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Meet Steelband music songwriter Miguel Reyes
- the New Kid on the Block

A WST Exclusive with the Musician, Composer and Producer
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Miguel Reyes

Global - In virtually little over a year, songwriter Miguel Reyes has gone from unknown to one of the most promising members of the upcoming new class of writers for the steelband music genre.  Indeed, 2009 was an outstanding year for Miguel, with steel orchestras both in New York’s and Trinidad & Tobago’s national panorama competitions, taking championship titles with his music hit Bandoleros.  And, 2010 is also looking up for Miguel.

Here, in an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks (WST), Miguel Reyes talks about his past, his present and future career as a panorama music writer.

click to see the list of tunes for Panorama 2010

  • WST - Miguel Reyes has burst onto the panorama music songwriting scene with much success.  When did you become associated with pan?

    Reyes - My association with pan - like that of many Trinbagonians - started with a band in my neighborhood, at around the age of 8 or 9.  This was a family band called Golden Stars, formed by the Marcano family, and some of the kids in the area joined in with the family and other adults so we could play on the road for Carnival.  This band eventually broke up, and a new band was formed - a ‘pan round-the-neck’ band called Trinidad Nostalgic, which is still competing today.  And in 1972 my cousin Shari Dottin took me to play with another band in Arima, east Trinidad, called  at the time LJ Williams Nutones; that band in most recent memory, winning Trinidad & Tobago’s panorama in 1998 with the late Clive Bradley’s arrangement of the song “High Mas.”  For many years I played in both the conventional and old time bands competitions - like many kids today playing with three and four steelbands at the same time.

  • WST - 2009 was a very successful year for you, with three major steel orchestras - one in Trinidad & Tobago, and two in New York - performing your music work - Bandoleros.  What is in store for 2010?

    Reyes - Successful in the sense that one band took the chance to play an unknown composer’s piece - and I have to thank my nephew for that.  He gave the “
    Bandoleros” CD to Mr. Yohan Popwell [2009 arranger for Sforzata & Sonatas], who put a fiery arrangement to it, and a winning one at that.  I was most grateful for the vocals of Tunapuna Scanty and his name - without that “Bandoleros” may not have happened.

    Yohan Popwell and the bands CLICO Sforzata of Trinidad, Pan Sonatas of New York, along with Wilfred Kieal and Despers USA of New York, made a dream come true.  As a panman - hearing for the first time on pan a song that I put together, I just could not stop smiling on stage those nights.

    After that small taste [of success] in 2009, I wanted to do more because I had, for years, just been stockpiling [music] pieces, waiting for the chance.  Tapes upon tapes of music from years of trying to get someone to listen to what I had. 

    Even though I had many songs on tapes, I wrote all new ones for 2010, and ‘matched’ them with the guys [vocalists] on my CD “Panorama Fest 2010” - Tunapuna Scanty, Frosty Brooks, Designer, Peter D’Royce and Mr. Lonesome - all different styles.  So for 2k10, my CD has ten tracks:  seven vocal and three instrumentals.

    The question was - what’s in store for 2k10?  I don’t know, because if radio in Trinidad and Tobago does not play the songs all the composers put out this year - the steelbands won’t play any.  I was told by panmen when I was home in Trinidad a few weeks ago promoting my CD, they - panmen - won’t play a tune Radio does not play, because the people won’t know it.  And, because Pan Trinbago now allows the steel orchestras to go back and pick songs from years ago - the panmen prefer to do so, than play an unknown piece.  So all those songs released for 2010 won’t get a chance.  Maybe one or two of the ‘known’ faces back home might, but the majority of us won’t.  ‘What’s in store?’  I guess we have to wait and listen.  I am still waiting to hear what bands have chosen to go with for Panorama 2010.

  • WST - You’ve included video components to your songs - which are featured on WST - what was the idea behind that move?

