Chuma Akil Jahi Watson - Panist, Educator, Visionary

On the concept of  The Excellence in Growth of the Steelpan Art Form Chuma Akil Jahi Watson says: “Steelpan has so much to offer and needs the youths to continue being heavily involved. Not just for the playing aspect but most importantly the history behind it, the growth of the manufacturing and innovation process.”

WST - “Tell us about Chuma Akil Jahi Watson?”

Chuma Akil Jahi Watson
Chuma Akil Jahi Watson

Chuma W. - “I am a professional Panist, documenter, academic, career-driven and artistic specialist from the twin sister isle of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.”

WST - “When and how were you first introduced to the steelpan instrument?”

Chuma W. - “I was first formally introduced by Mr. Kurt Robinson. I started playing at the age of 13 years old in a small community called La Horquetta at LH Pan Groove Steel Orchestra.”

WST - “You are an organizer, performing artist, steelpan player and most importantly, a leader and a mentor to the younger members of the steelband fraternity. Which role defines you best? And which do you like the most?”

Chuma W. - “My performance skills define me the best. I like the documentation of music the most.”

WST - “What keeps your passion for the instrument going?”

Chuma W. - “The history behind it does but most importantly, how it has grown to become a musical instrument of full stardom and international stature.”

WST - “Do any of your family members play pan? If so, tell us about them.”

Chuma W. - “I’m probably the only functioning Steelpan player in my family. My uncle Mr. Keith Diaz use to play the Double Seconds but has given up that a long time now. Other than him, it’s only me in my family. Only accountants, lawyers, business owners and artist in my family other than me being the only artist.”

WST - “If you had the power to change something in pan immediately what would that be?”

Chuma W. - “For Steelpan to be an occupation within the republic of Trinidad and Tobago, whether it be a player, tuner, arranger, ethnomusicologist, band leader, etc.”

WST - “Let’s talk about “The Excellence in Growth of the Steelpan Art Form” - what is the ideology and thrust behind this?”

Chuma W. - “Steelband community development, youth and innovation. Steelpan has so much to offer and needs the youths to continue being heavily involved. Not just for the playing aspect but most importantly the history behind it, the growth of the manufacturing and innovation process.”

WST - “In an earlier interaction with WST you felt that “the biggest challenge within the region would be panyard security, social community development and steelpan’s history being an integral part within primary and secondary school curriculums.” Can you please elaborate further on this?”

Chuma W. - “For panyard security, based on these economic times we are currently facing, and [in] addition to that, all Steel Orchestras within the region don’t rightly own their property in which they reside in. So it’s given that laws should be documented and given to, within economical reasoning that the entertainment industry isn’t financially substantial in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Social community development challenges are: in helping to protect, nurture and prepare the youth to grab a hold towards the advantage of global opportunities. Where Steelpan history being an integral part in the school curriculum is concerned: most importantly for primary and secondary level students, is that they need to know the wealth of knowledge that’s firmly embedded of the National Instrument of Trinidad and Tobago at hand before tertiary level education.”

Chuma at the 2019 Panorama semifinals on ‘the Drag’ with Renegades Steel Orchestra
Chuma at the 2019 Panorama semifinals on ‘the Drag’ with Renegades Steel Orchestra

WST - “You also have a dedication to and vision for - ‘opportunities and life’ for the steel orchestra outside of the Panorama season - do share on this once more for the benefit of the wider steelband community.”

Chuma W. - “There’s many to mention, let me focus on four different portfolios which relate to this: documentation, business, performance and education. With that being said, opportunities where documentation is concerned are widely valuable, for the lack there of; our history behind Steelpan such as:  musicologist, ambassador bloggers, ethnomusicologist, just to name a few. Business for Steelpan worldwide is growing and we need to be more optimistic, driven to be innovative and market globally to create a large network of opportunities for its membership within the Steelpan fraternity in management and business strategic planning endeavors. Performance is at an all-time high and still has room for a lot of potential such as: Grammy nominated or worldwide award winners in performance. Education is the root of everything here, where the theory and skill / talent are applied all together. We need to start publishing historical Steelpan residency plans to be fully enrolled within school curriculums across our twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean and internationally. Steelpan has touched the four corners of the globe educationally and has created an evolution from where Steelpan was to where it is now. An African drum, which created opportunities for Professors, Teachers, Scorers, Arrangers, Soloists, Documenters and Players all over the world.”

WST - “How can the relationships between bands and community be strengthened?”

Chuma W. - “Non competitive events/engagements are a strong result for this question and it has been happening already, for example: Rep Yuh Band, ComPANion Sports, Pan In D Rosa etc. But most importantly a good functioning committee is most important.”

