Global - The steel band moment is here after all. And it might be hard to find the concept of the future in this arena of drums and notes. For now, the night needs answers. What will it take. Will you give us your heart through the ear. What is the structure of the performance. What inspired it. Will the interpretation move us. Will it take us to another place. What does the band want to accomplish. Will it adjust tempo. Is that necessary. And for the adjudicators, why does a piece of music work and why it doesn’t. What are the technical shortcomings. What do you hear that we don’t.
We’ll find out tonight. And not a moment too soon.
When Trinidad All Stars members warmed up the knuckles before the countdown clanged like a metronome from pan’s frighteningly innermost insecurities about tempo, an icy sweat rolled slowly down the spine. This might be the band’s only shot. Leon “Smooth” Edwards’ only chance at joining Jit Samaroo and Clive Bradley as the trinity of the Panorama Divine, as the fundamentalists on the Drag and in the Grand and North Stands dearly ascribe its value (privileged as the audience is to pony up big dough so it could take in the matadorish spectacle). For, on different levels, we’ve not yet fully recognized our values in the instrument - or, put it this way, our appraisal of the values of the instrument is painfully impotent. Have we consciously awakened genius?
The late Franklyn Ollivierra (l) looks toward long-time friend Len “Boogsie” Sharpe as he conducts Phase II Pan Groove
The genius of Len “Boogsie” Sharpe. An arranger who, worn down by protest and tribute songs in the Panorama, was moved to venerate a fallen colleague in Franklyn Ollivierra, a man who had served Sharpe and Phase II for three decades or so, someone who’d have taken a bullet for the friend he adored. The former Highlanders amplified tenor player during the band’s glory years, Ollivierra now receiving all the attributes of devotion in a love song, and in a fawning sense, fit for a king - Black Stalin the singer with a few strokes of the pen creating his inimitable magic. What he created so eternal and beyond compare, who’s to judge the national love-up everybody gets from his ballad, More Love.
Federico García Lorca, a Spanish poet, playwright and theater director in the 1920s-30s wrote, “The melody begins, an undulant, endless melody. [It] loses itself horizontally, escapes from our hands as we see it withdraw from us toward a point of common longing and perfect passion.” This description also captures the essence of Sharpe’s music.
But as the line in Edelweiss noted, flowers bloom and
die and bloom again. And thus was the Phase reborn Panorama Saturday
night, swaddled in Sharpe’s labor of love - the beauty of the music
inside, much like the interior of a European concert hall or the
Vatican, especially the Vatican. The quadrophonics and four pans nestled
in the heart of the orchestra while supplying the family tree with the
nutrients for victory.
“It’s a big tenor pan,” says Sheldon Franklyn of the two pans up two down utility instrument, “even though it’s four pans. It keeps me busy. We follow the tenors, then the double tenors, the seconds, the four pans, even the basses sometimes. Wherever they go we follow. We play melody and harmony and some chords, if the arrangement calls for them. Sharpe knows what he’s doing. A passage we learned one night, he’ll tear it down the next and build a new one. It’s always like that. Down to the eve of final night. It’s a challenge but I like what he does and what I’m doing.”
When Sharpe speaks to the band, the message relates to expressing more love for each other, tenor player Keith Maynard says. “Franklyn was the epitome of that, even if he had to get up at 1 am [to help a friend in need].
“This song, the music is smooth and romantic. The lyrics, so powerful and instructive, really captured what is required of T&T (Trinidad & Tobago) today, required of us to succeed - the collective caring for each other and sharing with each other.”
From the get-go, Sharpe emphasized the phrase more love, more love, more love, making a statement right there in the intro.
“We have really good music, difficult to execute, and it requires extreme attention and focus,” Maynard, unfazed, said earlier in the day.
But the band has been inspired by a certainty of confidence all week, and is up to the task, according to Natasha Joseph, the drill master and Sharpe’s assistant.
