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Trinidad & Tobago Panorama 2009 - HOME

The Stars Came Out to Shine:
Silver Stars Make History as 2009 Panorama Champions

A Trio of “Firsts” for the winning band
and arranger Edwin Pouchet

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Trinidad, W.I. - The stars came out, and they did shine!!  Silver Stars Steel Orchestra, that is.  Making history as they did so, the band which calls Tragarete Road in Woodbrook, Trinidad their home, had three “firsts” at the end of the competition.

This was the orchestra’s second time playing in the large conventional band category.  The name of their selection was “First In De Line.”  And at the end of the night, scoring 469 points, they emerged ahead of the pack, and, first. Not bad for a ‘first’ in the big band arena - the first time, that is, in which a band has moved up from the medium category to that of the large - (where Silver Stars also competed in 2008) - and triumphed. The orchestra previously contended in the former category from 2004–2007.  In fact, just on time, if you were to ask management and players!  When the band was through wowing their supporters and the crowd, arranger Edwin Pouchet said: “...after the semi-finals, you know, I kind of lost a lot of - the encouragement to go on, because I didn’t think the performance [in the semis] was a fourth place [as per the results] performance.  But thanks to the lyrics of the the third verse...‘no matter how many times they knock you down, you get up and go again,’...I think that is what you heard here tonight.  I was just determined to come back and fight.”  First In De Line is Pouchet’s own composition, with lyrics by Alvin Daniell.  Sliver Stars has been coming to panorama with Pouchet’s compositions for the last few years. The crowd thoroughly appreciated the band’s presentation, which, with their opening, literally threw down the gauntlet, borrowing from John Williams’ memorable work for the 2008 Beijing Olympics to do so.  A standing ovation followed the band as they made their way off stage.  With a mere point separating Silver Stars and last year’s winners, Phase II Pan Groove, it was just enough to tip the scales in favor of the new title-holders, and for the trophy and million-dollar (TT) prize purse to be handed over to them. 

Soca star Machel Montano, who vocalized “Magic Drum,” and which was written by Phase II’s arranger Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, took the stage as the orchestra’s proud flag man.  Speaking after the band’s presentation that ended precisely at 12:15 a.m., “Boogsie” Sharpe ‘stuck to his guns,’ proudly insisting that he loved to be different, arranging partly on feelings, and spoke about his willingness always to ‘try something new.’  “This piece - is one of my best pieces” Boogsie declared as his band cleared the stage.

Trinidad All Stars who came once again seeking victory, had to settle for third place with “Pan Rivalry,” a composition penned by Leon “Smooth” Edwards, who returned as their panorama arranger.  It was the first time the band had walked a route regularly trodden by Phase II, competing with a selection composed by the band’s arranger.  Regardless of the judges’ final decision, Trinidad All Stars delivered a performance which reminded many present why they have remained one of “the Big Six” for many years.

From the hills of Laventille, the mighty Desperadoes have been knocking on the door for several years, demanding to be let back into not only the top three, but as numero uno.  It was in 2000, nine years ago, that the band last tasted victory.  But this year, it was not for lack of trying.  Belting out a refined Robert Greenidge arrangement of a Jason “Peanuts” Isaac composition entitled “Pan Redemption,” the band was in a very strong position to make this their year of triumph.  With a powerful interpretation, customary tight and punchy but spiritual delivery, and fabulous ending to “Pan Redemption,” Greenidge was quite pleased with his band’s presentation, and overall commended the orchestra.  “A great performance, I think the guys [Desperadoes] did a wonderful job.”  According to the judges however, this work reflected a fourth place overall in the results.       

Renegades Steel Orchestra returned to the finals once more, with arranger Amrit Samaroo ably stepping up to both the challenge, and happy occasion, of honoring his father in the selection the orchestra presented - “Dr Jit” - a tribute written and performed by Winston Scarborough, D Original De Fosto.  Clearly well rehearsed and aiming to make 2009 their year to re-capture their glory, while simultaneously celebrating their legendary arranger Dr. Jit Samaroo, 457 points saw them securing fifth position when the results were announced.

In almost every competition, there is one result that elicits shrieks of disbelief.  And on this night, these yelps were breathtakingly audible when Exodus was allotted sixth position.  In a celebratory mood with “Festival Time,” co-written by their arranger Pelham Goddard and artists 3 Canal, the band returned to the savannah with the daring move of relinquishing canopies that have been the norm for many years.  For the second year in a row, the band from the eastern region opted instead to resplendently perform fully visible to all, with their musicians nattily attired and positioned on tiers or risers.  Needless to say, the shock waves from the orchestra’s final placing are still reverberating with many, and will for some time to come.  It was back in 2004 when Exodus won the panorama battle with Goddard’s arrangement of the appropriately-named War 2004.

