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Cool & Smooth 25-A-Side Launches New Era

National Youth Orchestra takes crown, Panache comes in second

Moods of Pan 2008 

Antigua & Barbuda, W.I. - The first edition of the Cool & Smooth ‘25-A-Side’ is now history but the future ramifications of this successful steelpan musical venture will have a lasting impact on the global steelband music fraternity, community and business of pan for years to come.  A seismic-shift in the future of pan in Antigua & Barbuda and the Caribbean region with far-reaching global ramifications - not so quietly took place here tonight.  When Steel Talks saw it, felt it and tasted it up close and personal.  And of course When Steel Talks has video footage for your review.

Gemonites Steel Orchestra has done it again - not content to sit on their rear end and grumble without movement - the organization and its leaders remain progressive, forward thinking and all-encompassing as it relates to the needs of the Antiguan steelband movement...

On the surface, the particulars will say that the National Youth Pan Orchestra playing Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder and arranged by the young up-and-coming Khan Cordice won the competition.  Indeed, Khan’s arrangement, and  its performance by the National Youth Pan Orchestra, was spectacular.  Moreover, the eighteen-year old Khan is someone the steelpan music community will be hearing from for a very longtime.  He is a major talent.  Remember When Steel Talks foretold the rise of New York’s ADLIB Steel Orchestra and specifically their youthful arranger André White - many, many moons ago.

The National Youth Pan Orchestra on stage

In choosing Sir Duke, the National Youth Pan Orchestra displayed a confidence in their ability to tackle the musical intricacies and shifting melodic patterns and time signatures, while still keeping the underlying Caribbean feel just below the surface.  Sir Duke is not for the faint of heart.  These young musicians brought not only deft musical execution to the table, but also an exuberance and joy in what they were doing that translated to the audience.  Their ability to state the melody while seamlessly tying together different genres of music without sounding esoteric or doing something ‘just because we can,’ belied their youthful years.

Panache Steel Orchestra on stage

Panache Steel Orchestra, new and virtually untested in competition circles, executed a splendid rendition playing Perfidia as arranged by Robin “Schwarp” Margetson.  They took the 1st runner-up position. Panache displayed superb musicianship.  Indeed, Margetson’s smooth transitions, key changes and effortless but effective variations on the musical genres without a lull or disconnection in musical theme and excitement, had to have the late Master arranger Clive Bradley smiling and clapping ‘bravo!’  Margetson and Panache clearly have their own voice and the orchestra is a musical force to respect and reckon within.

Ebonites had to be the surprise of the night.  The term “money ball player” is used often in the USA to describe people who perform their best when it matters most or when the spotlight is on them.  Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt and Mr. October (Reggie Jackson) come immediately to mind.  Ebonites were no doubt the “money ball players” of the night.  When Steel Talks had seen Ebonites rehearse the previous night in our panyard visits to the participating ‘25-A-Side’ orchestras.  They clearly elevated their game to another level on stage.  Performing I Who Have Nothing by Tom Jones as arranged by Aubrey “Lacu” Samuel - Ebonites easily secured the second-runner up position.

Ebonites Steel Orchestra on stage

All the performances brought different things to the table.  There were no weak performances.  However, what was clearly established at this event was that any group entering this competition had better come with their A-game, and be clicking on all cylinders - or risk getting their feelings hurt - LOL...

Three other orchestras participated in the event.  They were C&W Hell’s Gate playing ‘Blue Moon’ - arranged by Veron Henry; W.I.O.C Gemonites playing ‘Cherish’ by Kool & the Gang - arranged by Patrick “Stone” Johnson; and A.M.P. Halcyon playing ‘How Great Thou Art’ - arranged by Fitzroy “Blaykie” Phillip.

The prize format was well thought out and from our perspective, excellent for this type competition.  It facilitates healthy rivalry in a quest for music excellence.  In addition to the bands placing in the top three, remaining participants also shared in prize monies.  The format of the competition called for the positions and announcements for only the top three orchestras.  All other participants received the same cash award amount.  Click here to see Moods of Pan 2008 prizes and facts.

The judging was competent and fair from our perspective.  The sound was quite good, not great, but again, quite good - and as it is well known When Steel Talks has no history of being bashful about ‘outing’ bad sound engineers who cannot handle and/or do not care about pan.  Our hats go off to Power Linx Audio who provided the sound over the three nights of the festival.  Pan Trinbago in Trinidad & Tobago, and WIADCA in New York: are you listening? 

As a direct result of the decent sound reinforcement, instrument tonal quality actually meant something.  The differences in grade and tonal characteristics among the competing bands’ musical instruments, were very distinctive.  The great tuning works of master pan tuner Birch Kelman (who was present), and every other tuner who diligently worked on respective instruments - could be heard and fully appreciated.

In its virgin voyage, the Moods of Pan 2008 ‘25-A-Side’ competition (sponsored by Cool & Smooth) - shattered the myth or widely held belief, that there cannot be a major steelpan music event that can evoke the following and  passions of the steelpan music enthusiasts, and other interested parties - outside of a steelband music panorama competition; and more importantly - that one is tied to a particular carnival season - irrespective of location.

It is now the end of November a full five months after Antigua’s last panorama and carnival.  However, there was significant activity in pan yards of Antigua’s established orchestras because of this competition.  Six groups participated in the Antigua & Barbuda 2008 national panorama - comparatively eight steelband organizations signed up for the 25-A-Side competition.  Due to unanticipated circumstances two groups had to legitimately withdraw from the competition.

Pan and Carnival will inevitably always be linked, but carnival as we have seen will no longer ‘own’ pan.  The 25-A-Side surely demonstrates this.  Can it be very long before we see the likes of an Ebony or Mangrove from the UK, New Dimension or Angel Harps from Grenada, Pantonic or Sonatas from New York, or any of the big guns from Trinidad & Tobago - the likes of a Desperadoes or Phase II - in this competition?

The future is very bright for this new addition to Moods of Pan.  All of the participants in the 25-A-Side forum should be very proud in the role they played in this show.

Click for VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS of 25-A-Side


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Moods of Pan 2008   

contact: Moods of Pan
Patrick “Stone” Johnson at - - 1 (268) 727-6633
Joseph “Jawato” Henry - click here

Click for additional articles on Moods of Pan 2008 **

click for past Moods of Pan festivals reviews

   Related Articles on Antigua: Click here

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