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Mickiel Gabriel, Champion arranger for Success Stars Pan Sounds - Panorama 2013

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

Meet the champion arranger for Success Stars Pan Sounds in the Non-School category of Trinidad & Tobago’s Junior National Panorama, Mickiel Gabriel...

Mickiel Gabriel
Mickiel Gabriel

Global: Mickiel Gabriel is the champion arranger in the Non-School category of the National Junior Panorama for 2013, with Success Stars Pan Sounds from Laventille.  That ‘successful’ collaboration has resulted in three consecutive championship years; 2011, 2012 and 2013. Mickiel has vocalized and arranged the band’s tune of choice on each occasion.

WST - You are one of the most successful young arrangers in the most competitive Panorama arena in the world. What do you attribute your success to?

Mickiel G. - “Firstly without God nothing is possible and I thank him every day for blessing me with the talent. An arranger will be nothing without his players; the players of Success Stars Pan Sounds (SSPS) are an extremely talented bunch of young people who I love dearly so I owe mostly everything to them. Also my support system, my parents and extended family, the Principal of Success Laventille Secondary, the management team of SSPS which works extremely hard, the parents of all our band members, Sound Specialists of Laventille and the Laventille community.”

WST - In addition to your success as an arranger, you are a very accomplished songwriter. Why do you choose to use your own songs in competition?

Mickiel G. - “When you do your own music it’s easier to work with it because no one will understand that music more than you will.”

WST - This year you went with “Something to Celebrate” for Panorama. Why this song theme?

Success Stars Pan Sounds banner

Mickiel G. - “Funny story: both Ms. Hunte and I sat with the manager of the band trying to come up with something new. When we got an idea we called Ben Jackson who said “Nah, that concept was used already; come up with something else.” So it was back to the start for us. Ms. Kay Felix, who is the manager of the band, said “Let’s do a song to celebrate 50 years of Panorama and everything that is Trinidad and Tobago - our culture, our people, etc.

“So, playing around, Ms. Hunte and I started to sing a piece she wrote for Junior soca monarch when I was still attending Success Laventille Secondary, entitled Something to Celebrate. I turned and I asked “So why can’t we do this? I can vocalise it and I’m sure Kareem Brown (also a past student of Success Laventille Secondary like me) will do an excellent production.” We called Ben who approved of the song, so we took it and ran with it. We then changed over the lyrics and melody a bit from the original so that I can be ‘nationalistic,’ so to speak.”

WST - The world now knows of Success Stars Pan Sounds. Do you think the organization is finally getting the recognition that it is due?

Mickiel G. - “I think, of the past 3 years [seasons] winning Junior Panorama, this has been the most media coverage we have ever gotten. I remember after we won in 2011 with “Raging Storm” the children came to me very saddened saying “We won Junior Panorama and there is nothing about us in the news or papers. But if someone got killed in the school, we would be on the front page and news headlines for weeks.” So we at SSPS and Success Laventille Secondary embrace all the recognition that is [now] being given; not just for the band or the school, but for the community of Laventille, showing everyone that good things do come out of Laventille.”

WST - How did you initially become involved with the steelpan?

Mickiel G. - “Actually, growing up, I did not like the instrument AT ALL. My grandfather and my father were both involved in the steel pan movement from way back when. In 2004, my dad asked me to try it, so I agreed to give it a try and see what it was all about. I first started with Highlanders which is where I met the great Len “Boogsie” Sharpe. It was then I fell in love with the instrument. I was amazed as to witness how “Boogsie” could take a simple song and interpret it in such creative ways. I told myself I wanted to be like that one day.”

WST - Are you a full-time musician year-round?

Mickiel G. - “I work year-round at Success Laventille Secondary. So I am constantly working with the band.”

WST - Why do you arrange panorama music?

Mickiel G. - “Well, Panorama is one of the major steel pan events in the world so I was always interested in it. But honestly, I would normally do stage side music for the band and when SanFest (National Junior Arts Festival) came around in 2010, I tried my arranging skills there, where we placed first with “Be Mine Tonight.” Knowing that Ben Jackson IS Success Stars Pan Sounds, I constantly nagged him to take a listen to the winning piece. When he finally did he came into the school, sat with Ms. Felix and said “Let him do Panorama - he’s ready.” So basically that’s how I got into Panorama arranging.”

WST - Describe your creative process?

Success Stars Pan Sounds
Success Stars Pan Sounds

Mickiel G. - “Wow. Let me see if I could put that in words. I aim to bring a new sound to Panorama so I treat every song the same way an artist would treat his painting. I take the music and try to embody what the song is about and make sure the most common non-musician could understand the story that is being told in the music. The aura and vibe of the band also have a lot to play with the creative process; how they respond to the music is very important to me and we have a relationship where if they not ‘feeling’ a part of the song they will voice it. I either explain to them why it’s there or I change it to something they love. Ideas are constantly in my head, so it’s only when I am finished doing a song I can actually explain it, it’s almost like the music just comes to me and fits in the right place at the right time. When arranging, I try to make each transition different from the last, more interesting, more exciting and captivating. I think for you to try and understand more you would have to get into my head (LOL).”

WST - Do you ever feel the need to compromise your music to satisfy the judges?

Mickiel G. - “I never and repeat NEVER, feel the need to compromise our music. However a lot of prayer is done hoping that the judges understand everything that I am trying to do.”

WST - What do you listen for in a panorama piece?

Mickiel G. - “In a Panorama piece, I mainly listen for interesting bass lines, horn lines and melody. However, lyrics are very important to me. One thing we do at SSPS is put lyrics from the song to every variation in the piece.”

WST - What is the cultural significance of Panorama music?

Mickiel G. - “Panorama music has become a way of life for our people. Carnival would not be complete without it.”

WST - If you could change one thing about Panorama, what would that be?

Mickiel G. - “One thing will be a greater emphasis placed on Junior Panorama because we need to remember the youths are the future of Pan. So we need to give them all the support and encouragement that is needed to continue being in love with the instrument.”

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