There were a few perilous minutes for Exodus Steel Orchestra just before they performed, with allegations they were over the hundred-player limit.  While it is unclear as to exactly by how many they were in excess; and if, or why a firm decision may not have been arrived at beforehand - to ensure only the maximum took the stage, it was undoubtedly upsetting for those musicians who were “dressed to the nines,” adrenalin flowing, and all fired up to perform on ‘their’ finals night, only to be asked to leave the stage and not be able to play.

Former Member of Parliament Edward “Eddie” Hart shared his thoughts in part on this situation, saying that it was “very hard when you have players ‘burning the midnight oil’ and to hear when they reach...that they cannot play....”  Continuing, and describing them as “the most sensational panoramas,” Hart reminisced about years ago (in the sixties) when there were no size restrictions and the then-powerhouses came to the competition in all their glory; bands like Harmonites, and Guinness Cavaliers - the latter sporting literally around two hundred musicians on stage.  He lamented about the overall adulteration of the panorama and the “spirit” of the event, hoping that these issues would be addressed.

The governing body for the steelpan, Pan Trinbago, had announced the reduction in the three categories [small, medium and large] a few weeks ago, claiming that the bands were on board with their decision.  However, up to mere days before the final, there had been some clear dissonance with the new restrictions which lowered the maximum number of musicians from 120 to 100 in the large category, while also meting out adjustments in the medium and small divisions.

Siparia Deltones hailing from South Trinidad and mustering seventh place with 450.5 points, saw the pan musicians thoroughly enjoying themselves on stage, reveling in their unique journey to the finals.  In recent years, they competed in the small steel orchestra category, but for 2009 leapt into the big band arena.  Their ebullient but competent arranger, Carlton “Zanda” Alexander was extremely happy with his band’s presentation, and his choice of tune for the panorama.  There were shades of the late musician and arranger Clive Bradley in some of Zanda’s words, as he voiced no qualms about having opted to go with “I Am Not Drunk” - unconventional musical fare in panorama circles, overall more of a “party” ditty, and definitely more in keeping with the mindset of his fairly young and modern pan musicians, who made up in large part, the orchestra’s complement.  Clive Bradley, himself happiest around the younger generation, was famous for - when the choice was left up to him - having zero fear about how the panorama judges would receive the choice of selection, and going for ‘music’ over traditional ‘pan songs,’ especially in the New York panorama arena.  This generally meant arranging selections other bands ‘would not touch with a ten-foot pole.’  But then again, this is the same Carlton “Zanda” Alexander who, with Siparia Deltones but in the small band category, went with Destra Garcia’s wildly popular “Roll It” back in 2006 when the band claimed third place in the panorama finals that year.  

Though the band ably and proudly represented Trinidad’s sister isle of Tobago, an unwelcome type of “inversion” took place in the case of Redemption Sound Setters and arranger Winston Gordon.  They competed as the first band to take the stage, and also chose “First In De Line” as their panorama tune, but after the adjudication - as far as the panel of judges saw it - they merited last place overall in the night’s performances.  As the saying goes - someone has got to be last, but no one wishes to actually fulfill that criterion.

The delay of the scheduled 7:00 p.m. start of the evening’s program had been attributed in part to the rainy conditions, and saw the national anthem being played around 7:30 p.m.  But it will be a blindingly brilliant day at the panyard of this year’s champs - Silver Stars steel orchestra - regardless of the weather.  There will be absolutely no raining on their parade.

And of course, while thousands of pan lovers were fortunate enough to bask in the passionate renditions of pan performances - in person - at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port-of-Spain, there were the additional legions of fans from around the world who were glued to the various internet feeds that technology now affords.  While there were many hundreds of happy people dancing around at Silver Stars’ victory - the forums, micro-blogs, and other social networks were equally alive.  Many were happy to have been, in some way, able to vicariously enjoy the show; some reacted with grudging acquiescence to the new champions, others with howls of dismay at the results.  That’s competition.  There is a winner, and there are losers.

With the 2009 panorama finals now in the rearview mirror, and the ever-present debates raging on, the euphoria that is being enjoyed by Silver Stars is well-deserved after many, many days and nights of hard work in their panyard to interpret the work of their much-loved arranger, Edwin Pouchet (pictured [in green] with band members at 2005 event).  Undoubtedly the individual orchestras will return in 2010 with a vengeance to lay claim to what they each see as their right to the championship title. 

The year 2010 is already looming large.

Editor’s note:

Pan Trinbago is playing with fire.  The size limitations will destroy bands.  If the situation is so dire - that is, in the organization’s mind - that they believe from an economic or numerical standpoint, that there must indeed be limitations on bands, then - they should consider eliminating at least one of the three categories, to bolster numbers in orchestras overall - in the other division(s). 

But it is illogical, irrational, anti-social, and frankly destructive to the artform and its communities - to expect bands that have traditionally fielded, and continue to do so - up to one hundred forty qualified and faithful pan musicians, to downsize and strip down to one hundred people.  And particularly when this mandatory downsizing so adversely affects their flagship music organizations/orchestras, and crowd-pullers.

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