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The Semifinals - Strangers in A Strange Land - Panorama 2013

by Dalton Narine

A When Steel Talks Exclusive


Global - Woke up on that morning with Panorama on my mind.

Got up and went out.

To watch jumbled faces going by and hear jangled sounds welling up in the Savannah, with little or no expectations to keep me bothered.

The mind free, orderly, as manicured and fresh as suburban grass - and destination in view, both eyes leap out to sample the buffet of sights, the ears hanging back in anticipation of the Pan treats promised by the event in all media the last few days.

“The Drag”
“The Drag”

Oh, I’m mindful of this little excursion into the unknown. Might get instead comic book sound effects, you know. Biff! Bam! Boom! Pow! You read the paper and you never can tell. But this isn’t the case on the “drag,” where smoke and puffs of dust pall above the din like talcum powder in a sailor band, the powder of bad behavior, the jealous fun of it all. Or, the perfumed pitch of Pan clouding, then falling in an instant as petals of rosy sounds, commingling with the pandemonium in our ears. The gaiety. The Panorama that surrenders to it, comparing notes, talking talk over talk.

“All I want is a 12-bar phrase that could open my ears,” is how Gaston Maloney, a Trini who resides in The Caymans, says his piece.

Such ole talk criss-crossing this wide strip of asphalt, up and down, from the Savannah’s east entrance to the stage situated between two cow sheds; the yada yada passing overhead, the multitude shifting around and forward, sometimes doubling back as if replicating itself to begin new threads of discourse or smiles or tears of laughter; swinging this way and that under the dim lights of expectation. Everyone’s. Every band’s. And the expectation of this very Panorama, the offspring of the happy accident of our original sin, the nativity of Pan, celebrating the noise of its golden anniversary. Here and now.

Until the sanctuary of silence rushes in - as to be expected, past midnight, so town say -to claim its rightful space.

For now, I’m in the Grand Stand and medium band Katzenjammers is making a play. They don’t know that their song, Edwin Pouchet’s Shock Attack, is being received as muddy water, like the Tsunami effect their instruments are creating before the ears of the judges, who are compelled to imbibe not only the band’s arrangement but also the PA system’s mushy decay in the reverb. Maybe they don’t know that they don’t know. It’s like the engineer, after all these years at the task, must think the sound feels right to him.

More important to driller Maxson Ramsey is how to catch the attention of the adjudicators, for the Tobago band is gunning for a hat trick, having won two titles in a row.

Arranger Pouchet, unable to complete the work due to failing health, called upon Phase II’s Len “Boogsie” Sharpe to help out.

“It’s a brand new arrangement,” Ramsey says, “and though Pouchet’s style is simple but effective, Boogsie’s is technical and challenging. Edwin’s is more jam, and Boogsie more musical.”

“Band From Space” - Couva Joylanders Stars - 2013 Panorama

As the band rolls off the stage, Couva Joylanders, the preliminaries medium band leader, falls into ranks.

This is where I fall out, because the “drag” has a distinct taste of its own and I’m bitchy to get there. But I remember my friend Martin Daly suggesting on Saturday that I look up a posse he’d sponsored in the Greens area. It lies west of the North Stand, revered for its purely percussive, rambunctious sound that is employed as fillers between bands.

So I amble over to scope out the situation the way a sniper gauges depth with a single unmoving eye. But the astounding arrangement of the TriniWood set is scrambling vision.

It feels so jarringly out of place in a Panorama setting, but the Greens, this good-looking sprawl but fragmented narrative of the Panorama - spun off as an extravagant musical soap opera - is irresistible, yet also ostentatious, mystifying and pompous to a Grand Stander, for whom the experience could be a magnifying effect of a grandcharge, one of pageantry over ordinariness, or form over substance.

Still, I’m taking it all in with orgasmic relish. The blend of competing aromas among the competing corporations: the corn soups, the fried stuff, the sweet beverages, the plethora of liquor labels, the extra sauce on the barbecue chicken, the smell of perfume emanating from the sexy set whizzing by.

It’s where sound stages compete for your attention, too. The jab jab band clicking, Machel’s stage with the pop girls gyrating, rhythm sections and T-shirts clashing in tone and color - all of this happening outside the Rama yet inside of it. But no one seems to be listening to Pan at the crossroads, where 32 speakers are bolted into place on four, multi-tiered scaffolds. Numbers don’t lie. One hundred and twenty toilets painted blue stretch as far as the eye can see in the haze of cooling machines and dust kicked up by 100 or so vehicles in search of parking beyond the fence.