    Reyes - The idea behind the videos was - and I must thank you, WST, for showing them - is some of what I mentioned above - Radio stations back in Trinidad are not playing the songs on a regular basis, and between soca, calypso and all the other forms of our music that are released every year for the carnival, it is too many in such a short space of time to get any airplay at all; and the ‘favorites’ are being played on rotation, but there are not many videos.  Not everyone can have one made so I called my family, Mr. Bhagwantiwa - he does a show on BCAT TV  in New York - and used his camera to shoot a simple video to give the songs another avenue to be heard and experienced.  The only problem is I can’t seem to get them featured on the TV stations back home - Synergy or Tempo or any other - so they can be seen and heard - by the steelbands before it’s too late.  That’s the whole point behind the videos.  And sometimes a video of a song does a lot more visually.

  • WST - 2010 is a big year. You released four pan tunes for the year.  Are you happy with the way things have been going thus far?

    Reyes - It is a bigger year for me because I did release the “Panorama Fest 2010” CD with all pan-related songs - 10 tracks in all - to be exact.  I did put four of them on WST, but there are others like “Mr. Lonesome,” “Going Home,” and another with Keith “Designer” Prescott called “Pan After Pan.”  Then there’s a remix done of the song “Bandoleros.”  There’s also a pan solo by Dane Gulston.  It is on there on the song “De Last Band.”  “Panorama Fest 2010” is available for purchase (in Trinidad at Crosby’s, Cleve’s, Rhyners and Kam’s record shops, from me personally, and soon online at cdbaby.com).  The question is if I am happy with the way things are going thus far?  What I am very happy about thus far is WST giving so many of us - the unknown writers and composers - a place, space and face, something we would have never gotten if not for this site.  People from all over the world now can log on and listen to our music, where as that may, or may not happen in Trinbago.  There, if the song is good, it may get some play but WST is giving all, and I say ‘ALL’ - their 3 to 5 minutes of fame.  And that is what I am really happy about. 

    Should any of my songs get picked for the 2010 Panorama event - that’s a different type of happiness.  That’s like a crazy happiness, especially for all of the new guys, like myself.  The main reason why I composed all those songs for PAN... is hoping the steelbands around the world would like and play them - not only in Trinidad and Tobago - because technology has given eyes and ears to the world via the internet.  Countries with pan can now have access to these songs, should they choose to.  But - still hoping the bands give a listen to the other songwriters and my songs, and play them back home.

  • WST - What is a pan tune from your perspective?

    - A pan tune in my ear is a very melodic piece.  Take away the lyric and just listen to the music and the melody.  For instance what “Kitchener” did with many of his songs - when you heard a ‘Kitch’ piece on pan, you were hearing movement with melodies just made for pan.  He thought about that.  Now don’t get me wrong - pan could play anything, anything, and make it sound good, like many have said before.  But I thought Kitchener’s songs and even Blueboy’s [Superblue] earlier pieces - were tailor made for pan - “Rebecca,” “Lucy,” “Ethel,” “Unknown Band,” - just to name a few.  And many of Kitchener’s pieces, that is what I call pan tunes.  If you take away the lyrics from some of the newer pieces and just listen to the music, the melodies and the chords, not all would sound good on pan.  And like I have heard before, not because you put the word ‘Pan’ in the song makes it a pan song.  No - because when a band is playing it you don’t hear any lyrics.  Pay attention to your melodies and chords, and think about what it would sound like on pan before you write the words.  A pan tune, in my ear, is a piece you can hum without even knowing the words.

  • WST - What is next for Miguel Reyes?

    Reyes - What is next?  I just want to continue - continue writing, hoping listening, and praying that things get better in a way that all of the writers can experience the joy of hearing their songs played on pan - home and around the world.  And that Pan Trinbago can change [back] the present format (of allowing the bands to play songs from years ago) and instead go back to using songs from the hat of new pieces that come out year after year.  And as you can see, you have a lot more songs this year than last year on WST.

    Traveling home for carnival 2k10, going to all the panorama events around the country and enjoying the moment.  That’s what’s next.

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