Meet Robert Issa - With His Dream for Steelband In  Tanzania - UpClose!

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

Presently, he is  a  mostly self-motivated, self-taught, self -financed - panist, arranger, teacher, promoter, recruiter and tuner who is single-handedly leading the charge to bring Pan and the steelband to Tanzania in a very big way. 

When Steel Talks Exclusive icon

Robert Issa may be the greatest Pan lover/enthusiast on the content of Africa. Facing challenges of instrument supply, training in the art form - just to start - Issa is a true example of following his heart, and determinedly staying the course.

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, Robert Issa shares his significant and considerable history with Pan, along with his dream for the instrument and artform in his homeland of Tanzania, and more.

WST - “Who is Robert Issa? Tell us about yourself.”

Robert I. - “I am Robert Issa, 27 years old; I was born in 1990, July 13, in Tanzania Dar-es-salaam Kurasini.”

WST - “How and when did you first become involved with Pan, what were your earliest experiences with Pan, and which pan(s) do you play?”

Robert I. - “In 1998 when I was eight years old, I joined KURASINI STEEL BAND. That is the band of St. Maurus Parish Roman Catholic Church, and I learned about the Pans there. There I was performing on every Pan, that is - Double First Pan, Guitar Pan. We also had the Cello Pan, and Tenor and Low Bass Pan. I got more experience in Kurasini Steel Band and I was learning effectively.”

WST - “Tell us about Steelband in Tanzania.”

Robert I. - “We have many steel bands in Tanzania. Many of the bands are established for the aim of performing in churches. But some bands are in Schools for playing some of the school songs, national anthem, and also playing in various graduations when pupils graduate. In Tanzania there are not many steelband shows. I think it is because of the quality of the pans that we use according to our current knowledge, and materials of drum that we have in making the pans.”

WST - “Do many girls play in the steel bands?”

Robert I. - “Yes, many girls play.”

WST - “Where did the Kurasini Steel Band get their instruments?”

Robert I. - “The great Mwalim Sospeter or Zephania Masima made the pans for Kurasini in 1998. But he died in 2003.”

Robert Issa sinks a pan during the manufacturing process
Robert Issa sinks a pan during the manufacturing process

WST - “Who tunes the steelpans?”

Robert I. - “At this time I am taking the place as pan tuner. I always use PITCH PIPE for tuning, and I downloaded a chromatic tuner on my phone that helps me to tune in pitch.”

WST - “How did you learn to tune steelpans?”

Robert I. - “I learned it from teacher Sospeter when I was ten years old - when he tuned pans, I was around where he did his tuning activities.”

WST - “Do you tune pans for the other steel bands in the churches and schools?”

Robert I. - “Yes, I have already tuned pans, especially at St. Joseph Steel Band. But for these years Tanzania has an absence of teachers of steel band, so it causes many bands of churches, even schools, failure in achieving much, therefore the activities of TUNING pans decreased big time.

“Daily life responsibilities means I am far away from bands especially Kurasini Steel Band, because I am in another region called Dodoma, while there are Steel Band activities and performances in Dar-es-salaam. I am a policeman but my job does not stop me being involved with steel pans. I am doing everything in every way to get new and quality pans.”

Robert Issa prepares a pan for burning Robert Issa prepares a pan for burning

WST - “Who is the arranger of Kurasini Steel Band?”

Robert I. - “I am also the arranger for the band.”

WST - “Does the band perform for events? If so, talk about this.”

Robert I. - “From 1998 - 2005 we got many events at hotels, embassies and weddings, but at this time we have no events currently.”

WST - “Are the other bands there in Tanzania?”

Robert I. - “Yes, ...many other bands in Tanzania. But most of them are owned by churches and perform in churches eg. our own, Kurasini Steel Band.”

WST - “How is Pan thought of in Tanzania?”

Robert I. - “The reaction is good. Example is the video of ‘Hello’ with many friends liking it, and I got many ‘Big-ups’ because of the video. Because of lack of shows (events), I don’t have many people that hear the performances. But beginning now, I expect that to change, and more people to know.”

WST - “Is there a growing demand for Pan in Tanzania?”

Robert I. - “Yes, as I said steel bands in Tanzania performed in churches, so the demand is for there. But even for own Kurasini Steel Band, we and the other bands need to have updated and current steelpan instruments. But we have problems financially.

“We do not have a system in place, and experienced steel bands like in Trinidad and Tobago. But because of our basic knowledge in steel pan, we are doing everything ourselves.”

WST - “What keeps your passion for the steelband instrument and art form going?”

Robert I. - “First, I want to continue to learn about building pans. But I also continue to collect money for buying pans especially Double seconds. Secondly, I want to go to Trinidad and Tobago to learn how to manufacture pans properly. Then when I get back to Tanzania I want to change the whole system of steel pans in Tanzania, then introduce steel band music in Africa. Because I do not think this music is performed in Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique, etc.”

WST - “What other types of music do you like? And who are your favorite music artists??”

Robert I. - “I very much like Reggae music, and I like to listen to songs of Bob Marley.”

WST - “Does your family like Pan music?”

Robert I. - “Yes, they like it, especially when I was just eight years old, they allowed me to play. So obviously they were okay with it since then.  And up to now they like it.”

WST - “What is next for Robert Issa?”

Robert I. - “For now I want to do solo performances with my Double seconds, and I aim to make even more people love steel pan.”

Leave a comment in the WST forum

Marina! Kurasini Steel Band - Robert Issa -  Arranger & Tuner

When Steel Talks shirts
now available!
Order yours now!
When Steel Talks -- T Shirt