Steelband Panorama 2011

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My Take Panorama 2011

I was asked by When Steel Talks to provide my thoughts about this year’s Panorama. The views expressed in this article are based on my own, personal opinion.

by Leon “Foster” Thomas

Panorama 2011Global - The most exciting time of the year in the Steel Pan world is here. Andy Narell said, “It is one of the truly unique and exciting musical and cultural events in the world.” I had the unfortunate opportunity to take in Panorama, 2011 at my Miami home. To add insult to injury, the video was not being streamed live online, compared to past years. Something that Pan Trinbago needs to look into. I had to endure some terrible commentating on i95.5 fm, but the feed was consistent. The good that came out of this was, I was able to experience the Panorama as an audience member for the first time ever.

There is a lot of good music being played. Bands in the Small and Medium category are making extreme and positive strides. However, the Large Bands have maintained their descent towards mediocrity. This year, like years before, everything seems to be scripted. Panorama is not earned anymore. Back in the day, Panorama had some amazing musical arrangements. Arrangers seemed to challenge themselves to produce the best with every try. Do you remember Pandemonium’s Sugar for Pan or Rebecca and In My House by Desperadoes all arranged by Clive Bradley? What about Woman is Boss by Phase II (Boogsie), Somebody by Renegades (Jit), Pan By Storm by Fonclaire (Professor)? These are all great arrangements, music that can stand up as giants to the best of them now. The non-musician could have found understanding in an arrangement and would have been able to whistle or sing a part of the song, or the entire piece. Today’s arrangements just seem to fly over the top of our heads.

Crossfire 2010 panorama drummer (also the arranger!) - Leon “Foster” Thomas
Leon “Foster” Thomas

Not taking anything away from the Arrangers that make an effort to bring forth fresh and genuine ideas, but overall, Panorama in the large category is starving for really good music. I believe that music has a way of recycling itself and it’s up to the arranger to disguise it cleverly. But some of them just blatantly disregard that. They bring the same arrangement year after year. When I listened to the defending Champions, Silverstars, I was vastly disappointed. Both the tune of choice, Showtime, and its arrangement, seem to be the same as, or a continuation of, last year’s Battle Zone. Clearly some of these big bands and big name arrangers need to know that what they are producing is definitely not good enough. Where is the creativity and musical growth? The majority of these bands made me scratch my head because of the hurricane of notes, unconnected lines, over-use of chromatics and very elementary type arrangements, compared to the top-notch ideas of the rest. It seems to me that the music is being pushed to the back, and the costuming, band name and overdone prancing and antics, gets the top spot. Unfortunately, it seems that the judges think otherwise.

I wonder what the judges are listening for? Do they listen to the arrangements, or do they already have their favorites? Are they acquainted with the advancements and new developments in music? The late Clive Bradley described the judges as “Dinosaurs”, because of the retro music knowledge they seem to project. Based on the results of this year’s semifinals, which left me baffled and curious, I would have to agree with our late Genius.

I must credit them for one result that I thought they got spot on: BP Renegades not making it to the finals. Panorama with out Renegades would not be the first time. Placing 13th in the semifinal was rightly deserved, but the band doesn’t think so. According to a recent article in the Trinidad Express (March 2nd, 2011, article by DR), “The band is arguing that due to the constant noise—music being played by DJs in the Greens area from the North Stand area during the semi-finals—was distracting and thus caused its players to become disoriented during their performance.” Disoriented they say? As in “to lose one’s sense of direction, or feel confused”? I got disoriented listening to them and some other bands in their category. Are they sure that they wanted to use that word? I find that very hard to believe because, they managed to play every trill known to man in their whole arrangement. What about Tropical Angel Harps who played at position #2? Did they not make the finals because they were disoriented as well? If Renegades is given a spot in the final, then both Tropical Angel Harps and Harmonites should be there as well, they both placed 11th and 12th respectively. It would only be fair. Renegades should be a good sport and accept the decision of the judges because in the past, other bands have been victims of unfair results and had to deal with it. I hope Pan Trinbago deals with this issue as they have in the past with the drag foot pace that they are so well known for. The article also mentioned that the judges score sheet “reflected that the steel band sounded distracted.” What a way to incite confusion judges!

I didn’t intend to bash or offend anyone (Judges/ Bands/ Organizations) but, if I have, I am sorry. Keep in mind, that this is my own opinion. In order for our art form to improve, the worldwide Steel Pan Community and its governing body, Pan Trinbago, need to step things up, or else our music and culture will not progress. The Small and Medium bands are definitely raising the bar, but I am afraid that what is happening with the Large bands will soon trickle to these categories.

I love Panorama and am hoping that it is fully recognized worldwide. We can’t water down the music, the way they are watering down Soca with a bunch of Reggae and other stuff, to the point that it’s unappealing and has no identity.

I look forward to the Small and Medium finals, which seem to be heading towards an exciting finish. I think the Large is already decided, but I hope to be proven otherwise.

Happy Panorama Everyone!!!!

Leon Foster Thomas

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