Nevin Roach take a bow! The competition aspect of PanoGrama 2021 has been competently adjudicated by an esteemed panel of judges, points have been awarded and the competition postmortems have begun, as the event’s virtual audience weighs in on who their favorites were. A longer-term perspective, however, requires that we connect the dots, and it is that regard that I would suggest that PanoGrama 2021 merits in depth scrutiny and Mr. Nevin Roach our kudos. -- Andre Moses
Telling the Steelband’s Stories
Global: In so many ways Steelpan music is synonymous with storytelling. Over the course of the three stages of this year’s PanoGrama steelband exposition, its virtual journey took the audience to a range of contextual spaces and referenced many interesting steelband stories. The percussive pulse of a Grenada-Market Square-J’Ouvert Morning-Jab Jab experience; the Classical cadences of a Steelband Music Festival; the interactive vibe of a jazzy music set, so typical of the intimate bar ambiance of a Bourbon Street strip in New Orleans, a St Lawrence Gap in Barbados or an Ariapita Avenue in Trinidad. The spontaneous improvisation, technical flair and infectious energy of a panyard jam session was also in focus, set off against more emotional, nuanced subtlety that references a contrasting dimension of the steelpan instrument’s diverse vocabulary.
The PanoGrama’s virtual steelpan tour took its audience, from the Caribbean around the world and back, sampling an eclectic mix of musical genres, constructing storylines influenced by Soca, Soul, Disco, Rhythm and Blues, Latin, Pop, Reggae, and Calypso music.
The music of the show was also full of personality and personalities: cool, brash, quirky, suave, confident, anxious, professional, bubbly or shy, representing the performer’s particular vibe on set, on that day, at that point in their particular journey of self-discovery. Not only did the PanoGrama performers play as they felt; they also dressed as they wanted to project themselves. Some in formal attire, others bedecked in varying colour palettes, ranging from shimmering glitz to vivid Caribbean hues. Add to this an assortment of wigs, a blindfold, a pandemic mask and a horn-themed headpiece and you get the picture, the PanoGrama brand was also about storytelling.
Mainstreaming the Steelpan Requires Much Broader Ambition
If the PanoGrama was a live show, most of the conversation would take place afterwards. But the virtual experience is distinctly interactive. From the time you log in, ‘you are inside and de conversation start’, no ‘long talk’, interaction is effected in soundbites and emojis, but is at the same time knowledgeable and analytical, ‘toing’ and ‘froing’ between audience members and between the audience and the event hosts.
While the critical mass of the performers hailed from Trinidad and Tobago, participation from England, the USA, Canada, France and from the other Caribbean islands, celebrated the growing international appeal of the steelpan instrument. This also created an interesting sub plot, in that inventor first dibs did not constitute any obvious advantage with regard to technical skill or musicianship, and Frenchman Mathieu Borgne stylishly led the competition through its first two rounds, before inventor pride was assuaged by the eventual final night adjudication pecking order and Keishaun Julien’s emphatic winning performance.
Keishaun Julien (image source: Panograma - YouTube)
Breaking into new markets means selling the instrument as widely as we can. We need more global musicians to claim the steelpan as their instrument-of-choice for the steelpan to become mainstream and find pride of place at the Grammys in the not-too-distant future. Pan’s ‘Diasporian’ footprint in the Caribbean, the USA and the UK is an important facet of its present international projection, but mainstreaming pan requires much broader ambition. Pan and pan, pan and conventional instruments, pan and dance, pan in school, pan and jazz, pan and original music for the steelpan, pan and popular music, pan parang, pan chutney, pan in film, pan in hip hop, pan and gospel, pan in Africa, pan in Asia, pan in South America, pan in Western and Eastern Europe, pan in education, pan at the Grammys, no ‘either/or’ business, a global full-court-press for pan. Not pan as a Trinidad and Tobago phenomenon, pan as a global phenomenon with Trinidad and Tobago centrally positioned in pan’s global thrust.
