Steelband Concert warms up
chilly March evening

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Gospelypso - In Pictures

New York - An unusually chilly Spring evening in March did not deter a core crowd of determined pan music lovers from turning out for the Gospelypso steelpan concert held at the auditorium at Wingate Campus on Saturday March 27, 2010.  Hours earlier, panists and instruments began showing up at the rear of the building in preparation for the event.

Organized by the latest incarnation of the (USSA) United States Steelband Association - eight of the nine bands advertised eventually took the stage when the association’s Public Relations Officer Magnus Scanterbury declared the show open at 7:00 p.m., a mere thirty minutes after the 6:30 scheduled start time. Kudos to Mr. Scanterbury for making the decision that with the performers ready on stage, the show should start without further delay - rather than the customary ‘late start’ for no good reason. With the US anthem performed by panist and young arranger Kiera Scanterbury, the curtains slid open to reveal Utopia Pan Soul: the Next Generation as the first band onstage.

Utopia Pan Soul at the Gospelypso concert
Utopia Pan Soul at the Gospelypso concert

Utopia Pan Soul has its own unique style of musicianship, and stuck to the “Gospelypso” theme of the evening, delivering a marvelous fourteen-minute medley that was seemingly over in the blink of an eye, much to the chagrin of some present. But while it lasted, music lovers were teased with arranging styles which also included Chutney and Salsa. Before it was over, “Yes, Jesus Loves Me,” “Laissez-Faire,” the African Shango piece “I have A Sword” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” were literally ‘music to the ears’ of concert-goers. Utopia Pan Soul founder Sheldon Elcock afterwards laughingly told When Steel Talks that they were advised beforehand they had fifteen minutes on stage, and being the professional organization they were - Utopia obliged. The audience responded warmly to the group as the opening act, as they settled back intent on enjoying the evening.

CASYM at the Gospelypso concert
CASYM at the Gospelypso concert

Nattily-attired in black formal wear, CASYM Steel Orchestra followed and included their trademark performance of the classic “Hallelujah Chorus” found on their D’Blueprint CD released in 2006, and finished off with a rousing rendition of their 2009 panorama tune of choice “Magic Drum.”  And true to form, the band’s line-up boasted their veteran players along with fresh-faced budding musicians.

Martin Douglas and Keith Marcelle
Martin Douglas (l) and Keith Marcelle (r)

Officers for the new administration of USSA were elected January 13 and president Keith Marcelle along with vice-president Martin “Dougie” Douglas formally introduced themselves to all present, and shared a few words about their organization’s goals and determination for transparency. Mr. Marcelle took the opportunity to thank the previous administration for their work, but pledged to move the organization to greater heights.

Pantonic at the concert
Pantonic at the concert

Mint green shirts were the choice of Pantonic Steel Orchestra which was next on the program. They opted to start off with Michael Jackson’s introspective “Human Nature.” The band then featured their multi-talented tenor player Mustafa Alexander on trumpet as they played “How Great Thou Art.” Tastefully blended with the band, Alexander’s trumpet work lent additional diversity to Pantonic’s performance, which closed off with Usher’s “Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home).”

Despers USA at the concert
Despers USA performs at the concert

After a ten-minute intermission, concert-goers returned to their seats to enjoy the music of Despers USA, sporting a stage side line-up which included faces of the younger generation of this vintage New York steel orchestra.  Clad in black and white accented by red and white scarves, the group displayed their customary trademark finesse on their steelpan instruments. Pantonic’s Mustafa Alexander - doing double duty in Despers USA (as did Kernel Simon) - conducted the group for one selection.  The band included the well-loved “Hear, O Lord” in their set.

CrossFire at the Gospelypso concert
CrossFire on stage

Being the most casually attired for the evening’s concert in green polo shirts, tastefully emblazoned with their organization’s logo - in no way impacted Crossfire Steel Orchestra’s delivery of a pore-raising set, which included the favorite “Total Praise.” Arranger Khuent Rose alternated between drums and triple guitars.  Accustomed to performing in praise and worship sessions, band members were completely at ease and uplifted the audience naturally via their repertoire.

