Cheo Cato - Steelband Music Arranger for Panorama 2012

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, steelpan musician and composer Cheo Cato shares his overall thoughts on Panorama and introduces himself to the global steelband community. Cheo is currently the arranger for Pamberi Steel Orchestra...

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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A WST Exclusive

WST - For those in our global audience who are unfamiliar with your musical accomplishments, how long have you been arranging and what is your background in Pan?

Cheo Cato
Cheo Cato

Cato - “In September 2011, I celebrated 20 years in the music industry.  I began playing the steelpan at the age of 13 at the El Dorado North Secondary School (formerly El Dorado Junior Secondary School). In 1993, I had my first taste of competition when I played with the National Junior Steelband Music Festival.

“In 1996 I played on the big stage for the first time in the National Panorama Competition with Moods Steel Orchestra. I began playing with Pamberi Steel Orchestra in 1997 and continue to play with them to date. Additionally, I have played with the UWI (University of the West Indies) Festival Ensemble from 2004–2008 as well as being a member of the National Steel Orchestra from 2003–2005.

“In 1999 I began arranging Pamberi Steel Orchestra’s repertoire music for our stage side. During the years 2003–2008, Kern Sumerville and I were proud to lead our Alma Mata, St. Augustine Senior Secondary to the National Junior Panorama Competition with our arrangements. It should be noted they were successful in copping first prize for three (3) consecutive years; 2005–2007.

“St. Augustine Senior Comprehensive entered the National Junior Steelband Music Festival in 2005 and 2010 with my compositions.  During these years they received the Best Original Award and placed first respectively.  At the senior level, I arranged for Pamberi Steel Orchestra and they emerged finalists in the Pan in the 21st Century Competition in the years 2004, 2007 and 2008.”

WST - Pamberi is known all over the world as having some skillful, class musicians - what do you expect to bring to the table for 2012?

Cato - “Having played under arrangers Godwin Bowen and Brian Villafana, I have been fortunate to learn varying styles of musical arrangements. Travelling all over the world has exposed Pamberi Steel Orchestra to various musical cultures and we strive to put those experiences into our music. For 2012, I am bringing continued contribution of “uniqueness” and excitement for all to enjoy. (smiles)”

WST - Pamberi’s tune of choice is All Over.  An interesting choice by conventional standards.  Why was ‘All Over’ chosen?

Cato - “‘All Over’ by Fay-Ann Lyons featuring “Baron” was chosen because of its adaptation to the steelpan.  The song also has a catchy melody as well as nice lyrics and effective musical layout. Pamberi’s member population is a young one and the song being popular on the airwaves resonated with them. We also wanted to go with a song that merged party and steelpan for the listening audience.”

WST - What are the main elements you look for in a Panorama tune?

Cato - “In choosing a Panorama tune, we look for catchy melody, nice lyrics, effective musical layout, as well as a song the players would enjoy and can relate to.”

WST - What has changed about “Panorama” in the last few years?

Cato - “Over the last few years arrangers increased their creativity in arranging Panorama music as the time allotted on stage decreased from 10 minutes to 8 minutes. With the emergence of young arrangers, such as Andre White, Amrit Samaroo and Vanessa Headley, fresh ideas are being displayed. The most notable point is the increase of compositions written for the steelpan and I commend all composers for their contributions.”

WST - If you had the power to change something in the Panorama scene what would that be?

Cato - “I view Panorama as a season rather than a competition and in this regard bands should be given the opportunity to display their skills and showmanship as well as to generate funds for the day-to-day runnings of the band.  Speaking specifically about the competition nights, it is my belief that given the number of hours bands spend preparing for these competitions, the appearance fee should be increased for participants at all stages of the event.”

WST - What are your three all-time favorite Panorama arrangements?

Cato - “There is an exhaustive list of great arrangements, however, if I must choose three, the following stand out for different reasons:

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