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Meet Cleo-Antoinette Hampson of Antigua

She is a musician, educator and a serious-minded product and advocate of the performing arts.  In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, Cleo-Antoinette Hampson of Antigua gives a personal insight into Pan in Antigua.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “You are a professional and versatile young woman who calls Antigua home; you are a French educator in the country’s secondary school system, in addition to being principal of ‘Le Chateau d’or Music Academy - (LCDMA)’ Tell us more about yourself, your start in Pan, bands you’ve played with, etc.”

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “I have been a musician all my life and have always had the zeal for learning musical instruments. Though my instrument of choice is the Pan, I also have a working knowledge of many instruments including, the guitar, piano, clarinet and the soprano, alto, tenor and bass recorders. I started playing the Pan a little over 20 years ago, when my father, Anthony Hampson, decided to introduce the steel pan at our music academy. My love for the art form quickly blossomed and by age 12, I was the primary arranger for our academy’s advanced steel pan group. Since then, I have played with Hell’s Gate, the National Youth Steel Orchestra, Supa Stars, Gemonites and very briefly, Panache. Currently, I am the performance coordinator and arranger for Le Chateau D’Or Music Academy’s Golden Sticks, a group comprised of the most advanced young pan students at our academy - a group which is in the initial stages of becoming a professional youth steel orchestra- a pet project of mine.”

WST - “Your music academy provides instruction in the steelpan art form; your father and brother are part of this initiative; talk about how it got underway, and overall details of the program.”

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “While studying in France in the late eighties, my dad witnessed a youth steel orchestra led by a Trinidadian arranger playing Caribbean Classics while reading sheet music. This he found to be very fascinating, since, for the most part... sight reading pan players were unheard of in Antigua. So, he vowed that he would initiate a steel pan programme that would simply do that... generate steel pan players who could sight read and not just players of the steel pan. Our Academy offers instruction however, in a number of other instruments including, guitar, violin, viola, cello, recorder, piano, saxophone & clarinet.”

WST - “Presently, you are also a panist and arranger with champion band Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra - talk about these experiences?”

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “Well my arranging is only for LCDMA’s Golden Sticks and I  have not (yet) arranged for Hell’s Gate. I thoroughly enjoy arranging, though. I get an amazing feeling when the music floating around in my head is realized on the Pan. However, my experience as a regular member of Hell’s Gate has been an enlightening one.  Playing with some of the experienced members of Hell’s Gate has really helped with improving my skills. Even after 20 years, I still think that there is room for improvement, and there will always be given the dynamism of music. Also, whatever I learn from Hell’s Gate, I always seek to impart unto the players of Golden Sticks.”

WST - “What are your thoughts on Panorama in Antigua & Barbuda?”

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “Personally, my Carnival begins and ends with Panorama.... The many long nights of practice.... getting lost in the beautiful music..... the rush of adrenaline from the final performance. It’s a spectacular feeling.  The politics that seem to plague any competition anywhere, take away from the experience, though. Too much emphasis is placed on winning at all costs  and the true purpose of the event - showcasing the art form- gets lost.”

Cleo-Antoinette Hampson
Cleo-Antoinette Hampson

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

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “Panorama is a blessing and a curse. A curse since as I previously mentioned the purpose is sacrificed in the name of winning and pride. It’s a blessing because it shows that there is still hope for the development of the art form, since many young panists play for Panorama.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “Panorama, the way I see it, is a glorious time for arrangers and pan players, young and old, to demonstrate the best of their trades.”

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

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “I have found that many panists in Antigua don’t realize the possibilities that exist with the Pan; that the Pan is truly a musical instrument and those who play are musicians. I would hope that one day that the steel pan will be given the same respect and even more - than what is bestowed upon the classical instruments like the piano and violin. That the panists would see themselves as musicians and attempt to work on the theoretical aspect of music.”

WST - “How do you balance your career as a teacher in secondary school, principal of the academy and other responsibilities?”

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “I am  not sure how it all fits into my schedule, but I seem to find a way.  I tend to thrive off of being active and always engaged.”

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

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “Generally, I’m influenced by anything that I hear that makes sense and sounds good: from Tchaikovsky to Rihanna, from Stevie Wonder to Bunji Garlin. Everybody and everything influences me in some way. Recently, Khan Cordice has had a big influence on me. I’ve learnt a lot from him and his arrangements.”

WST - “Are you of the opinion that culture can be managed as a business?”

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “I think that culture ought to be managed as a business. Its profitability to a country and its appreciation value will increase. If we understand the market value of our cultural aspects, we will be able to market our culture and our country better.”

WST - “What advice would you give to young women who wish to become steelpan musicians?”

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “Don’t be intimidated by the ‘great’ male panists of the day. Just envelop yourself in the music and many doors will open for you.”

WST - “What is the steel pan scene like year-round in Antigua & Barbuda?”

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “Sadly, the steel pan scene leaves much to be desired in Antigua. There are only three major events that have become staples every year:  Gemonites Moods of Pan, National Panorama & National Youth Panorama (School Panorama). For a country which has had the steel pan as part of its culture since its inception, there should be events & activities every month.”

WST  “What is the most serious challenge facing Pan in Antigua & Barbuda?”

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “The laissez-faire attitude and the lack of vision of the people who have the power to affect change are what challenge the development of Pan. Changing this mentality would make the Pan world in Antigua the ideal place to play.”

WST  “How are pan players in Antigua & Barbudawomen in particularviewed by the wider, general society in the country?”

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “The emotions are mixed towards pan players in Antigua. The Antigua Society has become  rather accepting of steel pan players over the years - opting for a steel band instead of a jam band to provide entertainment at various events. But there are many who still don’t understand the value and don’t realize the hard work it takes to provide such entertainment. So being underpaid or not compensated at all is very common.”

WST  “If you could change one thing about Pan in Antigua & Barbuda - what would that be?”

Cleo-Antoinette H. - “I would change the mentality that the only time Pan is important is during Panorama. It would be ideal, if those with power could realize the possibilities that proper investment in the art form could bring great financial profitability to our little country.”

photo provided by C-A. Hampson

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