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Ebonites Steel Orchestra Triumphs as 2014 Champion in Antigua & Barbuda Panorama

Third time’s the charm for arranger Dayne “Wadeka” Gomes

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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2014 Panorama champions Ebonites Steel Orchestra accept trophy from Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne
2014 Panorama champions Ebonites Steel Orchestra accepts the Prime Minister’s trophy from Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne

St. John’s, Antigua & Barbuda, W.I. - With tears of joy flowing down the faces of grown men, Ebonites Steel Orchestra players both young and old gleefully danced on the stage in exhilaration as they celebrated their ‘win’ as the 2014 Antigua & Barbuda Panorama champions.  The reason for the tears?  The orchestra’s first and sole Panorama championship—up until this night—was back in 1977; thirty-seven years had passed before the band tasted this type of success once more. And they came close last year, snagging the second spot. But 2014 year was Ebonites’ year. The band went with a Claudette “CP” Peters’ track for the second year in a row - All Ah We; Peters also had a cameo on stage as Ebonites performed.

Ebonites champion arranger Dayne 'Wadeka' Gomes
Ebonites champion arranger Dayne “Wadeka” Gomes

It was also the year of Dayne “Wadeka” Gomes.  This was his third consecutive year as arranger for Ebonites and he had conveyed most of his arrangement via Skype for the third year running.  An Antiguan native, Gomes lives in the USA and was actually on the ground with the orchestra only during the final week before Panorama.

2014 Antigua & Barbuda Panorama champions Ebonites Steel Orchestra on stage
2014 Antigua & Barbuda Panorama champions Ebonites Steel Orchestra on stage

He had full confidence in his arrangement and the band’s performance even before results were announced - evidenced in a discussion with local media beforehand. Gomes was asked if he was aware that “Panorama was like a boxing match,” where, if one did not knock out the champion, you could not win the competition, and further - if he felt he had delivered that knock-out punch to title defenders Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra?  Gomes’ answer was a simple and confident “Yes.” Asked why he thought this, Gomes explained “Last year I thought we were very musical but we didn’t have a ‘punch.’ This year I thought we were both musical, and we had a punch...We captured the feel of the music, too.  The music was All Ah We, and down to the end we put on the national anthem, and I thought that carried over very well at the end of the tune...I felt it was applicable, in the context of the tune.”  And so it was that Ebonites Steel Orchestra, sixth in terms of playing position and with around 95 players had the final word, and the ultimate overall presentation as far as the judges were concerned when the tally was in.

Seven adjudicators were announced just before the competition got underway; from Trinidad & Tobago were Jeanette Johnson, Sherry Ann Saunders, Curtis Edwards and Lennox London.  Their Antigua & Barbuda counterparts were Lola Kirby-Peterson, Catherine Weston and Kimdale Mackellar.

National flag of Antigua & Barbuda

To the surprise of many, title defenders Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra were relegated to third place after a well-executed rendition of Nobody Go Run Me as envisioned by Khan Cordice. Already the band with the most national Panorama championships to date (seventeen), Hell’s Gate had been going for a fourth consecutive title having won the Panorama from 2011-2013. For Cordice it would have been his fifth championship in six Panorama forays.  Spanning the length and breadth of the stage with 108 musicians, Hell’s Gate had mounted a spirited defense of their title, finishing up with a flourish at 12:52 a.m.  Prior to their performance Hell’s Gate honored past captains of the band.

Gemonites Steel Orchestra
Gemonites Steel Orchestra

Three-time Panorama champs (1981, 2003, 2005) Gemonites Steel Orchestra threw their hat in the ring with 85 players sounding off as they played Tornado by Carl “de Panman” Richards.  The tune of choice for four out of the eight competitors in the 2014 Panorama, Richards—himself a Gemonites member—was quite happy with the popularity of the piece. This year Gemonites switched out regular arranger Patrick “Stone” Johnson—who brought the band championship glory back in 2003—for another face in pan in the person of Johnny Gonsalves, who has worked with Gemonites before.  After managing third place in 2013, the group copped second place this year leaving band captain Joseph “Jowato” Henry and others extremely pleased; no doubt the 2015 title is now squarely in their sights.

The singing of Antigua & Barbuda’s national anthem by Flora Haywood preceded the first Panorama participant, West Side Symphony Steel Orchestra which was participating after a hiatus of several years.  With instruments set up on stage prior to their presentation, the musicians of West Side Symphony had literally danced into their places with hands and sticks in the air, as they positioned themselves behind their pans in preparation to kick off the 2014 Panorama competition. It was 8:50 p.m. as they struck up their rendition of Carl “de Panman” Richards’ selection of Tornado as arranged by Gavin Francis.  About the efforts of West Side Symphony, Francis said afterward, “I’m very pleased with the performance; we have a lot of young players; some of them have been playing since January, and it was a challenge to get them here [to this point], and I am really happy with the way they executed the song, so we’re comfortable we did a good job.”  With mainly teenagers in the band, ages of the players ranged from eight through those in their fifties.

Steelband lovers were initially seated in the stands, while the customary large open area directly in front of the stage was packed with even more die hard pan fans who stood their ground, taking in their favorite bands up close.  By the time West Side Symphony ended, some stood with umbrellas as sprinkles of raindrops were felt. Before the night was over it would turn out to be one of the larger crowds for Panorama at the ARG (Antigua Recreation Grounds) aka “Carnival City” in the country’s capital of St. John’s.

