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Dalton Narine’s Panorama Notes 2013

by Dalton Narine

“Dalton Narine is simply one of the finest journalists of our time - in terms of reporting on culture and traditions, he is the ‘Walter Cronkite’ of the Caribbean and much, much more.” --- WST 

A When Steel Talks Exclusive


*  Someday, Phase II drill person Natasha Joseph will arrange for a large band in the Panorama, “but I’m biding my time.” For now, arranger Len “Boogsie” Sharpe relies on her ability to conduct rehearsal sessions, so indispensable has Joseph been to him and the band.

Joseph, of Barataria, has been working alongside Sharpe since 2007, the year his arrangement for Carib Dixieland won the Tobago Panorama. She’d been preparing for the glare of the lights since she was 11, when she began to teach herself music by absorbing material from secondary school work books.

Yet it didn’t have to be so. “Between ages 11-15, we were supposed to have formal education in music but the teacher was always absent,” Joseph said. “Music class became a free period. And when exam time came, the questions were like, Who was the Calypso Monarch of such and such year, and What is Calypsonian Trini’s real name.”

It’s no wonder that Joseph made the switch from the Barataria school to Malick Secondary, where her talent began to sprout as an arranger of the school steelband.

Joseph hooked up with Sharpe in 1998, playing the four pan on Mind Yuh Business. Opportunities abound in the Woodbrook panyard like low-hanging fruit, and she couldn’t help but expatiate on any number of different pans in the family - stringing chords on the guitar pan, splashing melodies and countermelodies on the tenor, soloing on the double seconds, on and on, deep into the band. “Just being exposed to his genius, Boogsie saved my life musically,” she says. “Phase II is a musical lab.”

Natasha Joseph
Natasha Joseph

Sharpe got lucky. Joseph has a ready mind and commits to memory difficult passages from her mentor note for note, never once fumbling. “It just happens naturally,” she says. “The music transmits quickly. He’d call notes for all the sections, but most players don’t remember them. I’d play it back after him and it’s always correct. So he’s trusted me over the years.”

“Then he’ll say, ‘go ahead and give it to them,’” tenor player Keith Maynard says. “So he can relax and think of something else to do in the arrangement.”

In 2003, Joseph was accepted at Berklee College of Music in Boston, but couldn’t pick up enough sponsorship “to go through even one semester. I tried real hard, all over the island.”  So she’s considering the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT).

Maybe sooner or later she’ll inhabit the role of Sharpe.

*  When Phase II came up, here’s the difference: The flamboyant tenors and the muscled middle pans tell Black Stalin’s love story in hearts. No time for tabanca here. Remember how Sharpe broke out the tears in Archbishop of Pan? Well, this one is another beast by itself. Unchained at that. More Pan. More Boogsie. More Love. At the root of this thrumming score you’re aware something interesting is going on. Something sexual and soulful. Damn.

*  A year ago, Brittney Cato, 10, was being schooled at PS 244 in Brooklyn, now she’s proficient on the tenor bass in the Skiffle panyard. Her brother, Jordon, 12, who reads music and plays tenor with the band, attends St. Benedict’s College, La Romaine. Their dad, Joseph, retired a few months ago and relocated the family to Trinidad. “They’ve acclimatized well,” he said. “They’re having fun in the panyard.” 

*  When Skiffle rehearses Sapna (The Dream), composed by Ray Holman and Fazad Shageer, you hear the music pleading for that love and unity embedded in the lyrics. Ray’s back, y’all.

Robert Greenidge, Desperadoes arranger: “We had three to four groovy soca tunes to choose from, but Hammer Time [composed by Rudolph Charles’ brother, Kenneth] intrigued us. The first time I heard the song, it reminded me of one of those old classics of style of writing the band usually plays. The people up the hill wanted it - a nostalgic sentiment, I guess. It was right down our alley.”

