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Meet Alicia Dixon of Brooklyn, New York

She is the essence of ‘growing up Pan’ in the Big Apple while having a New York state of mind. Panist Alicia Dixon shares her journey and love affair with the steelpan, the ups and downs, ins and outs - in an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive


WST - “You are one of the well-known young women involved in Pan in New York; talk about your involvement with the art form, how it started, the bands you’ve played with, etc.?

Alicia D. - “In 1998 I watched my brother practice all summer, and I remember going to my first Panorama and being in awe with the size of some of the bands and all the energy around me. I began playing tenor pan the following year, at the age of twelve, with Metro Steel Orchestra, we played “Toco Band” and placed 4th in New York and 2nd in Miami Panorama. Pleased with the band, my mother allowed me to play during the stage side season; I began experimenting with different pans and fell in love with the tenor bass. The following summer it took constant nagging by just about everyone including [Clive] Bradley to convince my mom to let me play. I went on to become section leader, the following year I became vice-captain, and the year after that at the age of fifteen, I became captain of Metro.

“In 2003 I had the opportunity to participate in When Steel Talks’ Women’s Month Photo Shoot. That year, I took the opportunity to play for Bradley and I gained my first championship playing “Trini To de Bone” with Pantonic.  I remained with Tonics for many years playing six-bass for Panorama and tenor bass for stage-side. I have taken part in the organization of NYSSO (New York Symphonic Steel Orchestra)  and have played with bands including Sesame Flyers and Despers. In 2012 I was re-appointed captain of Metro and assisted the band as it re-entered the Panorama competition.”

WST - “You’ve been captain of Metro, one of New York’s steel orchestras - share your experiences in that position of responsibility?”

Alicia D. - “As any captain, I have had to put more of my personal time into the organization of the band. I was responsible for not only allocating duties but making sure that goals have been met, even if that meant taking care of it myself. Last year, 2012, was difficult as we basically had to start from scratch, we had to secure everything from sponsorship to players. I am grateful to have had dedicated band mates who, despite all doubt, assisted in running the band, and making our new players feel welcome.”

WST - “What changes, if any, have you noticed since you first started out in Pan years ago, and present day 2013?”

Alicia D. - “I don’t know if its a change in time more than a change in my role and maturation, but I’ve noticed the politics taking the fun out of the Pan. It’s much more competition-based today where as years ago there seemed to be more importance in allowing the players to enjoy the art form.”

A. Dixon
Alicia Dixon

WST - “Have you played Pan in Trinidad?  If so, what is the comparison to the New York Pan scene?”

Alicia D. - “Although I have to yet play for a Panorama, I did take some of the music last year with Invaders and was met with warm welcome. Being that I got in two nights before panorama and was also involved in other activities of the Carnival season, I can’t really give a comparison to the Pan scene.  I’ve been to [Trinidad] Panorama twice and I must admit the vibe is ten times stronger. I plan on playing next year so I may increase that rating once I have my full experience.”

WST - “Are any of your family members involved in Pan?”

Alicia D. - “My brother Jose was introduced to Pan when he began drumming for Then and Now in 1997. He began playing a single guitar, and later a double guitar and cello pans.  He passed the baton to me in 1999 after playing his last Panorama with Umoja. Last year I introduced my cousin Shantel to Pan and she too has fell in love with the art form.”

WST -“If you had the choice, would an income-generating career in steelpan be an option you would select?”

Alicia D. - “Probably not. Although if you do something you love you never work a day in your life, playing Pan is something I do just for fun and love of the art form.  My reward is in being able to pass it on.”

WST - “What aspect of Pan, you being a pan musician - or the art form in general, means the most to you?”

Alicia D. - “I was a musician before I was a panist, but I cannot say that any of them mean any more than the other. I played piano since the age of nine, and was trained to identify notes and chords by score and ear. But it was Pan that allowed my love for music to flourish. I love being able to hear melody and harmony intertwined and chords elongated through the various octaves of the different sections. I also love the vibe of being in a panyard for practice, and appreciate that the art form gives youth an outlet with many opportunities.”

WST - “If you could change one thing in Pan, what would that be?”

Alicia D. - “I guess it’s not really one thing, but I would like to see more responsible individuals in my generation of Pan take leadership roles. I think it would bring forward an array of new ideas that would eventually demand change.”

WST - “You may have come across from time to time, people who did not understand what you mean when you say you ‘play pan’ - if this has ever been the case, talk about how you shared your steel band experiences, and their reactions.”

Alicia D. - “My family is from Panama, and I’ve always had to explain what I meant when I said I played Pan all summer. I would have to explain that even though we were having fun it takes a lot of discipline, energy and time for each of the members to learn and simultaneously play their music. I also go through this at work, but not before having to refer to Pan as a “steel drum” for them to have a clue of what I’m talking about. I then go on to explain that its more than the one or two players they see around the city. Now I usually just show them a video on you tube, but its still difficult for them to understand the lifestyle.”

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

Alicia D. - “I think individually we have to first put aside personal issues and differences in order for us to truly unify and begin to think about change for Pan in New York.”

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