25-A-Side Features The Best in Antigua & Barbuda’s Steel Orchestra Industry

by When Steel Talks

© 2008 -  All Rights Reserved.

Full coverage on Moods of Pan 2008 **

25-A-Side - In Pictures

Moods of Pan Flyer

Antigua & Barbuda, W.I. - There was much anticipation emanating from the crowd gathered for the unveiling of the newest element of the annual Moods of Pan (MOP) festival in Antigua, celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. The ‘25-A-Side’ competition promised to be a treat for steelpan music connoisseurs.

Apart from the annually invited stage side steel orchestra from beyond the shores of Antigua and Barbuda, MOP hosts Gemonites, and perhaps the additional band featured during the three-day festival - there has not previously been a niche opportunity for pan lovers to really feast on the music of multiple bands - of even twenty-five or so steelband musicians - in ‘concert’ during the three-night festival. Outside of the annual Panorama festival for Antigua and Barbuda steelbands, there has not been another platform affording contingents of any considerable size to come together and perform in a competitive, or even showcase, arena.

Halcyon on stage for the 25-A-Side competition at Moods of Pan 2008
Halcyon on stage for the 25-A-Side competition at Moods of Pan 2008

But for 2008, that all changed; the ‘25-A-Side’ competition would slake both thirsts. This event has been conceptualized with a mandate for celebrating the best of Antigua and Barbuda’s steel orchestras, in addition to and outside of their panorama format – which could, on occasion even see an orchestra amassing one hundred thirty-plus steelband musicians. The latest variation in the MOP festival format had been eagerly awaited by the crowd and the orchestras themselves – and on this night, that wait was over.

Hell’s Gate at Moods of Pan 2008

Of the eight orchestras originally scheduled to participate, six eventually took the stage: Ebonites, Gemonites, Halcyon, Hell’s Gate (pictured), the National Youth Pan Orchestra and Panache. Harmonites Steel Orchestra bowed out because of the unexpected passing of one of their veteran/core members, Leroy “Jughead” Gordon.

When Steel Talks would have loved if somehow Harmonites had still taken the stage and delivered the selection they had prepared to compete with in the competition, Yesterday. The band played this ‘on the road’ in honor of Gordon, and as part of the funerary procession on its way to the church. And that consistent ‘road performance’ was indeed a pore-raising experience.

Given that the event was subsequently renamed and unveiled in honor of Gordon - “The Cool & Smooth Gemonites Moods of Pan 2008 Leroy “Jughead” Gordon 25-A-Side Steelband competition” - When Steel Talks is of the humble opinion that it would have been marvelous had Harmonites still take the stage in memory of the cultural heavyweight, performing Yesterday. If you were not on the streets as the orchestra rolled past, you missed out on a unique musical experience. That being said, not for one moment did the six orchestras who did participate, turn in anything but what appeared to be their respective best performances for the evening.

The When Steel Talks crew was ferried to the performance venue at Deanery Grounds with just enough time to catch part of the first band – which was the stage side representation of Halcyon Steel Orchestra, reigning Panorama champions – on stage. They had already begun what would be their five- to six-minute rendition of Fitzroy “Blaykie” Phillip’s arrangement of How Great Thou Art. Halcyon evoked strong memories of MOP’s ‘Gospel Night on Pan’ two years ago, striking familiar chords and taking firm hold of the hearts of the more spiritually-minded in the audience, as the band moved through their paces on stage. The crowd on hand was beginning to get into the show after about a forty-minute later-than-scheduled start, and clearly showed their appreciation for Halcyon’s steelpan musicians, applauding for the latter and in anticipation of what was yet to come. Halcyon was followed by Hell’s Gate, Panache, Antigua and Barbuda National Youth Pan Orchestra, Gemonites and Ebonites.

Last year’s MOP show openers and 2007 Antigua and Barbuda National Panorama champions Hell’s Gate, known as the oldest steel orchestra in the world, owned the stage next when they rendered Blue Moon as arranged by Veron Henry. They were determined to make a showing good enough to be judged best of the night.

The National Youth Pan Orchestra at Moods of Pan 2008
The National Youth Pan Orchestra at Moods of Pan 2008

The eventual winners (pictured), the National Youth Pan Orchestra, had the audience in wonder, looking at them wide-eyed, while exclaiming at points of emphasis in their performance. The crowd’s reaction was partially, of course, because the group turned in a first rate performance. As the youths left the stage, a Panache musician could be heard commending the work of the orchestra. But the other side of the audience reaction was that many had underestimated the drive and skill of the competition’s youngest participants, and had been somewhat unprepared for the deliverable based on the combined work of young eighteen-year old arranger Khan Cordice and the band’s execution of his arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke.

