Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Latifa Joseph of Antigua

She is a professed panist for life and a respected member of the renowned Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra from Antigua. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks Latifa Joseph gives it to you straight - Pan in Antigua as she sees and lives it.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

 

WST - “Tell us about yourself - how and when were you first introduced to the steelpan?”

Latifa J. - “The steelpan art form has been a part of my life from conception.  However, my first performance was in my pre-teen years,  ‘Chopsticks.’ The LIME Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra, my steel band family, held a steelpan workshop and this was one of the exhibition pieces.  I can recall  the sense of pride and excitement felt after the performance.  That summer I became a member of the steel orchestra.  However, my parents were pro-education and my performances with the band were only vacations.  My eagerness to be a part of a steel orchestra got the better of me and I soon after joined my high school’s and church’s, steel orchestras.

“My steelpan experience opened many doors and taught me much.  This talent allowed me to enter and succeed in a few pageants.  I have taken part in cultural exchanges and done tours with the orchestras that I have been a part of.

“Today, my job does not allow me to perform with the steel orchestra as before.  However, I am still involved in activities that aid in the orchestra’s development while maintaining the art form, such as the National Panorama, the steel orchestra’s monthly Mini Block-O-Rama BBQ & Fish Fry, and the planning and coordinating of concerts. This increases the public’s interest in the art form and other upcoming steel orchestras in Antigua and Barbuda.

“My steelpan experience and talent are a part of who I am today.”


WST - “Your dad Stafford Joseph is one of Antigua’s well-known steelpan musicians and elders - what is it like having such “lineage” to call your own?”

Latifa J. - “Blessed.  Sense of pride.  Role model.  An honour. These are some of the descriptions that come to mind knowing that he is my father; Stafford “Stove” Joseph, Antigua’s steelpan historian, a proud, executive member of the world’s oldest surviving steel orchestra, LIME Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra.  To date, I am known by many [names] as ‘Likkle Stafford’ or ‘The girl for the pan man’ or ‘Stove’s Daughter.’  When I receive anyone of these greetings, I smile and say to myself, ‘Yes, that’s my dad!’”


WST - “What are your views in general relative to the steelpan art form in Antigua & Barbuda - concerns, sources of pride, etc.?”

Latifa J. - “In my opinion, Antigua & Barbuda’s steelpan art form has so much potential but it is being stifled.  We need to be educated more on the importance of the steelpan art form.  I am happy to see that almost every school in Antigua has a steel orchestra.  However, I think including steelpan in the music curriculum from the primary school level upwards would help to increase awareness and appreciation.  Children are the future of the world and this would be the best place to start.”


WST - “Do you think the steelband community and its musicians are regarded/respected in Antigua & Barbuda?”

Latifa J. - “We are regarded/respected to an extent.  Respect must be earned and only through education, unity and marketing can this happen.  Personally, I believe that our leaders in the Pan fraternity need to put on the cloak of selflessness, in order to play a holistic and greater role in preservation, maintenance and expansion of the steelpan art form.  However, we too as panists/musicians must endeavour to become more creative and market ourselves and the art form, on a level that commands respect of self and that of others. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step”. We, the panists, must take that first step.”

L. Joseph
Latifa Joseph

WST - “Is there any social stigmatization for pan players in Antigua & Barbuda, and for women in particular?”

Latifa J. - “Having a steelpan historian for a parent and being a part of the oldest surviving steel orchestra in the world, have given me many stories of how it used to be ‘in the old days.’  When I compare these stories to our present day, much has changed for the better.  ‘No Play Zones’ no longer exist. No longer are persons turning their dogs loose on our Pan men and women; no longer are our Pan men and women been beaten and incarcerated by the police; no longer is the Steel Pan art form seen as belonging only to the underprivileged in society; no longer is the church discriminating against the Steel Pan. Individuals from all walks of life and professions are now a part of the great “Steel Pan Family.”  Nor do we have to hide from our parents to play the Pan. Even our churches are investing heavily in the Steel Pan art form.

“In Antigua & Barbuda, women are accepted as pan players.  From my experience, it is common for female talent shows/competitions contestants to think of the ‘panist’ as her greatest competitor.  Some persons would even learn how to play the steelpan for a pageant as it is seen as an edge over the other contenders.  It is rare for Antigua & Barbuda pan players to not be accepted because of who we are or what we do.  However, it is not impossible. During our National Panorama, women account for approximately fifty to sixty percent (50/60%) of the  LIME Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra’s membership.”


WST - “What advice would you give to young girls who are part of the present-day steel band community?”

Latifa J. - “When in doubt or at a low point I like to ask, are you happy?  What makes you happy?  In many situations, a woman has to work twice, three times as hard as a man to succeed.  In my opinion, playing the steelpan is a level playing field.  If you love to play, love the art form, feel that sense of pride with the first note of every song and love  the ‘high’ you receive after every performance, young girls/women, embrace your talent.  Continue to carve your signature in your steel band community.  The world is changing and in many parts of the world, so is the steelpan.  Be a part of that positive change. Be that change.”


WST - “Do you play pan full time, or do you have a parallel career path?”

Latifa J. - “Sadly, Antigua & Barbuda’s economy has little room for ‘full time’ pan players.  I am an accounts assistant and in the process of accomplishing further accolades in this field.  However, no matter my career path, I will always be a steelpan woman!”


WST - “For you, what is Pan like year-round in Antigua, outside of the Panorama season?”

Latifa J. - “In my opinion, Panorama in Antigua is not a season.  It is a part of our Carnival celebrations.  We pan women and men practice nightly for approximately three (3) months just for one (1) night.  Many performers who are not musicians, are usually in awe at the level of music played.  However, outside of that one (1) night, the orchestras go back to their hotel, restaurant and ceremonial gigs.  We have a school’s Panorama competition.  But just like the National competition, the ‘hype’ is for one (1) night. 

“I can name only one (1) Antiguan media group which has a radio program dedicated to steelpan music 365 days a year (Observer Radio).  More media groups should take a page out of their book.  But we too as pan women and men, need to ensure that we sell our product 365 days each year.”


WST - “Do you play any other instruments?”

Latifa J. - “In high school, I played the piano and recorder.  I would like learn more and start playing the piano again.”


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

Latifa J. - “The Pan is God’s gift to us. It brings people of all walks of life together. Pan does not discriminate regardless of gender or age. The power that the Pan commands in bringing people together in one accord for the greater and honest good is unmatched by any political force. I am of the opinion that its us the panists that need to change . Not the Pan.”


WST - “Is enough being done to document and preserve the great history of Pan in Antigua? What would you like to see done?”

Latifa J. - “Men like my father have so much knowledge that must be shared regarding Antigua’s steelpan history. I am aware that he has been disseminating historical information whenever and wherever it is needed. Whether it is to assist students or educators in Antigua and Barbuda or further afield, my Dad will always assist.  But little is being done on a wider scale to educate others.  One by one our steelpan pioneers pass-on without their knowledge of the art form being recorded. This should not be.  


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

Latifa J. - “In my view, we panists in the Caribbean need to network more and share each other’s history.  It would be nice for our islands to host steelpan cultural exchanges and/or annual conventions.  It may happen among some of our islands.  But we are foreseeing the steelpan art form achieving much and as one voice, one rhythm and one sound. Together we can make this happen.


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