Any minute now I expect to bounce up a transvestite angel. It’d be normal in these parts, for sure.

I better idle it back and get a grip of myself, though. It’s a freakin mini world’s fair - a gathering of people from many parts - at which the host country demonstrates its sassy products, steely art, what is palmed off for calypso and the homeland’s cheekiness. The exhibitions might serve to boost the redwhiteandblack, the Trini in we by showing how much better we are at festivals than everyone else.

No wonder there’s a sense of corporate chic, the better to advertise our Trinbagonianess. Still, it seems that we’ve become parodies of ourselves, the excitement and curiosity of fantasy. We come to hear we music, to strike a long ball six out de Savannah but are hit in the head by a bouncer. Hence the dazzle of the stars. But head bad, you could still make us out. Strangers in a strange land.

“The Panorama thing is a generation gap,” says Michael Elcock of Glencoe. “It’s strictly Pan in the Grand Stand, and the North Stand was [a precursor] to the Greens, which has become [a mecca] for the social media crowd. It’s easier to pick up a partner here because of that.”

Elcock can say what he pleases with a straight face because, bottom line, the Grand Stand is half-full.

So it’s back to the “drag,” where the stuff is hard core and in-your-face. Valley Harps arranger Michelle Huggins-Watts is telling how she received Sharpe’s More Love while it was slowly incubating in Boogsie’s head.

“I was looking at another song when he called. And he’s playing it on the phone, on keyboards, and he’s la-la-ing the melody. I said I like it. The chordal movements and changes. They’re not basic, beautiful chords. There was so much chordal activity in the chorus.”

Huggins-Watts threw in a jam featuring a pentatonic Chinese scale, East Indian tassa and African rhythms. And for good measure, jazzy idioms as an expression of love.

Jimi Phillip, tuner, Pan innovator and author, is standing nearby. No stage-side view for him. They need overhead mikes to scan the whole band, he says about the Grand Stand sound. “When you draw back from a band, you hear the music clearer. Sound travels upward and because there are pans sets behind pans and players blocking other racks of pans, that wall effect tends to hamper the hearing of the judges and patrons in the stands. They’re hearing two sets of music, one coming from the PA system.”

Rudy Smith, who flew in from Sweden, sums up a bigger, overall picture.

“There’s nothing new in the Panorama,” he says. “That’s the reality of it. I hearing this since I was 16. There’s nothing musically to be gained. I came for the lime.”

Smith, a musician who plays Pan, still employs the original Bertie Marshall-style double tenor in his jazz group. “Jazz is not Pan jazz where you can go out and play clubs and call it jazz.”

Smith is planning to release a CD featuring himself and an American baritone saxophonist.

Meanwhile, Renegades is pushing toward the stage, and Silver Stars seems antsy in the holding bay.

When the bands get to strip down to their stage persona, there’s anticipation that sparks will fly, for both will perform Shock Attack.

Renegades Steel Orchestra
Renegades Steel Orchestra

Five-fifty and the Gades begin the song as the sun slowly descends, barely visible in a wash of gray that is very pervasive out there in the Gulf of Paria. On stage, it seems as if Duvone Stewart is overcooking the theme, but the man in the San Francisco Giants shirt with his name and number (1) on the back, the player of 14 Panoramas under top arranger Jit Samaroo, the young gun now renowned as the vanguard of the new wave of arrangers, is merely punching out the many truths of shock. It’d be the shock of Renegades doing this, he’d said earlier. Displaying the best tone of the evening, the band cuts loose clean, disciplined runs on gleaming pans that reach us as a single alto voice, the basses vibrating, like tremors following an earthquake. Six-bassist Bert Grant would later recall the experience as “the basses jamming outside while the music doing its thing inside.”

In the end, it’s not that Stewart has fobbed us off with false promises of all the sweet variations of attack, but it could be that judges were blinded by something other than the PA’s reverb. Hard to tell.

And now, the sun, making love beneath a sliver of orange sky through a slit in the grayness, takes a peep at the proceedings before slipping into the Gulf. Not a moment too soon, nighttime is looking over our shoulder the way some Pan players learn passages in the yard.

In contrast to Renegades’ offering, Silver Stars, as usual, is orchestrating their performance visually as well as aurally. “Expect shock,” Pouchet had said a minute ago.

The surprise, though, reeks with emotion, Pouchet having got out of his sick-bed just to be with his band.

“It was a struggle to arrange this song. I’m not feeling well at all,” he said during the placement of pans on stage. “I came out because I’m alive. [Big brother] Junior died [last year], you know.”

The skies are draped in black now, and the evening is bracing for another version of “Shock Attack.”

