Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - The buzz is at the Newtown Playboys panyard where arranger Duvone Stewart shocked the local steelpan fraternity with his return to the competitive single pan arena. With 11 Single Pan Panorama titles under his belt, he dropped off their radar in 2015.
For the post-pandemic Panorama, the 47-year-old champion of both the Medium and Large band categories is not here for bragging rights, at all.
Yes, it is to earn a living. But, also to bring new ideas to the music in what is really a master class for young arrangers.
So it is not strange to see players, arrangers and sometimes bandleaders, standing on the pavement at 64 Tragarete Road, not just listening to the depth and richness he has brought back to the music for the single pan bands that were previously “Pan around the neck.”
Duvone Stewart (center) is a picture of concentration with Newtown Playboys. Image: Sharmain Baboolal
Because it is the leadership that is required to not just drill a band but to motivate a team, which is absent, in practice, from their academics, with people management not a part of the university syllabus.
It is to his honour that Keisha Codrington of Gonsalves Sheikers, turned up one night to listen, even though she is arranging for her band, competing in the same category.
“There is something in Duvone that needs to unfold and this is not about ego. I want people to understand what I am about,” Stewart said, in a brief interview last week.
“Financially, due to the pandemic, steelpan was stifled and we were not able to earn with our craft. With a financial status to overcome, I decided to come back to use my gift to make my occupation be respected by whosoever I work with. Where they show value for what they get musically.
“To those who are disappointed that I am in the single pan, I will say that instead of begging for money I will use God’s gift,” he said.
Embracing all - Duvone Stewart at the panyard of Newtown Playboys. Image: Sharmain Baboolal
After a seven-year break, it was no easy feat for him to arrange six minutes of music for the single pan competition, compared with the eight-plus for other categories.
“I had to get back into that frame of mind of creating, to bring new ideas.
“In 2015 I bowed out when I felt I was dominant in the category and thought I had left a benchmark to get them to up their game. At the same time I was leaving the space open for continuation, for arrangers and bands to evolve,” Duvone explained.
But that did not happen.
“Listening to new arrangers, in 2016, I found that all 32 bands sounded like me. So it’s like they took a template from one of the greatest single pan arrangers, and yes, it may be good that people emulate the voice that I had.
“But it is negative when arrangers create music with a Duvone-interpretation, having a lazy mindset, refusing to recreate their brand from what I started.
“A human being has a race to run, no two human beings are alike. It is about harnessing your greatness, and bringing your own vibe and energy to the table.
“Now, when they visit the yard they can see my thought process and what made bands successful in the past 20 years.
“It’s about having a sense of leadership. We need more leaders for the ones who miss that little inch of growth to build confidence and go forward.
“Don’t let people be fearful in front of you, use whatever gift you have to make them comfortable with you,” he explained.
“There are players who make their way to say “Hi,” for a handshake, photos, selfies, talk,” he said about his experience at Newtown Playboys.
“I know a lot of people are asking “How the ass he does have bands in single pan sounding rich,” Stewart said, anticipating the next question.
“It is about expanding your mind, going where no one has gone before.
Promotion of preliminary competitive performance in the Newtown Playboys panyard
“I use the BODMAS Math theory in single pan, where I can substitute to make chords richer and true, to enhance whatever song is selected, to make up for missing notes.
“It is rich and full and the texture is heavy. For example, there are only five notes on a single pan bass, but you are hearing all the notes you would get from the six bass and the nine bass in the conventional band,” he shared.
Looking at the biggest picture, Duvone, who works internationally as well, sees the dire need to create open house symposiums, lectures and talk forums, so the young arrangers and musicians can sit in a creative space where they can get ideas.
“There is a shortage of tuners and pan players,” he said, adding, “and arrangers are getting short in supply too.
“Yet we’re all in one barrel fighting among ourselves,” he lamented.
“We NEED to empower and grow people. One day I will go back to dust, but while I am here, it is about change, growth, evolution, new ideas, and new concepts,” the champion arranger stated, with a sense of purpose.
Duvone will be honoured by the T&T Alliance in Brooklyn, New York when they will make him their Global Cultural ambassador on November 20th.
About the author, Sharmain Baboolal
A Journalist/Editor based in Trinidad and Tobago, with 38 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 graduate scholar from Columbia University in New York, and a lover of steelpan music.
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