“In The Rainforest” – An Unforgettable Steelband Experience

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

by Mark Loquan

Mark Loquan
Mark Loquan

Global - It was the year 2000, and many things were happening for me. I had relocated to Oslo, Norway in July 2000, on a brand new work assignment, and had just completed my Passion for Pan album. I had only recently started to compose music for Pan is Beautiful and Panorama in the late ‘90s, and had developed an affinity for Skiffle Bunch Steel Orchestra, after performing as a tenor player with the band in Trinidad & Tobago’s National Panorama 1999 and 2000 (Andy Narell’s pieces “Coffee Street” and “Appreciation”). Hence it felt natural to participate with the orchestra in the World Steelband Festival later that year.

I returned to Trinidad in October 2000, specifically to play tenor with Skiffle Bunch, but I had only a week to learn the two pieces “In the Rainforest” and “Pan By Storm” before the finals. What a monumental effort. I remember learning the pieces from a member in the band, and also from pieces of the score which was being written at the same time. I stood in Pat Bishop’s house going over section by section. It was an incredible amount of music to learn in such a short period, with the band set up just outside the stadium [Jean Pierre Complex] practicing every night. I had to sleep, eat and dream the music, and “practice, practice practice” but eventually I felt comfortable by the final night. The only problem bugging me was the change in weather from cold Norway to Trinidad, which had left me under the weather struggling, with my brain feeling foggy at times. I remember that because I wondered if my nose was going to hold out without running during the performance, which thankfully it did.

Panist Mark Loquan, left, with Skiffle Bunch
Panist Mark Loquan, left, with Skiffle Bunch

The final night was magical, the players were relaxed before the performance, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe [composer and arranger of ‘In the Rainforest’] was calm and cool. We walked on to the grounds where the band was set up and it was as if nothing else mattered but the music in that moment. Time was frozen. The crowd was silent. The exuberant Ben Jackson as conductor guided the players who were performing as one unit with pure precision, to experience a classical piece of genius by Len “Boogsie” Sharpe. We could hear the sounds of birds, hear the rustle in the trees, experience the temperament of the wind blowing through the trees, and feel the life and moods of the rainforest first hand as if we were actually there. Then in the finale, just when one thought the song had come to a climatic end, the band stopped, with “Boogsie” soloing effortlessly, only to have the band join in to bring the performance to a resounding end. The unforgettable “Pan by Storm”, composed by Ken “Professor” Philmore (little did I know that I would find myself composing music with Ken many years later), was arranged by “Boogsie”, and was just filled with raw excitement and energy which filled the whole stadium.

Skiffle Bunch Steel Orchestra perform "In the Rainforest" at the 2000 World Steelband Festival
Skiffle Bunch Steel Orchestra perform “In the Rainforest” at the 2000 World Steelband Festival

When the results were announced that Skiffle Bunch had emerged winners of the first World Steelband Festival held in Trinidad in October 2000, there was such a feeling of glory, and exhilaration, of a lot of hard work coming to fruition, of so many things happening to make that moment possible. It is hard to describe. I am sure that it was a night that would be remembered by many, players, adjudicators and audience included, an experience to be cherished. This was the only band, I believe, that night performing solely locally composed pieces, arranged by the master arranger, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe.

While a statement was made that night that Trinidad was champion in the Mecca of Pan (Panch from Switzerland had been winners in the prelims), the final victory belonged to the national instrument and the music, being showcased by the world right in T&T (Trinidad & Tobago). I am thankful for having been there.

World Steelband Music Festival 2000 winners Composer/arranger Len 'Boogsie' Sharpe

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