PanoGrama Has Seized Upon a Unique Opportunity
The global pandemic presented a unique opportunity for a low budget, international projection of the steelpan instrument and its related cultural context and Nevin Roach seized the opportunity with both hands. In 2020 he dipped his toe in the water and got a feel for the water temperature and the strength and direction of the ocean currents. PanoGrama 2021 bore evidence of targeted product development. The show’s online interface was more professional and engaging. A show jingle and theme began to more succinctly define an emerging brand identity. International participation increased. The revenue side of the business equation was targeted, with the securing of corporate title sponsorship, but more importantly and significantly also with the mobilizing and showcasing of endogenous entrepreneurship emerging from within the steelband movement.
Important Non-competitive Developments
Timing is a pivotal feature of steelband music and Nevin Roach’s PanoGrama initiative also benefited by being an idea whose time had come. In the 2020 Trinidad and Tobago Panorama, Pan Trinbago’s staggering of the competition category events gave younger and emerging arrangers and pan tuners a less congested space to express themselves. The likes of Stefon West, Kwesi Paul, Hanif Goodridge, Aviel Scanterbury, Keisha Codrington, Dejean Cain and Keishaun Julien have seized the opportunity to raise their profiles and project their emerging brands. Exposure on a multiplicity of virtual platforms has also been a catalyst that has propelled the musical growth of emerging talents like Jamel Cadette and Tyeesha Alexander under the full glare of the virtual spotlight.
Outside of the competition fray there has been more sharing and comparing of notes. ‘The Arrangers Corner’ facilitated by André White and Sheldon Thwaites enabled interactive online discussions involving the likes of Ray Holman, Liam Teague, Duvone Stewart, Victor Provost and Andy Narell amongst others. Duvone Stewart’s ‘Pan Chronicles’ has facilitated a balanced, analytical dialogue that highlights steelband activities and personalities and encourages thoughtful reflection, as has Mikhail Salcedo’s live forum. Other online forums like When Steel Talks, PANMAX PANS and Pan Trivia and more have played a dedicated, consistent and very important role in keeping the steelband dialogue engaged and informed and have done invaluable service in defining a global pan family and connecting pan’s present and its future with its storied traditions.
Although framed as a competition, the International Pan Ramajay (held June 2020) also doubled as a workshop on improvisation with the emerging global pan superstars like André White, Khan Cordice, Khuent Rose and Keisha Codrington holding court.
The pan tuners too, have enjoyed their time in the spotlight. Away from the orchestral overtones and frenzied energy of the Steelband Panorama, competitions like PanoGrama put the quality of the individual instrument in full focus. Harmonics, note ranges and variations in instrument design, have all been in focus. Instruments bearing the signature of master practitioners like Ellie Mannette, Herman ‘Brown’ Guppy and Bertram ‘Birch’ Kelman were featured, but the competition also marked the proverbial ‘passing of the baton’ to the next generation of pan building/tuning talent like Andy Neils, Augustus Peters, Mario Joseph and Veron Henry.
Much remains to be done. Research and experimentation must drive the pan tuning industry. Refining the clarity of the steelband’s orchestral voices is still a work-in-process, as is exploring the instrument’s harmonic potential.
Prioritizing the Virtual Platform in the Pan’s Mainstreaming Thrust
Events like the PanoGrama and the International Pan Ramajay are ideally suited to spearhead the steelband’s global thrust. Nevin Roach must be congratulated for doing his homework and showing tangible improvement on his original PanoGrama concept. On that basis, the scope for brand development, revenue generation and international expansion looks promising. Kudos to Nevin Roach for his foresight and commitment.
Big congratulations to the 2021 PanoGrama champion Keishaun Julien and to runners up Dejean Cain and Tyeesha Alexander. Nuff respect to Earl Brooks Jr. too for endorsing the emerging PanoGrama brand with his name and professionalism from the get-go. The assembling of an international panel of highly regarded and respected adjudicators was also a form of brand endorsement that helped to define and confirm PanoGrama’s integrity as an international steelpan music forum. Respect to all the participants who participated in the various rounds of the competition. Kudos too to NLCB (National Lotteries Control Board), Pan Trinbago and the E-pan App Gold, Augustus Peters Steelpans, the Mallet Man and Sons of Steel for investing in the emerging PanoGrama brand.
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