Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - It was at the start of the seventh year of famine that Duvone Stewart and the Renegades crossed the bridge. When Joseph interpreted Pharoah’s dream (Genesis 41:30) he saw that seven years of abundance would have been reversed with seven years of famine.
Then would seven years of famine be followed by seven years of plenty?
Indeed, it was in 2018, the seventh year since Duvone Stewart accepted the responsibility as an arranger for the Renegades Steel Orchestra, that he won a Panorama Championship.
If he nipped an extra year of drought, it did not make a difference because of the debilitating politics of Pan Trinbago and the National Carnival Commission (NCC) which deprived the legendary steelband, one of the oldest in the country, of its million dollars [in] prize money until the end of the year. And the honour reserved for champions.
The victory did not turn into a national celebration either. Not even for the social work that kept a lid on turf wars around the band until the Panorama was over.
One year later, having raised the bar for his generation of music arrangers, the 42-year-old is proving that he is truly in a league of his own, now that he finally grasped the baton that was held out to him since 2012. And now that the Renegades, whose trademark is loyalty, laid to rest its late arranger, Dr. Jit Samaroo.
He’s bubbling with excitement, too. And now embarks on the journey to create his “dynasty as a champion arranger.”
But, he knows- and willingly accepts- that “it’s gonna be a very competitive stance going forward because a new crop of arrangers and musicians have embarked on a journey where they can become what they want to be, in their own sphere”.
While 2018 was more than a Year of Love it was, too, a year of evolution for a man who has paid the price through blood, sweat and tears that flowed at 138 Charlotte Street in 2017, when they fell third to Trinidad All Stars which snatched the crown from Desperadoes, the band that re-introduced popular music as a choice for steelbands, rather than songs dictated by a few composers.
After evolution, there comes the revolution.
His interpretation was a statement.
It’s no less in 2019 with Hookin’ Meh where “the lyrical content reflects the man/ woman reality, a fundamental thing in the community.”
“I have a story to paint with it,” he said in an interview on January 5th.
The trademark of Stewart’s leadership, which manifests itself in the music, is loyalty and community which has been the heartbeat of the Renegades institution.
Each night, during the 2019 Panorama season leading up to the preliminary round, like a good football coach, he drills his players by motivating them. Feeling them and knowing them helps to pull the best out of each one.
Jit Samaroo, he confessed, taught him leadership by example.
“No fight. No cursing. No heavy deliberation on what is supposed to be done,” Stewart said.
In between there, Duvone explains to the players, in explicit details, what he puts into the music they are playing, in order to get them to tell the story he is sharing.
Take it one step further. His 2019 arrangement is Interactive.
Note the connection with the audience he creates by leaving room for his players to sing the two most popular lines of Hookin’ Meh. No doubt the Drag, the Grand Stand and the North Park will be singing at the top of their voices.
It’s part of the theatre and drama with which he can easily capture 40 points for presentation in the Panorama competition.
It’s all in his mission statement: “I want to make the blind see and the deaf hear.”
How Stewart uses his access to the years of plenty will determine how the band fares in times of drought like the one that followed the end of the Jit Samaroo era (1971 - 2006).
Read on. You will understand, through his unedited words [in the Q&A], how and why the scope of the Panorama is changing and how it can help to shape the revolution that can bring the steelband movement back to its moorings in the community, from which it originated.
Q : What was your vision for change?
A: I saw it happening all the time because the music was evolving.
We are all artists. Some artists paint a different picture that you have to take long to see if you analyze.
Some artists paint a picture that you can feel and see at one time.
From the characteristics of the individuals mentioned before, they were doing homework and concentrating on bringing their A game but it was just a matter of time for someone to break the ice.
I did it. It just opened a new dimension for the younger arrangers to come out and let their voices be heard. It’s gonna be a very competitive stance going forward into the future because a new crop of arrangers and musicians have embarked on a journey where they can become what they want to become, in their own sphere.
I still continue to live my dream and will continue to pave the way for the younger ones and the ones who are there who never got the chance to feel how I felt at this point in time in being a champion arranger.
Q: What are your thoughts ahead of the 2019 game?
A: The 2019 Panorama is going to be another challenging one. Repeating as a champion arranger in a large category will be very difficult and the only way it can become easy is that we take whatever positives and go with it 100 per cent more.
I know the arrangers in the large category. They ain’t taking what happened in 2018 lightly, with me still being available to work with BP Renegades. The band is on a high, confidence is on a high. Love and togetherness are high.
As for me, I am just about to accept the fact that a dynasty of Duvone Stewart has begun, that I have to be focused, be very concentrative of. I have etched my name in a space where it cannot be erased anymore which has gravitated to me becoming a more powerful household name, locally, regionally and internationally among the fans that love steelpan music, and just me the individual at a high level of excellence and performing to the best that I can at any given point in time.
It’s about continuing to build a reputation and making a generation feel confident and comfortable knowing that there is somebody who is there to take up the mantle after the virtuosos that they have seen in the early era as Leon “Smooth” Edwards and Len “Boogsie” Sharpe.
