four years to the day had passed between the inaugural Secondary School Steel Band competition on November 23, 2006 and the 2010 edition of the competition.  Even though Nigeria is an oil-rich nation and boasts a developed economy, for the second time Bowei staged the event and bore all the related expenses of this steelband showcase on his own - with zero financial assistance from government or the private sector.  “The four-year gap is a natural result of the financial pressure on me.  All the panoramas were solely sponsored by me.  Private organisations in Nigeria do not sponsor any program because they believe in it and just want to promote it.  They look at the benefits they can get from it.  If there are none, no sponsorship” says Bowei flatly.

Queensland Academy at the Second Annual School Steelband competition, Nigeria, November 23, 2010
Queensland Academy at the Second Annual School Steelband competition, Nigeria, November 23, 2010

Bowei recognizes the challenges in his major undertaking, but is also optimistic about the progress of Pan in Nigeria.  “Development of this art form in Nigeria is rather slow. Government doesn’t seem to attach any importance to it, so I am ‘dragging it up the hill’ gradually” explains Bowei.  “Where we are today can be seen as tremendous improvement owing to the fact that after 1977, only one steelband existed till I came up with another in 2001, and then, all the others.  Today, there are over twenty steelbands in Nigeria.  The competition is actually a way of spreading the awareness.” 

He continues, “With the introduction of three other categories of Panorama i.e. Forces, States and Niger Delta, we are hoping that Pan in Nigeria will have a rapid progress, and in the next five years, over two hundred steelbands should be in Nigeria.  We also expect that our Panoramas should attract tourists from all over the world, since it promises to be very colorful.  Forces Panorama is for the Nigerian Army, Navy, Air Force and Police.  State Panorama is for the thirty-six states and the Federal capital in Nigeria, and the Niger Delta Panorama is for the six Niger Delta states in Nigeria where there is a lot of violence at the moment.  We intend to use this to occupy the minds of the youth from that region, and give them a positive focus.”

And If the enterprising president of the Nigerian Steelband Association has his way, the goal to stage steelband competitions in at least two of those three categories for 2011 will be met.   There are presently only eight active adult bands comprising an average of fifteen players per band and for now, most of these bands belong to the Military and a church; one is Bowei’s own orchestra, Xcel Steelband.

As the ‘backbone’ of Nigeria’s steelband movement, Bowei commissioned what could be aptly labeled a one-stop-shop for steelpan back in 2005.  Appropriately called “Panland,” the resource houses a steeldrum factory, electroplating plant, and recording studio, among other facilities.  And it is Panland which supplies all the instruments that the orchestras play, “at a very cheap cost, just to encourage participation” says Bowei.  He himself tunes all the instruments, but points out that “the government in Nigeria should encourage the setting up of panyards, especially in the Niger Delta region where a lot of skill acquisition programs are taking place currently.  Ex-militants could be trained as pan builders and tuners, to make a good living.  There are [now] trainee pan tuners, and the Nigerian Police band is expected to come in for training as panists and tuners any moment from now” he ended.

Panland’s recording studio has already been put to good use, with Bowei’s Xcel Steelband having recorded their first gospel album “Pan Praise.”  A second - a Hilife album called “Pan Africana” is being worked on, and is expected to be out by July 2011.  In 2008, Bowie Sonnie Bowei was honored when the title of “Chieftain” was bestowed upon him in recognition of his work and dedication to the uplifting of the people of Nigeria through his steelpan initiative.

Related article: Nigeria Steelpan Festival for Secondary Schools

contact Bowie S. Bowei

Leave a comment in the WST forum

Join When Steel Talks