“Shock Attack” - Silver Stars - 2013 Panorama Semi Finals

Delivering its song through a fire hose, the Newtown band treats tempo as if its stealing time and stacking the music in your ear. So you get the histrionics of Bravo, the youthful driller whose job is to pump the band’s already inflated adrenaline, as well as take you on a frenetic journey that stuns for the hell of it. Shock you, indeed. It’s how the band shapes the arrangement, and how the music ends, the crowd emitting gales of applause and exuberance. Response from band members, too, reveals unbridled exhilaration.

“That was the best,” a pair of sweaty players would say as they unhinge the song from its racks and exit the stage. “The very best Silver Stars has ever played,” one of them adds, with a backward glimpse of awe.

Double tenor player Kurn Lopez: “It raised even my pores.” Bravo himself coming down from high and looking up, pointing. “It came from Him,” he’s telling me, spent as he is, crabbing down the ramp like a puppet with its strings untethered.

Such attitude puts a fine emotional bang on an unforgettable performance.

Harmonites appears next with a rendition of More Love. Seion Gomez has the credentials, a master’s degree in music from Northern Illinois University, but the pace is set. Will he hang on?

“It’s a love story in the Panorama,” he says. “The bass is the festival aspect here. We carry 10 six basses, four sevens, five nines and two 12-basses. We’re bringing our own taste to the history of past [administrations]. We respect guys like Earl Rodney and wish to continue the tradition.”

When 35-year player Dennis Clement hops into the 12-bass, an apparatus that looks like an octopus on steroids, you hear his dance and see his music and the performance augurs well, so far, for the band.

Arddin Herbert
Arddin Herbert

Invaders arrive with a story. When Arddin Herbert was 9 years old, he told a TV interviewer that composing and arranging for Pan was his ambition. Thirty-two years later, he still treasures his little world at the Woodbrook pan yard. His song, Dat is Lie, is about convincing people that what you’re saying is true.

“Making people believe in the music, that it’s entertaining and refreshing [is the new goal],” he’s saying now. “It’s the old Invaders with a new twist.”

With the full moon climbing out of all that gray, you’re apt to believe him. Oh, how right he was on the money, the band delivering big time, complete with its signature booming sound.

Unlike Invaders, Desperadoes didn’t make the finals in the competition in 2012. And it ceases to amaze assistant manager Anthony Joseph and arranger Robert Greenidge, who took a leave of absence from the band since a tumor in his intestines was removed three years ago. Both believe that Andre White, the 21-year-old American-Trinidadian, had given a good account of himself.

All that matters now is Despers has returned to the dialogue of Pan. Credit Rudolph Charles’ brother, Kenneth, for the stimulus. Charles is the author of Hammer Time, and Joseph swears the magic is back.

“It’s been 12 years without victory,” he says, “and the members want to do something for hill. It’s tribute to all of Laventille, including Success Village, and the music reflects that.”

The late Bertie Marshall (left) with the late Franklyn Ollivierra (right)
The late Bertie Marshall (left) with the late Franklyn Ollivierra (right)

“I, too, was born in Success village,” says Greenidge of tuner and innovator Bertie Marshall’s hometown. “The finale is about Bertie and the Highlanders sound, how he featured the bass line, how he pronounced the notes. The song is right down our alley. It’s Despers music. So it’s a bit of nostalgia for the people.”

According to Len Sharpe, Phase II’s composer and arranger, his band is also paying tribute to a deceased member. “[Franklyn Ollivierra’s] Pan will have a place on stage on final night and nobody will be playing it. More Love is about what he meant to me. The song ranks at the top of my other works. Because it’s good. We’re going for gold.”

Tenor player Keith Maynard says the lyrics are some of the best Black Stalin has written.

“For an ode to love, the arrangement is very virtuosic. There’s a modulation from G to A to a minor key, and then it’s a dance to the end. Franklyn’s death hit him hard.”

And that’s why Sharpe finds himself on the spot where his ace player once stood and jammed for a few decades well, Sharpe taking good measure of himself as a leader and dedicating the night to his invaluable assistant - a quaint, lovely little song for a humble man. For the nation, too.

In the late 19th Century the classical music world called a group of Russian composers The Mighty Handful. Clive Telemaque of Trinidad All Stars belongs to Panorama’s version of that group, joining Ray Holman, Boogsie, Andy Narell, Greenidge, Pouchet and Pelham Goddard.

The Stars are hemmed in by Memorial Park, a massive crowd encircling Leon “Smooth” Edwards’ big-band arrangement of Telemaque’s Bounce and Drive.