It is a cycle for them. Now they are seeing that somebody new has broken through the glass and come out with this powerful statement and ‘Year For Love’ was just the fitting title to send me through the gates, opening it for young arrangers, panists, band leaders to come through the ranks to make them successful as I am embarking on my dynasty as a champion arranger.
Q: The songs that are available this year represent a radical shift from where your frame of mind was in ‘Year For Love.’ What determined your choice from what is available to you out there?
A: The titles of songs that present themselves this year really don’t have what happened in 2018. I know a new frame of mind is required.
While Lord Kitchener, DeFosto, just to name a few were taking time to compose and arrange songs for the instrument because there was a point in time when Renegades could have just closed our eyes and picked anything that Kitchener sang. The band was like Kitchener and Jit Samaroo. DeFosto was the same.
But one of the things that I have learned over the years is that transition has taken place and we have to accept the level of music we have at our disposal right now. Personally, it is not as great as we were accustomed to receiving in the early times, but we have to get with the time and accept change.
I am not saying that I am disappointed in the level of material that is out there. But I believe that the popularity in songs is what will set the trend for the bands going forward now.
The whole paradigm shift was, so luckily, seen by me after 2016 Panorama when Desperadoes came first with Different Me. That song was so out of the box for Desperadoes but it was one of the most popular songs at the point in time. In 2017 All Stars took the title [with] Full Extreme (the Road March) from the Ultimate Rejects- although pan songs were coming out.
Year For Love was like a divine intervention for me to receive this message from God, internally, that whatever happened with my friend Wayne Alleyne who was shot and killed on Dec 11th 2017, was in place for me to express myself musically.
For 2019 it’s a different ball game.
The DJ, soca artiste singers, have created a different scope for non-composing arrangers to go to the drawing board to accept whatever is there for them to play because when we go to the savannah, we go with what is popular.
There are some popular songs for 2019 and I just have to readapt the mindset of what I or any arranger wants to bring across.
Players are also feters and they tend to call me and say what is hot in the fete. Is it popular to fit on the instrument properly to send that message across?
Last year it was an appeal for love.
This year Hookin’ Meh is a reality for the families that reside around the band. The lyrical content is like the man-woman reality.
I have a story to paint with it. I am not leaving you.
A band that prays together stays together
Q: Clearly, you bring strong leadership to the band. How would you describe your leadership style?
A: If it’s one thing I learnt through my arranging career is that you cannot please everybody in one band. I never really had the opportunity to please everybody.
Being humble among your band members and your executive team is the key in having a band together because me, personally, when I go into every band, I go down to the level as a player.
I was also a player. I get to see how players react towards situations. I never went into a panyard saying yeah I am the arranger, I am mighty high. I want to get my message across on a level playing field with everybody in the band.
That stems from being a member of the Renegades in the era of the 80s and 90s when Dr. Jit Samaroo was very humble in getting his words across to the members.
No fight. No cursing. No heavy deliberation on what is supposed to be done. Only a cross-section of information will come from the members to the arrangers and he will listen politely and take it into consideration.
That is the leadership style that I adopt and I transpose as I grew into a more self-motivated individual. I have never had a problem dealing with the players or dealing with the management because I am a people person.
We are all human beings and we ain’t better than anybody else out here.
I always try to send that signal to the bands that I work for.
It worked very well...but it was a task for the first three years with Renegades because the band did not accept that Jit Samaroo was dead and I had a problem getting my music across because they built a culture around him. They eventually got to understand that the word transition and confidence is what can get them to regain confidence in becoming a champion band.
That is what happened in 2014. In Renegades, the leadership that I presented filtered down to the players, the supporters, the community that I reside in with the band and it globally sends that message when the band performs music; they see a unity, a passion, a leader guiding 120 Spartans into musical war.
For Pan Elders they see me as a rightful role model down in San Fernando.
Duvone Stewart is seeking a new record in the 2019 Panorama. All three bands that he arranges for were leading up to the semi-final round: Medium Champs, Pan Elders going for the 6th consecutive win under his baton, TT Defence Force which has grown from Single Pan into the small band category, and Bp Renegades.
A Journalist/Editor based in Trinidad and Tobago, with 35 years experience in print, broadcast and digital media. As a founding member of the T&T Mirror Newspaper, I served as photo journalist, columnist and editor over 23 years.
My experience in broadcast journalism started and ended at the now defunct National Broadcasting Service (Radio 610 AM and Radio 100 FM). I honed my skills in broadcast journalism at the Radio Netherlands Training Centre (RNTC) and I am a certified media trainer.
Single-handedly, I established a small but effective News Department at Trinidad and Tobago Radio Network Limited (TTRN). As a seasoned news woman I am skilled in photojournalism, parliament and court reporting, writing and producing for print, electronic (radio and video) as well as digital media and promotions. I have mentored and trained a few younger writers and producers along the way. For this and more I earned a National Award in 2012, the Humming Bird Medal (Gold). I am the mother of a young scholar, an undergrad at Columbia University in New York, and a lover of steelpan music.
contact Sharmain Baboolal at: firstname.lastname@example.org