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2nd Australian Steelpan Festival

A Review by Mark Loquan, Musical Director, Perth Pandemix

What happens when you have a lot of pan enthusiasts from players, tuners, Carnival mas players, arrangers, and pan supporters in one place? You get lots of music, but more than that, you get another step in the development of pan, this time in Brisbane, Queensland, in Australia, where steelbands appeared from all over Australia and New Zealand for the 2nd Australian Steelpan Festival held at West End State School grounds. The festival represented a significant milestone for PANZ, an association of steelbands across Australia and New Zealand, formed in 2013, following the 1st Australian Steelpan Festival in Marysville, Victoria held in April 2013. In fact, it was immediately after the first festival where the decision was made to form the association, PANZ, to act as a catalyst to develop pan in the region. A strategic plan was developed, with a central point being the planning of a biennial event where all bands could work towards (Strategic Plan Link).

While the 1st Steelpan Festival was produced on a grander scale, enabled by significant grants and the involvement the entire community of Marysville, the 2nd Festival faced challenges of funding, and competing events in Brisbane (Brisbane Festival).  The event was scaled down from the original plans, but the spirit and love for the pan was just as strong or even stronger. This is because people had already established a connection with each other from the first Festival, and a good sign of development were new bands joining in the event.  The new bands were:

  • Perth Pandemix which started in February 2013 participating as the only resident steelband from Western Australia led by Larry Carvalho, and Musical Director Mark Loquan
  • CaribVic Steelband which started in Jan 2014 by the Caribbean Association of Victoria , supported by Denis Gonzales (from Sydney) and Swiss born Rita Seethaler from the Triangle Community in Victoria and her fellow pan colleagues Lisa Nolte and Isaac Sims
  • Groove Pandemonium from Canberra started only some months ago by former Cavaliers member, Courtney Leiba and directed by Gary France
  • Katikati AllPanz from New Zealand led by UK born, Marion Titmuss

The festival, though scaled down, and without the same level of community involvement, was undoubtedly a resounding success with visitors such as 

  • Steve Lawrie from Ohio, pan tuner, playing an integral role in tuning and judging
  • Michael "Manish" Robinson (Trinidadian pan ambassador living in Japan for the past 23 years) assisting in tuning pans, and performing on percussion and pan for the bands
  • Yoichi Watanabe (Japanese professional audio engineer living in Trinidad) from the University of Trinidad and Tobago, assisting in recording and sound production of the performances. 
    Yoichi Watanabe
    Yoichi Watanabe, at the controls

Practice spaces were smaller with several bands rehearsing in various parts of the school, but this just served to make the setting that much more intimate with everyone weaving in and out of each other, ole talking, catching up, networking, planning, joking, mamaguying and discussing pan from every angle. 

On Saturday Sep 26, 2015, the music started, with the following ten bands from five regions participating:

  • Rivercity, Pantastic, and St Andrews from Queensland,
  • CaribVic, Pans on Fire, and Hot Pans from Victoria
  • Caribbeanz and Kati Kati All Panz from New Zealand
  • Groove PANdemonium from Canberra
  • Perth Pandemix from Western Australia
Caribbeanz Steelband from Auckland, NZ
(Caribbeanz Steelband from Auckland, NZ)
CaribVic Steelband from Melbourne
(CaribVic Steelband from Melbourne)
Hot Pans from the Triangle Community
(Hot Pans from the Triangle Community)
(Pans on Fire from the Triangle Community) 
Pans on Fire from the Triangle Community)
(Groove PANdemonium from Canberra)
(Groove PANdemonium from Canberra)
(St. Andrews Steelband from the Sunshine Coast)
(St. Andrews Steelband from the Sunshine Coast)

Each band performed 3 pieces, a tune of choice, a well-known song, a Panorama piece with a wide variety of music performed, which included songs ranging from Pizzicato Polka, to Jamming, Africa, Viva La Vida, to Panorama tunes like Pan in A Minor, Pan Magic, and Pan Earthquake. There were also original compositions by some of the bands’ Music Directors, such as Alvin Rostant's catchy and melodic tune, De Band Coming performed by Rivercity, Sharon Brown’s Kurzem performed by Pantastic, 100 Years of Carnival by Denis Gonzalez for CaribVic, while Perth Pandemix ended the competition with Mark Loquan's energetic Fire and Steel. All received appreciative rounds of applause.