*  Robert Greenidge says Pan is on the upper side and instrumentation is getting better, adding that Duvone Stewart is the best of a young crop of arrangers. No lie, Trinidad All Stars arranger Leon “Smooth” Edwards agrees.

*   Trinidad All Stars double second player Clive Telemaque heard the talk from supporters ever since he’s been with the band oh-so-long ago: “That bounce and drive tempo we have go shake up the North Stand,” they’d boast. In 2012, when the Stars won the second round of its quest for a hat-trick, he wrote the song just two days after the Carnival was over. “I was playing All Fours, and the vibes just hit me.”

*  So here’s a scoop. Wanna know what’s in store for 2014 Panorama? This Is It. Yeah, that’s the title of the song Telemaque composed on Old Year’s Night.

*  Telemaque has played pan in 11 Panorama victories, with combined stints at Renegades and All Stars.

Edwards never hangs around for the Panorama results. He leaves the Savannah right after his band’s performance. Then he hits the hay as soon as he gets home. A band member calls by mid-morning to relay the score. 

*  When All Stars rolled their drums onstage brimming with that familiar final-night mindset, the following was the cryptic note on my Mac. The swashbuckling frontline and the rumble of the background instruments singing in harmony: ‘This is how we do it!’

Exodus: Arranger Pelham Goddard recalled that the only Trinidad national who had given us story was Hasely Crawford in 1977.

“But then came Miss Universe 1977 [Janelle] “Penny” Commissiong, Manchester United footballer Dwight Yoke, West Indies cricketer Brian Lara, Miss World 1986 Giselle La Ronde, Miss Universe 1998 Wendy Fitzwilliam, and Anya Ayoung-Chee, who won Project Runway in 2011. Then we had the four calypso/soca monarchs, Machel Montano, Rikki Jai, Karene Asche and Duane O’Connor. Add to that the golden anniversary of Panorama, 50 years of Independence and 2012 Olympic Javelin Champion Keshorn Walcott, and you see why we arranged the song in a patriotic mood. I don’t understand the critics. All of this was [CEO of Exodus] Ainsworth Mohammed’s idea. The video was shot in the panyard and it was a hit.

“Another thing, the pan tunes people composing have become a problem because of air play. People don’t know the songs. But Gold, everybody knows the tune.”

*  Says Mohammed: “A lot of people think the band had won the competition.”

*  Ainsworth, Ainsworth, the rank and file have never been the arbiters of Panorama. Could it be that supporters are commiserating with you because of Exodus’ unimaginable fourth place finish, two spots down from the semifinals? Jus’ askin’.

*  Invaders: To the ‘gatekeeper’ at the Queen’s Park East temporary panyard, this badjohn thing done years ago, didn’t you know? So no need to bring off a 1960s attitude when I tried to drive into the yard on media-related business. Yes, I thought it was Skiff’es domain. So I told you I was there to coordinate with a photographer on some images. So I asked you to check with Junia Regrello or Ray Holman about my mission. Did that translate to you that it was the ripe time to channel in your war lord mentality? Did that warrant 10 minutes of your harangue while the traffic, including police vehicles, piled up on the roadway, as unwilling as you were to channel common sense instead, so you could have calmed down and politely mention that yours was Invaders panyard, but Skiffle’s was located a few doors down?

You were so suffused with being the modern-day fighter for Invaders, that you couldn’t tell the distinction between defender and badjohn. You wouldn’t have known the history. To think that I had Invaders’ arranger Arddin Herbert next on my interview list that Panorama eve night! And you botched it, because after the Ray Holman session, I’d planned to meet with Herbert, whether or not you’d planned to block. Because if you know MY history, you’d have learned that I’m no pushover. How fortunate that I’d relied on my mental checklist to save the night! How unfortunate that your character precluded me from getting the band’s Panorama story from Herbert, a friend that I’d known since he was nine, and who had NEVER given me any guff over the course of 31 years that I’ve been interviewing him. The band deserves better than you, sir. Lucky you, is all I have on the mind.

