Meet Jamal Gibbs - Educator, Arranger, Panist - UpClose & Personal!

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

When Steel Talks Exclusive icon

“My advice to the young panists would be to stay humble and strive for highest and to always be yourself in all that you do.” –– Jamal Gibbs

The music of the steelband is his life and passion. In a When Steel Talks exclusive - educator, arranger and panist Jamal Gibbs shares an up-close moment as he elucidates his passion for Pan.

WST - “Tell us a little bit about Jamal Gibbs?”

Jamal Gibbs with trophy
Jamal Gibbs

Jamal G. - “My name is Jamal Gibbs, born in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA - living in Trinidad and Tobago where I got my bachelor’s degree in the Performing Arts, major in steel pan.  I am a teacher at a primary school in Trinidad, Point Cumana Government Primary School.”

WST - “When and how did you first become associated with the steelpan instrument?”

Jamal G. - “I started playing steel pan at the tender age of four; my dad taught me.  He was also a panist who played for birdsong Steel Orchestra in Trinidad and Tobago.  In Trinidad, going to primary school, Diego Martin Boys’ R.C., I started to learn about the steel pan under Mr. Kendal Lewis - arranger, panist and instructor with the Merry Tones Steel Orchestra.  But not until I entered secondary school - it's where I learned more about the steel pan and started to read and write music and got into arranging.”

WST - “You are an accomplished panist, instructor, artist and arranger. Is there preference among these disciplines for you?  Which role do you like best?”

Jamal G. - “I like all of my disciplines but the role I like best is being an arranger.  Reason being, I could express my musical ideas to the world as a young, upcoming arranger. At present I arrange for BP Renegades Youth Steel Orchestra, La Creole Pan Groove, Merry Tones Steel Orchestra and Pan-Demonium Steel Orchestra in Trinidad.”

Jamal and Pan
Jamal and Pan

WST - “What keeps your passion for the instrument and music going?”

Jamal G. - “The young people who play this musical instrument and my love for music are what keep my passion going.”

WST - “If you had the power to change something in Pan immediately, what would that be?”

Jamal G. - “If I had the power to change something in pan, it would be to have more pan available in all schools, and also to have the children educated about the history of the instrument.”

WST - “What have you been most proud about as it relates to Pan?”

Jamal G. - “As it relates to pan I can say that I’m most proud of the youths being able to look up to the legends in the industry and having role models to in their lives and also doing what they love.”

WST - “What disappoints you the most in the steelband movement?”

Jamal G. - “What disappoints me in the steelband movement is the lack of togetherness, and it doesn't have any love amongst the bands/players which we need to fix because pan, in my opinion is about love and life.”

WST - “What would be your advice to the thousands of young panists all over the world who are dreaming of following in footsteps such as yours?”

Jamal G. - “My advice to the young panists would be to stay humble and strive for highest and to always be yourself in all that you do.”

Jamal Gibbs in action
Jamal Gibbs (with baton) in action

WST - “You play the pan.  Are there any other instruments you play?”

Jamal G. - “No, I don’t play any other instruments besides the steel pan, the steel pan is my main instrument.”

WST - “Do you have a favorite/preferred “voice” of pan to play?  Tenor, Quads, etc.?”

Jamal G. - “Yes, I do have a favorite voice of pan, the double seconds pan - reason being the seconds play everything from melody, strumming and harmony.”

WST - “Who, and what are your musical influences?”

Jamal G. - “I would say my musical influences are Clive Bradley, Dr. Jit Samaroo, the Mozart of Pan Len “Boogsie” Sharpe and Duvone Stewart.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Jamal G. - “Panorama is a festival of love and togetherness where people who love the pan come together and create beautiful music to share with the world.”

WST - “Is Panorama a curse or blessing from your perspective?”

Jamal G. - “Panorama is a blessing because arrangers could show their talent off by putting down sweet melodies and harmonies to a non-musical ear.”

WST - “You have practiced in panyards for, and played on stage in - Panoramas in New York, and Trinidad & Tobago. You have also arranged in St. Vincent's Panorama. Share your thoughts on some of the elements - comparisons, and differences, in your experiences in these different locations?”

Jamal G. - “The experiences I have faced playing in different countries have been amazing and also learning ones.  I played pan in New York twice with a band called CASYM, 2010 and 2019.  My experience with them was a bit different because bands are not allowed to practice past 12 midnight, because the neighbors aren't as welcoming to the 'noise pollution.'  They also don’t have panyards so they usually use school compounds etc.

“My experience in St. Vincent was also different from both Trinidad and New York.  Having been an arranger and a regular player I have experienced it from both sides.  From an arranger perspective, the band in which I arranged for at the time didn't have any guitar pans so I was forced to be creative in coming up with an alternative option which required me to use the three cello pan as a substitute; it was a bit shocking, by the level of discipline the children had because it was a senior band with mostly young people.  When it came to practice time the parents were also very supportive. 

“In terms of being a player it’s a little more similar to what I’m accustomed to at home where as, like mentioned earlier, with New York not having panyards they have to stop practicing at a certain time, St. Vincent does have that problem.  All and all my experience in both places was great but there is no place like home.”

WST - “What do you think about the various changes implemented for Panorama 2020 in Trinidad & Tobago?”

Jamal G. - “The only thing constant in life is change and not everyone is open to it.  Pan Trinbago did a great job on some of the changes they implemented for the 2020 Panorama season.  At first I think members of various bands were against it but things turned out fine; I think it was a great idea to spilt the Panorama where players could help out other bands who are not as fortunate to have a large following.”

WST - “For the first time in the history of the Medium band competition, the finals are to be held in the sister isle of Tobago. What are your thoughts on this?”

Jamal G. - “To me it was a great idea to host the medium band Panorama finals in Tobago; reason I think it’s only fear because in my opinion if the bands from Tobago can come to Trinidad I see no issue in the Trinidad bands going to Tobago.”

WST - “What is the greatest challenge the steelband music art form faces in Trinidad & Tobago today?”

Jamal G. - “Steelpan in Trinidad and Tobago faces a lot of challenges. I think the greatest challenge the music art form faces in Trinidad is it losing its place in our culture and pan dying completely.”

WST - “You have traveled around the world with pan as your focus. What have you learnt from these experiences?”

Jamal G. - “Traveling around the world with pan as my focus I have come to understand that there is a great love for our national instrument.”

WST - “What is your vision for the steelpan instrument?”

Jamal G. - “My vision for this great instrument called the Steel Pan is to have it respected and loved by all, the way people love reggae, dancehall and soca.  Pan should be more than a seasonal once-a-year, only at carnival time thing. It should be year-round, we should celebrate it with big concerts, with artists; that's the direction I want to see pan go.”

WST - “The Steelpan music art form is obviously a major part of your life. What are your expectations or dreams with you and pan in the near future?”

Jamal G. - “My expectations for me and pan in the near future - to win a Panorama and hopefully arrange for a big band.  And I would like to have a place where I can teach my talents to young children.”

WST - “What do you know now, you wish you had known years ago?”

Jamal G. - “I think back then years ago, if I had took the time needed to study seasoned arrangers and learn from them, and put in the time which I do now and add my own style and creativity to it, I think I would have been a better arranger today.”

WST - “Are there any other steelband-related matters you would like to bring forward?”

Jamal G. - “Players not being paid on time is an issue I think needs to be addressed.”

photos provided by Jamal Gibbs

  Merry Tones Steel Orchestra’s Preliminary Panorama 2020 performance

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