With judging by entertainer Errol Renaud, tuner and physicist, Steve Lawrie  and composer and playwright Felix Cross, MBE, after several hours of good music, Rivercity emerged as the 2nd Australia Steelpan Festival champs.  They were followed by the previous Festival winner, Pantastic, for 2nd place, while new bands, Perth Pandemix and CaribVic placed 3rd and 4th respectively.    

Rivercity Steelband
(1st Place – Rivercity Steelband)
(2nd place – Pantastic)
 Perth Pandemix
(3rd place – Perth Pandemix)

The most promising band award was given to Katikati AllPanz from New Zealand.
 Katikati AllPanz

During the day attendees and participants enjoyed the delicacies of curry goat, green coconuts with water and jelly, Chinese dim sum, and several other delights, along with an Angostura bar stocked with rum punch. Denis Gonzalez, Alvin Rostant, Michael “Manish” Robinson, Violet Stannard, Lennox Jordan, Nicky Bomba

There was also a Steelpan Exhibition highlighting the development of the steelpan with several pans on exhibition,  and a synopsis of the history of pan in Australia and New Zealand, based on a paper prepared by Linda Fullerton that was presented as part of the August 2015 International Steelpan Conference held in Trinidad (
Steelpan Exhibition
Steelpan Exhibition)

Carnival ParadeCarnival ParadeThen if that was not enough, after all the performances, the players joined with Carnival masqueraders for a pan round the neck and dudup jam session, continuing the camaraderie generated throughout the entire event.  

Alvin Rostant & d’band JahbutuA calypso night was organised for Saturday evening, starting with a Pan Ramajay shootout, followed by entertainment provided by Alvin Rostant and d’band Jahbutu, as well as world famous Nicky Bomba backed up by Bombastics (including veteran musicians Sharon Brown, Matt Davies and Jesse Brown) with Lennox Jordan featured on pan. The crowd was on their feet and dancing, even after an intense day of events.



 Nicky Bomba with the BombasticsSunday 27th began with Pan Ensembles, smaller pan ensembles from Kati Kati All Panz and Pantastic, called Keatoka and Pandanus.  A special Happy Birthday was performed for Jesse Brown, the talented bass player from Pantastic whose birthday fell on the day which led to further celebration of the upcoming birthdays of Lennox Jordan falling on Wednesday, September 30th and Michael “Manish” Robinson Manish on the Tuesday, September 29th. An impromptu ramajay session broke out between Australia’s lead pan maker/performer/arranger and the Japan based pan maker/performer/arranger exhibiting fantastic pan playing skills, which went immediately into an exciting session of Trini to De Bone, which had the crowd totally thrilled.

(Impromptu pan shootout between Manish and Lennox)

Then the mass performance got underway, with all the bands playing in unison Netty Netty (also performed at the 1st Festival but now with individual ramajay performances) and followed by Lennox Jordan's arrangement of Calling Meh.  
 Mass band performance
Mass band performance

Inclement weather then prevented some of the planned workshops from taking place, nonetheless the event and spirit of all participants shone brightly throughout, with pan taking centre stage in the hearts and minds of all who attended. It was another successful and highly enjoyable experience.  Certainly our band, Perth Pandemix enjoyed the event in Brisbane immensely and were happy to participate as one of the newcomers, who were made to feel at home far away from Perth.

Rivercity’s arranger Alvin Rostant The 3rd Australian Steelpan Festival is already in the thought process.  Special thanks and congrats to Event Coordinator and Secretary of PANZ, Linda Fullerton, the organising committee, and all who made the event a most memorable experience. Trinidad and Tobago, after hosting the recent International Conference and Panorama, has to take note of developments in this region.

(Rivercity’s arranger Alvin Rostant and leader/Festival Coordinator, Linda Fullerton (right) receiving their 1st prize. Watching on is Lennox Jordan, PANZ President, Matt Davies on the mic, former Cavaliers member, Courtney Leiba and Perth Pandemix leader, Larry Carvalho (hidden)

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