Jeston Lett - Panist, Film Director, Videographer- speaks on Pan & Panorama 2012

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - filmmaker, director and panist Jeston Lett shares his overall views on Pan, Panorama and more...

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

WST Steelband Panorama 2012 logo

A WST Exclusive

“Panorama some say has evolved, same for Soca, but I believe we misinterpret this as losing ourselves and identity. When bands can substitute good music with Showmanship, there’s a problem. And I know to this, many would disagree, but I say let the music do the work.”  Jeston Lett

WST - First of all congratulations on your latest directorship of Erphaan Alves’ - “In Your Eyes video;” great work!

Jeston L.  - “Thank you much.”

WST - For those who are not familiar with you and/or your accomplishments, tell us about yourself.

Jeston Lett
Jeston Lett

Jeston L. - “I’m the 4th of five children, born to Joseph and Jennifer Lett. My father got us started in music from a very early age, him being a member of Desperadoes from the mid-70s. Continuing in music throughout my childhood into adulthood, I left for school in Miami, Florida to pursue music/audio engineering as my field of study - then I realized I can be schooled in one of my other childhood passions, filmmaking.  So I finally decided to do that as my choice of study and career, and have being doing so for the past 7 years. 

“That said, music has always been embedded in my soul and I’m still very much in tune to what is happening. I’ve been associated/played with, steel orchestras, such as Point Fortin New Creation, Skiffle Bunch, Invaders, Desperadoes, Siparia Deltones, Pantonic, D’Radoes and ADLIB, just to name a few. Had the honor of being Music Festival Champions as a Duet with my brother Jerrod, and also as an arranger. My zeal for playing for Pan competitions died and went 6 feet under with the late, Great Clive Bradley. He being my musical grandfather, and a very close friend to our family, said on many occasions, “To Hell with the judges, I play music to make the people wine,” - and every year I go to the panyards and NOT one arranger has been able to make me do such, until this year with Mr. Andre White, so to you sir, I say “To Hell with the judges, play music to make the people wine.”  LOL.” 

WST - You’re a young man that has successfully worn many hats and continue to do so. You’re an accomplished panist, videographer, and now video director. Which do you like best, and why? 

Jeston L. - “Even if I wanted to answer I don’t think I’ve figured that out myself. However, I enjoy being a creative person and all facets allow me to do so. What I would say is that because of numerous factors in Pan (organization, competitions, etc.) I’ve chosen to move away from the playing aspect. So currently, I’m leaning towards my career choice, video directing.” 

Erphaan Alves - In Your Eyes - directed by Jeston Lett

WST - You’ve been very vocal on your concerns over the things that adversely affect the steelpan community - can you elaborate on some of these concerns?

Jeston L. - “This is very simple. There’s NO structure and organization. Pan Trinbago (as I’ve said before) has no respect for the instrument, has no vision for the instrument, and as such is Killing the instrument. They’ve allowed and continue to, let simple things affect a positive future for the steelpan instrument. Take 2012 Panorama Semi-finals, you choose to create a Party within this competition for the sake of MAKING A DOLLAR, yet next year if the Government doesn’t come out with a big payout, Pan players would still be getting an $800 cheque from them. The Governing Body of Pan, still chooses to pay a rent for an office, while their unfinished headquarters continues to house Bush... Onto the competition called Panorama, it is a disgrace to know that this is the biggest competition for the Steelpan. From the judging system, to the structure / limits to players and arrangers - is disheartening.”

WST - As a fan, advocate, activist and player - in your opinion, what must change immediately?

Jeston L. - “I beg for the reins of the governing body of Pan—Pan Trinbago—to be given to people who care / have a vision for the future and development of the instrument.  Some people say it should be a businessman, some people say the Chinese, all I say is someone with drive to put PAN first, and currently NONE of them that sit there has that.”

WST - If you had the power to change an aspect of Panorama immediately, what would that be?

Jeston L. - “I would name two. (1) Judging system. I suggest that not even the judges should know which category they’re going to judge. Have a panel of twenty and create a system, where, on the day, the judges select (out of a hat even) which panel they will sit on. Also, for accountability sake, the same way there is a time clock giving you the time the band played, have another with the score right after each band performs. This would do two things, eliminate the PERCEPTION of bias/ tampering of scores, and make the judges pay better attention to each band’s performance. (2) I think we should go back to judging the big bands from prelims.”