WST - ““Creating a greater embrace towards parents’ acceptance of their children’s involvement within steelbands’ daily activities” is a key component of your thought process. What is your strategy for successfully implementing this idea?”

Chuma W. - “To have more community development activities, presenting the history and culture of our national instrument, with a view to raise national and global awareness. Exploring various avenue to help produce regional, national and international events, programs and opportunities.”

WST - “What would be your advice given to someone who is interested in traveling and pursuing performing in various countries around the world, such as yourself?”

Chuma W. - “My advice would be to remain humble, continue to teach and learn at the best of your ability.”

WST - “Who, and what are your musical influences?”

Chuma W. - “This is a good question, first I would say God. For me it’s all about one’s passion towards music which drives me and there are many I can mention. Mr. Duvone Stewart, Mr. Carlton Alexander, Mr. Clive Bradley, Mr. Liam Teague, Mr. Triston Marcano, Mr. Stefon West, Mr. Akua Leith, Mr. Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Mr. Lenard Lera, Mr. Noel Frazer, Mr. Ray Holman, Dr. Mia Gormandy-Benjamin, etc. There’s too many to mention because they all played different roles in my journey and growth process thus far.”

WST - “You are a member of the champion Renegades steelband fraternity in Trinidad & Tobago. Describe that experience.”

Chuma W. - “My experience as a present roadside member for six years and former stageside member in 2017 and 2018 is second to none. Bp Renegades Steel Orchestra is in a class by itself. I was first strongly influenced by Mr. Duvone  Stewart when he first got the opportunity to arrange for the band and that’s how my journey began with them. Renegades is like home to me, more like family. A large band win is phenomenal and getting to experience the rehearsals, stage performance, togetherness and raw emotions in the 2018 win which we won after a two-decade drought, along in that year being the first Steelband Orchestras to perform on the Tobago Jazz International night stage, followed by having Beyond Horizons, and presently back-to-back champs in the National Panorama of Trinidad and Tobago - simply just can’t be expressed through words.”

Chuma with Duvone Stewart (left), at Renegades' 2018 National Panorama Champs celebration at the pan yard
Chuma with Duvone Stewart (left), at Renegades’ 2018 National Panorama Champs celebration at the pan yard

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Chuma W. - “Panorama to me is more than a competition, it is a genre that has been created/developed within the art form. It’s more than what we think it is but yet also it’s scratching the surface towards the evolution of Steelpan.”

WST - “Is Panorama a curse or blessing from your perspective?”

Chuma W. - “The passion of Panorama is a blessing but the love for the politics is a curse.”

WST - “How would you describe your personal journey with Pan thus far?”

Chuma W. - “My personal journey through Pan is simply phenomenal. Not just performance but I have also learnt a bit about Pan manufacturing and I also taught in various workshops and different Caribbean islands, which is another inner dimensional passion I have for different avenues where music has carried and leads me to venture. Music has blessed me with the opportunity to freely express myself and yet also feel the different emotions of my life through its universal language. From then till now, the knowledge which I’ve gained from this amazing musical gift has taught me not just the importance of performance but [that] the interaction with others, culture, society and documentation alongside music are very important to me. In my early childhood I suffered with dyslexia and music has been a main therapeutic process for me. Music is very dear to me because of that and which I hold very close to my heart. My passion for music and the historical documentation of the Fine Arts in general are second to none.”

WST - “What is your vision for Pan in Trinidad & Tobago going forward - a decade from now?”

Chuma with a young admirer after final 2019 Panorama rehearsal
Chuma with a young admirer after final 2019 Panorama rehearsal

Chuma W. - “My vision is to simply see the growth of innovation take its rightful place. A decade from now I would like to see more young Pan manufacturers, more programs that would help us as a nation to not just love but also fully support our culture, our history being more embedded within the minds of our fellow citizens, creating more external opportunities and getting our history spread throughout universities, museums, corporate organizations all over the world.”

WST - “What do you know now about Pan, that you wished you had known years ago?”

Chuma W. - “Interesting question, what do I know now which I would love to know years ago. It would be the importance of business, innovation and discipline.”

WST - “What do you think of the “sweeping changes” relating to Panorama, i.e. Single Pan in November, Small bands earlier, medium finals in Tobago, and such?”

Chuma W. - “Firstly change is good and I would always welcome change. However, the impact which it carries is what needs to be heavily focused on moving on forward. Looking at it culturally, economically and logically, should be the first three steps in moving on forward. Once the three are in agreement with one another, I think that all should go well.”

WST - “What is next for Chuma Akil Jahi Watson?”

Chuma W. - “Further pursuing my academic career focusing on ethnomusicology. Hopefully open an academy, publish books, score music, teach, innovate and continue to learn and grow.”

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