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Meet Lennox “Bobby” Mohammed - Champion Arranger for Guinness Cavaliers Steel Orchestra - Up-close!

Often when we talk about the steelpan music movement we forget or take for granted - just how young many of these now well-known icons of Pan were.  Case in point:  Lennox “Bobby” Mohammed, arranger for the legendary Guinness Cavaliers Steel Orchestra from southern Trinidad.  So distinct and powerful was the sound of the Cavaliers, that they became one of the most feared orchestras of their time. There are those who will still swear that there were over two hundred players “on the road” in the orchestra.

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks (WST) champion steel orchestra panorama arranger Lennox “Bobby” Mohammed shares his memories and thoughts of Pan in that golden era, and the steelpan music moments of today...

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Lennox “Bobby” Mohammed - exclusive video interview

Global - Bobby Mohammed is the consummate gentleman.  Thoughtful, humble, courteous, spiritual, disarming, likeable and extremely thankful for all that he has accomplished, and has been through in his association with the steelpan instrument.  In 1992 he was one of several people to receive one of his country's national awards, the Humming  Bird Medal Gold.

As an arranger and composer for the south-based Cavaliers in Trinidad, Bobby Mohammed introduced many of the now-taken for granted musical components of the Panorama competition.  Together with the tuning wizardry of the late great Allan Gervais, under the musical direction of Bobby - Guinness Cavaliers left an indelible mark on the steelpan movement during that period known as the ‘Golden Era of Pan.’

Guinness Cavaliers
Guinness Cavaliers - Southern Steelband Winners 1964 - picture and handwritten caption provided by Bobby Mohammed

In 1965 Guinness Cavaliers, with Bobby Mohammed at the musical helm, won the Trinidad and Tobago national panorama title - beating  the then-undefeated legendary Pan Am North Stars and at the same time denying them the hat-trick.  They would repeat their championship in 1967 after coming in second in 1966.

Bobby began his musical journey at age seven when he began playing piano by ear, looking at and learning from Mom Enid as she played.  Because of his advanced musical skills he was made arranger for Gondoliers Steel Orchestra, and later Cavaliers (core members were those who left Gondoliers).

Bobby was much more than an arranger.  He was an innovator of musical styles and approaches that would leave a permanent footprint on Panorama music to this day.  Indeed, his composing and using his own classical piece “The Revelation from Beyond” in the 1967 Music Festival was a bold first, and audacious move.

National Steelband 1965
National Steelband 1965 - picture and handwritten caption provided by Bobby Mohammed

Bobby is currently focused on his new music for the steel orchestra.  He has composed a series of original compositions in the classical and gospel mode that he feels will contribute to taking steelpan music to new heights.

In our WST interview Mr. Mohammed displayed an incredible memory for dates and details.  He remains very passionate about his steelpan experiences which translates into his insistent penchant for accuracy and data.  He meticulously hand notates, amends and corrects - hard copies of multiple papers purporting to ‘document’ historical details related to Guinness Cavaliers and himself.  The ‘icing on the cake’ was that he ensured that WST left with a full copy of his annotated material.

Additionally, Bobby clears up a few discrepancies and myths about the great Guinness Cavaliers.  He also touches upon his musical influences and his recent New York panorama experience.  He gives very high accolades to New York performing steel orchestras.

Bobby also talks about his family and the total support from his parents for his (and brothers) involvement in Pan in a time period when anything associated Pan was looked down upon.

Bobby remains one of the central figures of the Golden Era of Pan.  His musical innovations, contributions and genius, and those of others icons like Anthony Williams and Bertie Marshall have yet to be fully acknowledged and recognized.  However, there is a lot we can learn from these exceptional icons of the steelpan instrument and art form.

Accomplishments and influences of Lennox “Bobby” Mohammed

  • Toured with the Nation Steelband of Trinidad & Tobago - 1964, 1965 and 1967.

  • Arranged for the National Steelband of Trinidad and Tobago - 1965 and 1967.

  • Composed two classical pieces Gallopade (1966) and The Revelation From Beyond (1967) written specifically for the Music Festival.  This was the first time a steelband had use it’s own ‘classical’ composition in the competition.  In addition, all the parts were scored for all the sections of the steel orchestra.  They reached the final four.

  • Bobby was instrumental in developing what would be later termed or defined as the sound and musical style of ‘the South bands.’  It was a very distinct sound that was unlike any other.

  • Bobby fashioned a Panorama ‘bass movement’ that used pauses and sudden drops.  It was an approach not seen or heard before.  His use of dynamics and drama in the Panorama setting was original. This approach is common today but was introduced by Bobby.

  • Bobby introduced the ‘change key’ to a minor in Panorama.

  • Bobby introduced dramatic intros and classical endings to Panorama pieces.  He is also credited with introducing ‘jamming’ (jam sections) into arrangements.

Special Note:

When Steel Talks humbly thanks Mr. Mohammed, who graciously took the time to meet with us and facilitate this interview even though he was in considerable discomfort from having taken a serious spill recently while in New York, which resulted in three cracked ribs and a fractured collar bone. 

Mr. Mohammed was here in New York to take part in the 2011 New York Panorama as an adjudicator.  A WST member accompanied Mr. Mohammed to the hospital for an additional check-up, and the diagnosis at that time was that he is healing properly.  WST looks forward to Mr. Mohammed making a full and speedy recovery from this mishap.

More here on Lennox “Bobby” Mohammed

Lennox 'Bobby'  Mohammed after his WST interview
Lennox “Bobby” Mohammed after his WST interview


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