The majority of the pan musicians in New York are of the ‘younger generation’ and this was clearly evident in the make-up of the eight bands taking the stage in the Wingate Campus auditorium. And with them being the future of the steelpan community, a component of the newly-administrated USSA is the Youth Committee, with representatives from several of the New York orchestras. USSA president Keith Marcelle introduced the group of six young people to the audience.  In his preamble, Marcelle essentially stated that when sitting in on the steelpan-related discussions of the younger members of New York’s steelpan fraternity, he was flabbergasted at the depth of their passion, visions and goals in relation to Pan, going even so far as to say their drive and emotion left him ‘ashamed’ - when compared to what had not yet been addressed by the more veteran steelpan fraternity members, whose effectiveness is sometimes inhibited by divisiveness.

USSA Youth Committee members
USSA Youth Committee members
address the audience

After Marcelle’s introduction, Wayne Bernard and Kiera Scanterbury along with one other member of the committee of six - quickly but succinctly shared their concerns and visions relative to New York pan on behalf of the group.  They ended with an invitation for youth members of New York’s steelpan community - regardless of band affiliation - to become part of and involved with the upward mobility of the younger steelpan generation, and to begin - by joining them at an ‘Ice breaker’ session scheduled for next weekend.  Their genuine enthusiasm, openness and air of inclusiveness augers well for New York’s steelband future.

Sesame Flyers at the concert
Sesame Flyers in concert

Music returned to the forefront as Sesame Flyers’ members took the stage, an impressive sight in black and silver vests.   The orchestra opted to maintain the theme of ‘reverence’ throughout their session which featured Handel’s “Where E’ er You Walk,” Ketèlbey’s “Sanctuary of the Heart” and David Rudder’s “High Mas.”   The latter spotlighted the talents of Berklee College of Music student Kareem ‘Kay’ Thompson, where panist and group drummer Keith “KJ” Marcelle also attends.   Like the other bands and through its own community outreach, Sesame’s ranks usually include a couple new faces.

Pan Ambassadors at the Gospelypso concert
Pan Ambassadors with vocalist Akeeda

Performing in the penultimate position for the concert was Pan Ambassadors. They were proudly introduced by Magnus Scanterbury who was also emceeing for the evening.   Young gents wore lavender shirts, and were complemented by chic young ladies in solid and print combination dresses topped off by black sweaters. Pan Ambassadors was the only band in the concert to combine voice and pan, featuring resident vocalist Akeeda Scanterbury who ministered through two songs: “One Day at a Time” and “To God Be The Glory.”

Sonatas at the Gospelypso concert
Sonatas at the Gospelypso concert

And then came the band which brought the curtains down - Sonatas Steel Orchestra, resplendent in gold and black - uniforms AND bass pans. The title of 2009 New York Panorama champions gave them the privilege of closing the show. One of the band’s signature pieces, David Rudder’s spiritual “The Ganges and The Nile” was at the top of their four selection set, which was followed by “Blessed Assurance” rendered as a Waltz. The youthful flame was alive and well in the band’s next choice, “Wild and Free” written for the 2010 Panorama season by New York’s André White, who at age eighteen made history in 2008 when he became the youngest arranger ever to win a major steelband music panorama competition.  Running over an hour past the anticipated 10:00 p.m. finish, time did not allow for a full performance of Sonatas’ 2009 panorama-winning tune “Bandoleros.”  An edited musical snapshot sufficed, at which time USSA’s Magnus Scanterbury thanked all for coming out and their support.

There were many seats still available in the auditorium during the show - and there were definitely more pan music lovers in attendance seven years ago back in 2003, when the Spring concert called Vibrations In Steel was held, followed by Vibrations In Steel II that very December.  But make no mistake - the steelpan musicians brought their A-game for the Saturday show. Many had a musical energy urgently seeking release since the cancellation of the December 19 concert due to inclement weather. So many of New York’s younger steelpan generation had been quite disappointed with the decision to cancel the Christmas Show, as much had gone into their preparation for a feature production outside of the “panorama” season - a rarity in New York. Musicians of all the bands had been abuzz in anticipation.   The Spring break now afforded the bands the opportunity to be available for the show, as several of the musicians were home from college.

For the lucky patrons who had the opportunity to be at Gospelypso, they were undoubtedly extremely satisfied with the musical fare in general, and specifically, when their personal favorite orchestras took the stage.   A nippy March evening indeed, but warmed, and sometimes even fired up by the vibrancy of the steelpan artform and its skilled artisans.

Gospelypso - In Pictures


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