“We followed the judges’ criteria, reharmonizing through the song,” Joseph said. “[Sharpe] tried a lot of challenging stuff, like a passage that included a glissando - 13 notes in two beats at a tempo between 120-125 beats per minute. Two such passages like that; tenors, double tenors, double seconds and quads. He makes a statement that only he knows well. He passes on the music but not everybody remembers. And that’s where I come in. I redistribute the music.”
Joseph says Sharpe has so much music to give that none of it remains static.
“He can arrange More Love in a week,” she says. “He almost gave us a Panorama tune in a day. But players can’t handle [the load]. He gets in a flow and the music never stops. There’s nobody in the world like that.”
A steely but compassionate work of art, the song is as complex in its simplicity as it is overwrought in style. In the end, a key changes hands and eventually rinses into samba lines that cut in with a festive flair just before the coda arrives. It’s a throwback to your parents dancing, energizing the love the way Chee Mooke workers Joan Phillips and her adult son Stokely, taking a break from the grind, carried the salsa across the floor with extemporaneous verve the other morning. The rhythmic ending, like the Latin moment in the bakery, falling away, languid, suspended in time. More love, indeed.
More props, too, go to Sharpe and his band of merry men, the final night graveyard performance having pushed them to exhaustion following a long, hard slog to the top. The mission to dislodge All Stars from their two-year hold on the spoils of pan had denied the historic orchestra a vaunted hat-trick. Listen to Phase II’s winning performance
“Tempo can make or break you. Like a hot potato, you can’t enjoy it.”
“The music is very conversational,” Edwards says. “An interplay between sections. If you listen to the tenors alone, you’ll have complaints. It’s an orchestral piece. Conversation is about the song. If one section is doing something, there’s another section doing something different in an idiom - a thematic development, or theme being developed that would lead to another passage.”
So how are you dealing with your critics, Edwards is asked before the band leaves the panyard. How to handle your rivals who are gunning for you to fail?
“It’s a very keen Panorama and the pen is mighty. The connotation being that they’re trying to reach the top by climbing over your head. Let them talk. I’ll just beat them.”
And talk they do - with malice.
Tyrants and megalomaniacs across the land must be asking themselves what they're doing wrong.
“And what will the hat-trick mean to you personally?
“Collateral damage. I’ll be the same.
“When I arrange, I’ll analyze what I’ve done so far and I’ll try not to give too much attention to the verse or chorus.
“Regarding the basses, [All Stars founder] Neville Jules set a precedent - his basses were melodious. Extensions and passing tones to form little melodies as opposed to using them as an accompanying root of the chord. No two pieces of mine are alike, though I have a signature sound. In this piece, I’m underlining my handwriting with show.
“Pan fans talk is subjective. They want to find fault with the competition, all they listen to is their band.
“I like the one-point differences between the top four bands. I see it as a tool to get members to realize we haven’t reached our goals yet. Some bands are final night bands. So we’ve got to play our part. If we were ahead by five points there might be a lackadaisical work ethic. The single-point differential changes that.” Listen to Trinidad All Stars’ final night performance
Renegades, who had much ground to make up from the middle of the pack, focused on multiple winner Jit Samaroo’s Kitchener ethic as it related to the tenors, and arranger Duvone Stewart’s predilection for the deep, heavy stuff busting through the quads, four pans and basses, which he wisely upgraded to frontline status. The band surprisingly copped third place, validating Edwards’ assessment of Stewart as being gifted with skills of intrinsic value. Listen to Renegades’ final night performance
As for the St. Augustine band, Exodus, Pelham Goddard, whose 1977 Panorama arrangement of the original Gold by Maestro put Third World in sixth place, banked on the patriotic lines in the refurbished song to appeal to a nation that over the years has seen its sons and daughters excel at world-class events.
The intro took its cue from the Olympic theme, then segued to a fanfare-like passage that gave a shout-out to nationals who’d represented the flag; all that before finally working its way through the melody.