*  Winston Gordon, arranger for Redemption Sound Setters, listened to 10 songs before settling on Don Clarke’s More Than An Oil Drum.

“The shape of the melody, the harmonies, chord structure and the fillers in the studio music all appealed to the band,” Gordon said. “I try to interpret what the composer’s trying to say. The title says it all. Clarke heard it on the radio and he thought about increasing the jam in the second half of the piece, and the tune is much better off for it.”

At the finals, a light show played on the North Stand ceiling, matching the color of the drums as the band threw in rhythm, jazz idioms, blues and a hint of the classics. Clarke wasn’t around to hear the Tobago band. He’s on contract in Costa Rica.

“I just get on the pan or piano and go where the spirit leads me,” says Clarke on the telephone about his composing skills.

More Than An Oil Drum is not just another pan song. Clarke had to dig deeper to get at the message.

*  As anomalies go, Panorama is a rare animal. At the semifinals, for example, Silver Stars felt it ran away from the pack but fell back to fifth place. On Panorama night, with tenors and double tenors screaming through raw steel and amid all the partying in the place, and sparklers shooting skyward at the end of a torrid rendition of Shock Attack, one got the feeling that the band had brought back its mojo, cranked it up and allowed the audience to participate in its music theory of the Panorama esthetic. Alas, members dressed to the nines, dropped four places to ninth.

* Last word on Pan By Storm - Take it away, “Professor” Philmore: A lot of people thought we’d won. People keep reminding me of that song, one of the best to pass through the history in the Savannah. It lives in me through daily contact with people, wherever I travel, in Europe, the States, all over. I felt I wouldn’t be who I am today. It sure made me a more popular person. Quick! Which band edged Fonclaire for the 1990 title? There you go.

*  About the esthetic pull in the Panorama, or the gospel according to adjudicator Merle Albino - The notes on the Mac read: Holman shows he’s not afraid to buck tradition. In the semis, Skiffle’s music hung back when you wanted it to unload. Now Ray wrings out all the colors in his arrangement of Sapna (The Dream). The colors of the nation. The red white and black in all ah we. Not just negro, coolie, chinee, poteegee, syrian, red people, douglas and Trinidad white, as so many of us are liable to slip the tongue and cast aspersion on pieces of the flag. To lyricist Fazad Shageer, nice work. Holman - you’re getting better with age. Don’t stop the Carnival.

* Hear pan enthusiast Martin Daly: “This year I see gifted musicians trying to play within the formula and at the same time kicking against it. Carlton “Zanda” Alexander and Andy Narell come to mind.

“It troubled me that people in the Grand Stand say this year that the music didn’t move them. They’re accustomed to jumpy sounds. There’s a judge’s taste that people flavor their music to accommodate it. And it discourages innovation like Ray Holman’s arrangement of ‘Sapna (The Dream)’. We need to have another competition where people play local music innovatively - not to any formula for a different panel of judges.

“Forty points for innovation instead of a general performance. Then we’ll see a blossoming of another limb or branch of the pan player. Because these events draw hundreds of young people off the streets, and putting a musical instrument in their hands instead of a gun - the money spent is an investment of a peace dividend.”

Merle Albino: “Clive Bradley knew how to resolve the chords. Resolution is important. Where you’re going and how you finish (countermelodies, minor, etc.). Arrangers think there’s a formulaic approach, and many bands do that. What you’ve done with your arrangement is your composition, so it doesn’t affect the judges. It’s how best you put the thing together. We tailor the marks to suit the arrangement.”

Read Dalton Narine’s complete article on Panorama 2013 

Click for more on Dalton Narine

Full results for Trinidad and Tobago’s 2013 Panorama


Dalton Narine

Dalton Narine is a Miami writer and filmmaker, whose worldwide award-winning film Mas Man - The Complete Work, about Peter Minshall, the Trinidad Carnival artist and Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies legend, is available on home video as a three-disc set at


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