Who Knew? The Steelpan - the Tenor - proves the mightiest of challenges in Amazing Race 32’s first leg

It ain’t that easy - playing a Pan, that is

Eswar, with hands raised in disappointment his second time 
					around, is teamed with sister Aparna for Season 32. He 
					eventually did get past this ‘Road Block’ of ‘steel,’ and 
					garnered the envelope with the next clue
Eswar, with hands raised in disappointment his second time around, is teamed with sister Aparna for Season 32. He eventually did get past this ‘Road Block’ of ‘steel,’ and garnered the envelope with the next clue.

Global - So who knew that the Tenor voice of the steelpan family of instruments, would prove to apparently be the most difficult challenge for some team members on the CBS Amazing Race’s latest season premiere, which started off in Trinidad and mainly, Tobago? Indeed, the eleven pairs of competitors who participated in the first leg of Season 32, had no idea what lay in store for them on an instrument which many music lovers around the world have deemed among the easiest to get the hang of. Arranger, composer, performer and outstanding panist Garvin Blake has often reminded us in our many pan conversations, that the steelpan is one of the easiest instruments to ‘get sound out of.’  All you have to do is strike the note. But playing the instrument in ‘time’ and making it sound good is not that easy - particularly as a solo endeavor.

But the only thing that might be termed ‘easy’ on this group, regarding getting past what Amazing Race organizers dubbed the ‘Road Block’ - was the beautiful beach in Tobago that was the site for this activity. Teams had to learn to play a part of a song. As host Phil Keoghan put it: “If they can hit the right notes and stay ‘in time,’ they’ll end this ‘Road Block’ on a high note, with a clue.” That, so the teams could move on to the final first-leg test, the famously fun Tobago Goat Race.

Redemption Sound Setters Steel Orchestra
Redemption Sound Setters Steel Orchestra
 
Bamboo-crafted music stand - Redemption Sound Setters Steel Orchestra at Amazing Race 32
Bamboo-crafted music stand - Redemption Sound Setters Steel Orchestra at Amazing Race 32

Redemption Sound Setters Steel Orchestra’s players were on hand both as instructors, and accompaniment, as a member of each pair took repeated turns with the aim of satisfactorily rendering six specified lines of “Day-O.” The song was first recorded by Trinidadian singer Edric Connor and his band ‘Edric Connor and the Caribbeans’ on the 1952 album ‘Songs From Jamaica.’ The song was later popularized by Harry Belafonte. To help team members achieve their goal, basic guide sheets with numbers indicating notes to be played, were perched atop music stands uniquely crafted, island-style, in, what else – bamboo. Each ‘contestant’ had a band member giving him/her a hands-on tutorial, with the aim of helping them achieve their musical quest.

With assistance from a Redemption South Setters musician, Kellie puts in the work before it's her turn to run her lines with the band
With assistance from a Redemption South Setters musician, Kellie puts in the work before it’s her turn to run her lines with the band

With a reported average viewership of ten million per episode, the teams gave the musical task their best shots – this after being in the waters of Tobago’s Nylon Pool for quite some time while finishing up a ‘fish hunt’ of sorts, which obviously wore some of them out. But in that Road Block challenge referenced in the Amazing Race clue envelopes as “‘Steel’ The Show” - (a teasing reference to the musical task that lay ahead) – for some, the Task of The Tenor was taking them out. Not once, twice, three times – but for team member 2012 Olympic hurdler and bronze medalist Kellie it took nine attempts, while after more than ten times around, former NFL Carolina Panther Gary Barnidge finally gave himself and partner and fellow NFLer DeAngelo Williams a reason to ‘whoop it up.’ All - in the efforts to get the acknowledgement of the Redemption Sound Setters designee that they had ‘made the cut’ musically. He in turn handed over their envelopes with instructions for the next clue/trial.

Redemption Sound Setters music leader with that first envelope in hand; and it goes to - Chee, who did indeed “Steel The Show” at the Road Block
Redemption Sound Setters music leader with that first envelope in hand; and it goes to - Chee, who did indeed “Steel The Show” at the Road Block

Getting those notes, and then that timing/rhythm was a very tall order that proved exasperating for the select few. Most of the contestants took a musical whupping trying to complete the task and had to repeat their ‘examination’ multiple times. But taking it in stride and wrapping it up, Chee - who was teamed with his wife Hung for the series - did ‘Steel’ The Show first ahead of the other ten pairs. “Want to thank my Mom and Dad for all those years of piano lessons! Thanks, Mom and Dad!” Chee exclaimed laughingly and triumphantly afterward, with the Amazing Race envelope containing the final clue to what would be the end of the first contest leg, in hand.