While the band waits its turn on the “drag,” a rude boy wearing a Silver Stars T-shirt breaks into a passion of sour words for the music.

“We (Silver Stars supporters) was dancing but I doh get da kinda vibes from this band,” he says, obviously crowing over the euphoria his band rang up earlier, but oblivious to the history of the Panorama champion on the hunt for a hat trick, the band sporting $2M notes. Trinidad All Stars remains the big fundamental in the Rama.

Smooth’s arranging skills are finer tuned than Trinidad All Stars’ gleaming panoply of instruments. And that’s where he applies his passion. That’s the one baby to whom he melts his thrills and trills. Bet on it. For Smooth is a confectionary cat. Just listen to his boom-boom version of Woman on the Bass. Once. Twice. Shucks, you’ve heard it for 33 years already. And still you find it painful, well, emotional, to leave the fete when the sweet “other” has gotta go before the signature song rubs up the place. So his “Bounce and Drive” is delivered like powerful water feeding a stream. Rival bands might regard the Stars with cut-eye, but the show band remains pompous and likable in just a single glance.

Merle Albino-de Coteau
Merle Albino-de Coteau

On a different front, one is hard-pressed to remember a Panorama that raises esthetic and musical concerns. Consider that Merle Albino-de Coteau, a musician who has been involved in teaching, arranging and judging Pan, shares a point of view that some enthusiasts might find hard to swallow.

Albino isn’t afraid to speak up - about the Panorama esthetic.

“People can be very subjective about Panorama,” admits Albino, whose class has just completed its master’s in carnival studies. “Panorama has a life of itself. When we go to church we sing a hymn. That’s not a Panorama tune. The church has a kind of esthetic, too. Same for ballads, same for the Blues.”

Yet Andy Narell’s lines and Ray Holman’s theme are as clear and clean as when they were born. The pair seem to bring depth to a competition where ritual abounds in shallows at the far end.

If I step into your creative process, where would it take me - radical threads? Innovative ideas? Well, then. Here we are. Narell’s The Last Word. Holman’s Sapna (The Dream).

Andy Narell
Andy Narell

Hear birdsong composer/arranger Narell: The power of the music is to bring people together. No clichés. No compromises. This is not depressing music. We’re capable of making a serious statement. The song revealed itself. It tells a story to remember. Coffee Street is far and away in a whole other world. It was early steel band, if you will. I’m proud of it. Thrilled that people accepted it. But this one is much stronger. We don’t talk about tempo. We’re just trying to find the swing. You get too fast, it stops swinging.

In a year when news about Pan has been burning up the blogosphere, Panorama has been rife with creativity and emotion, a competition that has delivered that all-important wow-power on every level.

Think of Holman, Skiffle’s arranger, as Panorama self, the griot of percussion, passing on stories about the instrument through reams of radical music. Then watch as his latest song captures the new chic in steel, cross-culturalization. No, no, not the Curry Tabanca flavor, but a deeper, more mystical message that could, should cross over to Bollywood legend. His music rides into Panorama present and future, simultaneously.

Ray Holman
Ray Holman

Holman, too, is changing the face of the relationship between society’s art and the community’s art, with its opposing values.

It was Holman who opened the door for pan/panorama composers. Who turned his style into pro-modern art that a few gifted peers have followed, taking their own songs to the road.

Now, Holman has awakened the sensibilities of the culture with a dream sequence that any musical director would crave.

“it’s such a nice tune,” says seven-bass player Frederick Constantine. “Ray’s not an expatiating man like All Stars with all their chromatics. This is one of the fastest tunes we ever did. And Ray’s a laid-back fella. I was surprised. But ay ay, Ray playing with pace? I tell the players one night, ‘we going up dey, we playin’ the shit clean.’ I had to explain to him out of respect, but he say he understand what I mean. A judge at the prelims told us afterward ‘what a beautiful intro,’ but we didn’t have none yet.”

Fonclaire, another San Fernando band, is banking on the tried and true, with a presentation co-authored by Mark Loquan, Destra and arranger Ken “Professor” Philmore. Addicted is heavy on the syrupy background pans, but also packs a wallop with the band’s stylish treasury of frontline rubies, musical gemstones from the highest paradise.  The same Fonclaire bread and butter fave that almost won the band two crowns. In a row.

It was almost midnight when the band shone in front of a sparse crowd. And by their performance we’ll definitely see them at their peak Panorama Saturday.

Anyway, so I woke up in the morning with Panorama on my mind. Went to bed late that night, nothing on my mind. Left it all out there and that was fine.


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


Contact Dalton Narine:

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