New York Steelband “Gospelypso” Show - Pan and the Gospel Music Experience

Steelband Performances track the spiritual musical journey
of the “panman” in the Americas
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CASYM at the Gospelypso concert

New York - The old adage of ‘if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere’ was in full effect this weekend. The USSA (United States Steelband Association) -sponsored New York concert named “GOSPELYPSO” was simply great.  In ‘the city that never sleeps’ and which is known as the entertainment capital of the world - the New York steelpan community put on a show that was worthy of taking attention away from its regular competition - the Yankees, Knicks, Broadway, Lincoln Center and much, much more.

The event featured eight New York-area steel orchestras - Sesame Flyers, Despers USA, CrossFire, Pan Ambassadors, Pantonic, CASYM, Utopia Pan Soul: the Next Generation and Pan Sonatas - and was held at the George Wingate Campus Auditorium in Brooklyn.

Pan and the Gospel Experience
Gospelypso is a very powerful piece of art and culture.  It is music, theater, drama and storytelling, all done collectively through the performances of the New York steelpan players.  Their facial expressions, dance, musical phrasing, style, timing, mannerisms, attire and interaction with fellow performers on stage, and their musicianship - they utilized all to communicate their own interpretation of each compelling musical tale as it unfolded.  It is a story and a method that have been handed down generation upon generation, with each new one adding yet another chapter, line by line to this fantastic artistic tapestry.

Pantonic at the Gospelypso concert

Gospelypso should be on Broadway six times a week.  It belongs on tour in Europe, it should be in the Caribbean, it should be in Africa.  It should travel the world over.  It is a global theme with massive historical significance.  But Gospelypso, ultimately belongs right where it was performed - in Brooklyn, New York.  It is their story.  It is about the ability to find sanctuary, sanity, happiness and peace in the midst of total madness.

The musical interpretations and visual performances in this production encapsulate the hopes and dreams, salvation and redemption of a people. Gospelypso is like true traditional African art - never meant to be merely hung in a museum, but instead must serve useful purposes for those who come in contact with it, or make use of it.

The Real Deal
From CrossFire’s execution of “Total Praise” - which When Steel Talks defined as a ‘pore-raising experience,’ to Sesame Flyers’ uplifting rendition of well-known Caribbean songster David Rudder’s “High Mas,” to Pantonic’s soulful interpretation of pop icon Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” through Utopia Pan Soul’s earthy Shango Baptist-laced “I Have a Sword,” then onto CASYM’s scared deliverance of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from “Messiah,” to Pan Ambassadors’ declaration of determination in the Bee Gees disco classic “Stayin’ Alive,” and of course Despers USA’s mesmerizing version of “Hear, Oh Lord,” with no less importance in Sonatas’ jubilant exaltation in a panorama format of André  White’s “Wild and Free” - ‘Gospelypso’ - is the fantastic ongoing journey and story of a people, their dreams, failures, struggles and triumphs.

Regardless of what the promoters and creators originally envisioned - and they must be complimented for embarking on this venture - the show is a celebration of the panman’s life experience through the gospel/calypso music theme or scenario.  This production is unique and special in that it must be viewed from the totality of all the participants to get the full story. Furthermore, each performer must bring his/her unique chapter for this book on life to be complete, and by concert’s end - this was indeed so.

Sesame Flyers
Sesame Flyers at the Gospelypso concert

Self-evaluation, affirmation, validation
and confirmation
Indeed, the audience is compelled to share the inner joy and/or pain of the steelpan player through his/her sometimes ecclesiastical but always spiritual experiences and journey in this production. Humorous, haunting, sophisticated, despairing, simple, sad, but in the end always hopeful and forgiving, were the ‘colors’ of thread used by the eight performing groups over a total of two hours of performing time.  It is the same voice of expression that was taught to him/her, the pan performer, by their predecessors and through which their Ancestors, continue to speak.

The “Gospelypso” experience allows the pan player - and by extension, the audience - to reaffirm his/her humanity and highlight his/her struggles as an individual and in a group, through the musical nuances and musical DNA of their Ancestors.

Pan Ambassadors
Pan Ambassadors at the Gospelypso concert

One of the fascinating aspects of this concert was that it tracked and illuminated the pan man’s religious music revival experience and influences -  almost from the time the first Africans landed in the Western Hemisphere. Religion and spirituality have always been and continue to be, a major aspect in the life of a society, particularly that of people of African descent.  So it was no surprise that the music performed at the concert was like a map of the steelpan players’ religious and social experiences and travels in the Americas.  Jazz, blues, classical, Funk, Waltz, Hymnal, Salsa, Soul, Country and Western, chutney, R&B, Shango Baptist and Big Drum - are all part of that unique experience.

The groups showcased the unlimited musical diversity of the steel orchestra. Not only did the orchestras bring a special look and feel to the Gospel-themed music arena, they also presented varied styles, interpretations and their unique voices to the genre.

Sonatas at the Gospelypso concert

New York’s great diversity of people still fosters a singularity of identifiable shared experiences, and allows Gospelypso to connect people of mixed backgrounds. This concert works because the performers allow us - the audience - to sit in, share and participate in their self-evaluation, affirmation, validation and confirmation of their greatness.

Our only concern with this production was that it was a one-time engagement.  Many people return again and again to experience Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ on Broadway.   “Gospelypso” is like any great book, which invites multiple readings.  Let’s do it again.  Soon!

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USSA - 1 (347) 522-4010
Sonatas - 1 (718) 496-5133
Pantonic - 1 (718) 434-0231
Pan Ambassadors - 1 (718) 451-1887
Sesame Flyers - 1 (347) 522-4010
Utopia Pan Soul - 1 (917) 862-6974
Crossfire - 1 (718) 345-1552
Despers USA
CASYM - 1 (718) 735-6708

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