Chee, second from left did “Steel” The Show at the Road Block
Chee, second from left did “Steel” The Show at the Road Block
 
Cody tries his hand at making the musical grade with Redemption Sound Setters Steel Orchestra
Cody tries his hand at making the musical grade with Redemption Sound Setters Steel Orchestra

The real-time count of just how long it took the sometimes desperate and obviously frustrated would-be panists to get it done is not known, but in the end, it was clear that the competitors had no idea that this specific ‘test’ (that probably did not look so intimidating initially) would ultimately be costly, and be the deed that contributed to the elimination of the first team in this first leg of Season 32. Curious to know how some of them felt about ‘steelband’ after this experience, LOL. The first duo to be ‘sent home’ after the four challenges, were best friends Cody and Nathan; Cody had been the last to complete his task on tenor pan. And triumphantly on their way to Colombia from Tobago, in first place at this juncture, were Chee and Hung.

Team members of Amazing Race 32 fulfilling the requirement of rolling bass pans along the sidewalk, on the way to the panyard of Exodus Steel Orchestra - all twenty-two did this.
Team members of Amazing Race 32 fulfilling the requirement of rolling bass pans along the sidewalk, on the way to the panyard of Exodus Steel Orchestra - all twenty-two completed this.

But it all began in the sister isle, Trinidad, where the first ‘task’ entailed rolling bass pans! apparently from the stash of champion band Exodus Steel Orchestra (Goodness – are those instruments from the ‘no longer used’ pile? Please say so!) along the sidewalks of the Eastern Main Road under the night sky, for a quarter of a mile, then down into the band’s panyard! Not sure who came up with that idea or why Exodus would agree to it. It sure did rub many the wrong way. Who rolls their musical instrument on the ground? It was not a good look for the instrument and fed into a lot of bad stereotypes that still prevail present-day re: steelpan - like the instrument is in reality only ‘an old drum,’ or other more offensive terms such as “trash cans.””

The ‘home’ stretch - rolling bass pans down and into Exodus’ panyard
The ‘home’ stretch - rolling bass pans down and into Exodus’ panyard

Somehow, one cannot imagine rolling timpani or other such in this manner. Pan tuners and manufacturers, especially the ‘elders’ who have passed – Herman Guppy Brown, Allan Gervais, James “Bassman” Jackman, Wallace Austin, Bertie Marshall, the legendary Rudolph Charles and others – will surely be haunting more than just a few people because of this.

The Amazing Race Season 32 - Highlights

Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan welcomes all to the party at the panyard of Exodus Steel Orchestra; the mas character The Midnight Robber who holds tickets for team members, is to Keoghan’s left
Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan welcomes all to the party at the panyard of Exodus Steel Orchestra; the mas character The Midnight Robber who holds tickets for team members, is in black and silver to Keoghan’s left

Exodus Steel Orchestra performs
Exodus Steel Orchestra performs

Exodus Steel Orchestra performs
Exodus Steel Orchestra performs

Throngs of people were reveling in Exodus’ panyard, making for the Carnival/party atmosphere, where hundreds of masqueraders and characters in full costumes, danced and pranced to the sounds of Exodus, with more than seventy musicians jammin’ soca, Machel Montano’s ‘Like Ah Boss’. In the midst of the deliberate mas madness, the Midnight Robber was there for acts of ‘benevolence.’ He/she was charged with dispensing those coveted, large black and yellow envelopes with clues that urged the contestants on to their next ‘appointments’ – which were two flights to Tobago the following morning.

In the panyard of Exodus Steel Orchestra, mas character The Midnight Robber holds tickets for flights to Tobago for team members of Amazing Race 32
In the panyard of Exodus Steel Orchestra, mas character The Midnight Robber holds tickets for flights to Tobago for team members of Amazing Race 32

This season completed filming in 2018, and premiered October 14, 2020. Given the more hair-raising situations that were to follow in other destinations/countries, looking back – this first leg may have probably been the easiest.

A great time was had by many; Trinidad, and for the majority of the show, Tobago, were showcased on the global stage, with Exodus and Redemption Sound Setters steel orchestras serving up the steelband sounds. Sisters, sports brothers, life partners, parent & child, best friends - all formed the initial determined assortment of eleven teams, each keen to triumph at the end of what is sure to indeed be an “Amazing” season.

CBS’s Amazing Race

The Amazing Race Season 32 - Highlights:  1st leg

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