Second place winners Panache also gave a great account of themselves with a Robin “Schwarp” Margetson arrangement of Perfidia. Formed in 2007, the orchestra has been growing from strength to strength, and their placing in the 25-A-Side competition was yet another notch of note in their burgeoning reputation. Ebonites, playing I Who Have Nothing as arranged by Aubrey “Lacu” Samuel in sixth position, left a memorable impression on the judges which saw them going home with third place bragging rights. The band had stepped up its game even from the night before the competition. When Steel Talks had been on a whirlwind panyard tour arranged by the festival organizers and Ebonites was one of the groups they had taken in.

Gemonites Steel Orchestra at Moods of Pan 2008
Gemonites Steel Orchestra at Moods of Pan 2008

Gemonites (pictured) reminded all present, that though in the present setting they were first and foremost organizers of the MOP festival and as such were sporting a variety of different hats - they were nonetheless in the ‘running,’ and turned in an adequate performance for the evening with Patrick “Stone” Johnson’s arrangement of Kool & the Gang's Cherish. Just over the past year, several of Gemonites’ veteran players got together and founded what is now Panache. Since then, Gemonites has continued nurturing and bringing into their ranks younger pan players, several who were part of the band that took the stage.

Judges at Moods of Pan 2008
Judges at Moods of Pan 2008

While it was a certainty that the orchestras enjoyed the opportunity to shine while delivering their performance pieces, it was additionally obvious that many of the younger musicians were having the most fun at the venue and on stage. Several of course were part of the youngest aggregation, the National Youth Pan Orchestra, and simultaneously members of the other five competing bands. From their demeanor on and off stage, it was evident that their allegiance for the steel pan artform was first up, with their respective band affiliations respectfully running an exceptionally close second. Whether playing as part of the Youth orchestra or the other bands, the youth complement showed their passion for pan all night long.

In addition to having front row seats and being privy to some really good steel orchestras, adjudicators (pictured above, at table) Julien Lawrence, Marion Byron and Victor N. Prescod - along with statistician Ivan Michael - were also tasked with competently and fairly deciding on the night’s best performances.

Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer (right), with Minister Harold Lovell - at Moods of Pan
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer (right), with Minister Harold Lovell - at Moods of Pan 2008

And one of the best and most approachable Heads of State around, the Honorable Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda - a ‘panman’ himself - was on hand to take in the steelband music. In the company of his equally congenial Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Harold Lovell and several others, the Prime Minister (pictured at right, and with H. Lovell to his right), enjoyed the atmosphere of the fine evening and the steelband performances.

The results, when they became available, were delivered by the show’s master of ceremonies – one of the country’s popular radio personalities - James “Sly J” Simon of Liberty Radio. As representatives from each of the six orchestras stood by at the ready on stage, it was time to recognize the best orchestras of the night with trophies and cash purses - for the three top bands (Antigua & Barbuda National Youth Pan Orchestra, Panache and Ebonites in that order) - EC$ 10,000.00, EC$ 8,000 and EC$6,000 respectively, while the runners-up (Gemonites, Halcyon and Hell’s Gate – in no particular order), were awarded EC$ 3,000 each. Mrs. Curlita Gordon, widow of Leroy “Jughead” Gordon, honored the winners, the National Youth Pan Orchestra, by making the presentation of both the trophy and prize money to the band’s arranger, Khan Cordice, in her husband’s memory.

El-A-Kru aka L.A. Crew - at Moods of Pan 2008
El-A-Kru aka L.A. Crew - at Moods of Pan 2008

But the music was not over for the night just yet. El-A-Kru aka L.A. Crew (Little Antigua Crew), a smoking hot, high-energy live Antigua band known up and down the Caribbean circuit, took to the adjacent stage and closed off the evening with a mixture of soca and R&B hits that went down well with the mainly youthful contingent (pictured) in front the stage; they enthusiastically followed the vocal directions of the group’s female lead singer Tanzania “Tizzy” Sebastian. Sebastian was firmly anchored by band mates including Glenroy “Zamba” Richards and El-A-Kru founder and leader Rohan “Sylky” Hector.

Undoubtedly for MOP 11, the ‘25-A-Side’ competition will be taken to an even higher level, as participants come determined - and probably good-naturedly – to put the ‘Youth’ in check, and prevent them from running off with top honors again in 2009. There would be no underestimating them in future meets.

Moods of Pan organizers have indicated that without a doubt they believe they have identified the successful formula for the opening Friday night slot of the critically-acclaimed MOP fest. The 25-A-Side element is a “keeper,” showcasing the best of Antigua & Barbuda pan outside the Panorama season, while revitalizing the country’s steelband culture in what is traditionally an off-peak season. There are winners all around for this one – the steelband music culture, the steelpan musicians, MOP organizers, and last but not least, the national, regional and international audiences who should bookmark their calendars now, to be present at MOP 11 in Antigua and Barbuda at the end of November 2009.

Moods Of Pan 25-A-Side - In Pictures


Full coverage on Moods of Pan 2008 **

contact: Moods of Pan
Patrick “Stone” Johnson at - stonenrico@yahoo.com  - (268) 727-6633
Joseph “Jawato” Henry - click here

click for past Moods of Pan festivals reviews

Related Articles on Antigua: click here




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