“People feel a Panorama tune must have a format,” Goddard says, “but we get real patriotic with the opening of the anthem, God Bless Our Nation and Sniper’s Trinidad Is My Land. We celebrate the whole T&T scene.
In a dig at his critics, he called them ignoramuses in the Carnival.
“They don’t respect what you’re doing. Everybody knows Gold and they wanted me to bring it back. The timing was right.” Listen to Exodus’ final night performance
The big boys from the north didn’t let up on the big boys from the south, hard as it was to allow one to slip away. The buzz had floated Skiffle as a legitimate top three, but the San Fernando band with the Coffee Street tag achieved a measure of satisfaction by holding the resurgent Desperadoes at bay.
In the past week, Ray Holman and Fazad “Joe” Shageer’s Sapna (The Dream) has become a powerful anthem to friendship and its endurance morning noon and night. A work about multiculturalism, a piece about musical romanticism.
Does it represent, in a sense, fate knocking at the door? It may be another love song in poetic rhythm. But when you recite it, it doesn't sound nearly as much like poetry as other meters. It’s got that eloquent sing-songy quality, though. Like Sharpe’s More Love, Sapna could be in the national consciousness for years. Listen to Skiffle’s final night performance
Desperadoes dropped two spots from fourth place in the semifinals. But the band has made a remarkable comeback, having missed the finals in 2012.
Its rendition flirted with a compilation of the magic forged from the best of Despers songs from a bygone era. Hammer Time, it was. Greenidge, ox-like since his return to the Savannah after recuperating from surgery to remove a tumor in his intestines, made no bones musically about the band’s direction under his and manager Finbar Fletcher’s stewardship. The performance dusted off vibes that had settled in Laventille hill, leading the listener to momentarily suspend belief that the band’s rehearsal digs lay in Belmont ever since the crime-spree spread like cane fire across the scarred badlands. Listen to Desperadoes’ final night performance
In the medium band category, Buccooneers seem to be on a fast track to the top of the ladder. Could be the push of their leader Seion Gomez, or the band’s discipline or their mission to thwart Katzenjammers from achieving a hat-trick.
Here’s to a high-spirited Tobago orchestra that feels at home entertaining guests who had paid to see bands like them perform. What a thrill to catch a big-band sound in the shallow end!
And now, the epilogue, with some mild criticism about conducting a Panorama piece.
Conducting a Panorama band could be an ego thing, I don’t know. Bradley made it look like a travesty even when he was winning, though waving his arm didn’t give him an edge. Yet, who sees the wand other than the frontline players. It’s like ‘I have the right to manipulate the sound,’ and yet nobody, even the players up front, don’t take on the ego gallerying up front, except maybe the TV camera when it sweeps by in a pan.
Whether he’s right or wrong, Couva Joylanders arranger Kenneth “Panam” Clarke shares a peculiar perspective.
“Conducting is about showing the judges where you’re going,” he says. “It’s not taking away from the performance. Rather it adds to it by telling the judges about the different changes in the song. Some of them really don’t have the time to analyze the work.”
I don’t get it, Panam. Conducting is a historically informed style. Clive Bradley, your mentor, always comes up as a sort of motif in Panorama, even in death. Even now. The mimic conductors impersonating like octopuses, though not necessarily lying in wait to catch anything, not common sense, for sure, because the role they really play is that of showboat, which has no place bobbing and weaving like lots of underwater creatures, including flatfish.
“Finally, the night of Panorama came,
and the great orchestras began to play.
You closed your eyes, signaling perfection
at last, the grass, the stars releasing sigh
after sigh. But even as they climaxed and
pandemonium reigned, what else to do
but pocket your baton and follow the beast
scampering across the dark savannah.”
From “All Things Considered: for Clive Bradley” - Mervyn Taylor
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 masmanthemovie.com
Contact Dalton Narine:
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