Harmonites Steel Orchestra
Harmonites Steel Orchestra

Next up, about 60 players proudly represented eight-time Panorama champs Harmonites Steel Orchestra as they declared their musical intentions beginning 9:23 p.m., having chosen as well Tornado in their quest for the 2014 title.  Members clad in red, black, blue, and white polo shirts put on an energetic performance of the piece as arranged by Aubrey “Lacu” Samuel.

Halcyon Steel Orchestra
Halcyon Steel Orchestra

Appearing in fourth position for the evening was Halcyon Steel Orchestra, themselves no stranger to the Panorama title (having twelve such under their belt), the last time being when they were ultimately declared joint winners along with Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra with respect to the 2011 competition. With longtime arranger Victor “Babu” Samuel in musical charge, Harmonites, fielding 83 musicians hoped that King Obstinate’s Resurrection would mean just that for them - a return to Panorama championship glory. The orchestra’s impressive-sounding instruments were tuned by Grenada-born, London-based steelband innovator and tuner Dudley Dickson, who was also spotted on stage with the band playing his distinctive ‘amplified scratcher.’  To the disappointment of supporters, as in 2013, again Harmonites did not ‘place’ in the final outcome.

East Vibes Steel Orchestra
East Vibes Steel Orchestra

Making their musical pitch in the 2014 Panorama next at 11:08 p.m. was East Vibes Steel Orchestra, founded by Curtis Sylvester Patrick Cochrane affectionately known as “CC.”  The smallest band in the competition, they were made up of mainly youngsters who gave an even better account of themselves this time around as they connected with the audience and enjoyed themselves immensely playing Red Hot Flames’ Pretty Pretty arranged by “CC.”

Original Steel Orchestra put out a valiant effort; they were another crew comprising mainly youngsters, and appeared in the penultimate position out of the eight Panorama entrants. With a complement of about fifty-five players, their turn to show the audience their musical mettle came around 12:11 a.m.  The youngest player, a mere nine years, was in lockstep with other band mates as the fourth and final band to play Tornado arranged this time around by Michael Brown.

Pan has had a ‘friend in Pan’ at the highest level in the Antigua & Barbuda government for the past ten years through former Prime Minister Winston Baldwin Spencer.  And as is almost always the case at Pan events in his country, Mr. Spencer was once again in attendance enjoying the Panorama, having thorough knowledge of the art form, being a ‘Panman’ himself and affiliated with Halcyon Steel Orchestra.  And as always, he was affable and readily accessible. Chatting with local media, Mr. Spencer commented on the crowd at the ARG, noting that it was “....a pretty good showing, and it shows that steelband and steelband music and what it represents - as far as our culture is concerned, and our history, is in fact, coming back - and that is very, very good - as far as I’m concerned.” He continued in part “....I usually make the rounds; I visit all the pan yards, listen to the tunes.  I try to get a feel of how things are going....”

And at this point the Pan connection appears poised to continue.  During an interview while attending the Panorama, the newly-elected Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne acknowledged that his own constituency of St. John’s City West was a mainstay - of not only a significant portion of Antigua & Barbuda’s steelband community, but also the source of the history of Pan relative to the area. In response to a direct question from local media, he also recognized that both as area representative, and as Prime Minister, he was expected to ensure that this was maintained. “…Absolutely….it is indicative of the talent in the community.” Pointing out that one of the country’s well-known steel orchestras, Supa Stars, had emanated from St. John’s City West, the Prime Minister continued “….We have individuals who would have made contributions to the socio-economic development of this country, covering all aspects of our development. And certainly calypso and steelband is one area in which we have actually excelled, and I expect us to continue to excel in that area,” said Prime Minister Browne.

The majority of the 2014 Panorama was streamed live via USTREAM by ABS TV, though the quality was significantly poorer than that of 2013, and did disappear just before Ebonites performed.  Local frequencies Observer Radio and ABS Radio also carried the broadcast online; the former was plagued with dropouts for the duration of their time on-air. The much-anticipated results of the 2014 Panorama were unveiled by the master of ceremonies at 1:37 a.m. Only the top three places were announced.

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2014 Antigua & Barbuda National Steelband Panorama- Results

Placing Played @ Band Selection/Performer Arranger
1st #6 Ebonites Steel Orchestra
All Ah We
/ Claudette “CP” Peters & Taxik
Dayne “Wadeka” Gomes
2nd #3 Gemonites Steel Orchestra
/ Carl “de Panman” Richards
Johnny Gonsalves
3rd #8 Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra Nobody Go Run Me
/ King Short Shirt

Remaining competitors - listed in alphabetical order

  #5 East Vibes Steel Orchestra Pretty Pretty
 / Red Hot Flames
  #4 Halcyon Steel Orchestra Resurrection
 / King Obstinate
  #2 Harmonites Steel Orchestra Tornado
 / Carl “de Panman” Richards
  #7 Original Steel Orchestra Tornado
 / Carl “de Panman” Richards
Michael Brown
  #1 Westside Symphony Steel Orchestra Tornado
 / Carl “de Panman” Richards

Click for more on Antigua & Barbuda Panorama

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