Desperadoes Steel Orchestra
Desperadoes Steel Orchestra

WST - In your opinion, name someone or something that where credit is due and should be given?

Jeston L. - “Apart from When Steel Talks? Credit should be given here first for all that is done for the Pan community, even though the powers that be choose not to accept it as such. Also, I’m going to be out rightly biased this time around and say Mr. Andre White. For years André has been given a raw deal, not just in Trinidad but New York and London. I can’t understand how in 2012, I still hear corrupted, small-minded, ignorant Pan people who think that Pan is Trinidad, Trinidad is Pan and anything outside of that, is second-class. Andre White, as an American-born young man with Jamaican and Trinidadian heritage, in 2011 (winning both in New York/London) & 2012 (winning the people) proved that is not so, and Pan as we KNEW it has left us.”

WST - Is Panorama a blessing, a curse, or simply misunderstood?

Jeston L. - “In a nutshell... It Was a blessing, Currently a curse, and based on some judges’ decisions in the past few years, VERY Misunderstood.  But seriously, Panorama, some say, has evolved, same for soca; but I believe we misinterpret this as losing ourselves and identity. When bands can substitute good music with Showmanship, there’s a problem. And I know to this, many would disagree, but I say let the music do the work. Players should be focused on performing and the band is free to INCLUDE many different elements to ENHANCE your presence on stage, not the other way around.

“And finally the judges:  poor poor decisions [choices of judges]. I’ve seen score sheets where judges talk about how Pans shouldn’t be rusty in 2011... WHAT?? If it isn’t affecting the music, it shouldn’t bother you as judge.  And I blame the organizer again..  Why??  Yes - the judges’ decision is final, but how many times after a major football game when a referee makes a bad call (the decision would stand, yes, but) he/she is reprimanded and/or disciplined. That never happens [in Pan] which leaves the public to think, you have accepted and agree fully with everything that has been done.”

WST - What do you think of the state of music in general in Trinidad & Tobago?

Jeston L. - “As I stated previously, everyone is speaking about this evolution. But what is it really? We started off with a certain type of sound, now everyone’s music has infiltrated ours and we’ve evolved. From ragga-soca, to the new “Island Pop” vibe - is us basically saying we don’t know how to market our own, so let’s use other genres to do so.”

WST - What is the responsibility of the steelband franchises (organizations)?

Jeston L. - “To guard, develop and market this instrument into places we can’t even imagine. Currently none is happening. There was a trip to Nigeria recently by Pan Trinbago, and thank God some of us are on Facebook. Yet we are still to know the purpose and success of such a venture. When you have major Pan aficionados still making proud statements like “He need to pay his dues” - arrangers like Amrit Samaroo, Andy Narell, Andre White, to name a few, and “They can’t beat we in we own country” as this relates to Northern Illinois Steelband in the World Steelband Music Festival 2000 - the organizations of Pan are screwed and twisted, and have failed terribly in their responsibility.”

WST - What should the role be, of the Trinidad and Tobago government in – Pan?

Jeston L. - “The Trinidad & Tobago Government needs to understand Pan is above and beyond and party. Their responsibility is to ensure that the body that is responsible for Pan is doing their job, and support them when necessary. Pan as an industry, can be bigger, and reap ten times what the energy industry has done for us – IF structured the way it should [be].  From policies to international relation interventions, their role is critical.”

WST - What are your expectations and visions for the future of Pan?

Jeston L. - “My vision is for us to go back. Back to the times when it meant something to be a ‘Radoes,’ or an ‘Invaders,’ or a ‘Renegades.’ Not just being a player for a band in a competition seeking a WIN.  My vision is for our leaders—both country and governing body—to see that Pan is more than Panorama and Carnival, and start ACTING on it. And when it comes to the competitions, let’s give Jack his Jacket and Jim his Jim Boots, and forget about name of band/arranger.  I hope for a time when judges can forget about the previous years’ scores and place bands based on their current merit.

“As for what I expect, and I said this to some people while awaiting results, we doing the same thing (same organizational plan, same judging criteria, same system and finally top 3 bands currently – SAME ARRANGEMENT) and we expect something different???”

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