Cordel Byam was apparently fated to be bonded to the steelpan (his favorite voice in the family of instruments is the cello). From the age of nine, with one of Grenada’s champion steel orchestras, New Dimension, practicing just to the back of his home, his path was set as he spent his initial nineteen years with the band, some of that time guided by the band’s previous long-time champion arranger David “Peck” Edwards.
“He made me develop an ear for music” Cordel says of Edwards, likening the latter’s style to that of the late Master Clive Bradley and the iconic Len “Boogsie” Sharpe. They are also his key steelband influences along with the late legend Dr. Jit Samaroo. Cordel learned well, as evidenced from the results of his first entry into the country’s national Panorama this year. He made his musical mark definitively as his arrangement of Trouble In The Morning and the band’s scintillating performance of it led to New Dimension Steel Orchestra being crowned champions in the country’s 2019 Panorama competition.
Champion arranger Cordel Byam
A far cry from his first days as arranger in the country’s Junior Panorama, for him back in 2011. Because even though the judges “placed” him second, “They actually wanted to disqualify me....because they were saying that Mr. Edwards did the song [Power In The Soca],” Cordel disclosed. The judges simply did not believe Cordel could possibly be that good. Apparently due to the ongoing mindset of the Junior Panorama judges, they would continue to dish out consecutive “second” place positions for two more years.
Those days are long behind him; he has now triumphed on his country’s national Panorama stage, a momentous achievement, especially since David “Peck” Edwards himself also arranged in the same Panorama for two other bands. Adjudication, it would seem, may have come around to the reality of the talents of a still-young Cordel Byam.
Prior to leading New Dimension to their twelfth national Panorama championship in 2019, the musical pairing had already resulted in recent triumph. A few months earlier he arranged Bridge Over Troubled Waters for the orchestra in ‘Pan Xpression’ (Grenada’s version of the Bomb tune competition). For Cordel, it was his three-peat in that musical arena, his third consecutive ‘Pan Xpression’ win. The first two came during his time as arranger for Pan Wizards Steel Orchestra, where that collaboration ‘brought home the gold’ in 2017 and 2018.
But 2019 has been bitter-sweet for Cordel; he lost his beloved sister Adrina “Dreazy” Byam—herself an ace panist—to lupus on February 23. Along with fellow players in New Dimension, Cordel dedicated both the Pan Xpression and Panorama victories to Adrina. On the Pan Xpression success: “The Bridge Over Troubled Waters wasn’t my victory, to be quite honest, it was my sister’s....Throughout all my victories, she was there.”
With regard to the steelband art form in Grenada, he would like to see “the Government seeking more interest in the younger ones, trying to implement it [Pan] in the schools.”
Music is truly Cordel’s life; as the band’s musical director he collaborates year-round with the stage side of New Dimension, and is a performing artist with his trio “Smooth Expressions.” He is also part of the music circuit in the Caribbean with Carnival Cruise Line. Cordel is managed by his brother Nigel Byam.
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