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Meet Raisha Lovindeer of Jamaica

It was simply ‘love at first sight and sound’ for this eleven-year-old... - Now, years later, as captain of Jamaica’s UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra Raisha Lovindeer shares her thoughts in an exclusive with WST

A When Steel Talks Exclusive


WST - “Talk about Steelpan in Jamaica. How widespread is the art form? How large are the orchestras?”

Raisha L. - “I love hearing the history of steelpan in Jamaica. Pan was played heavily during Carnival season, and mostly only by men. Now, the instrument has transcended the Carnival experience and the gender roles. Many pan players and band leaders in Jamaica are women.

Most steel bands are attached to some kind of institution in Jamaica, be it church or school. Pan has really been successful at penetrating that market, and that’s important here, because we have a lot of churches. There are some successful independent bands and players, especially on the island’s north coast. I think the cost of starting and maintaining a band prevents more independent bands from forming, and plays a role in band size. Our large bands here are really small bands in other Caribbean countries. UWI Panoridim is considered a large band in Jamaica, and we still only have ~30 instruments in total.

Even though pan players may think Pan is widespread in Jamaica, truthfully many people still don’t know much about Pan. We have a particular problem with identifying and acquiring good quality pans. We don’t have a Panorama season or any large-scale pan competitions, so there is no collective event that brings exposure to Pan and forces high quality from the instruments and the players.”

WST - “How did you become involved with Pan?”

Raisha L. - “The first time I saw the instrument was at age 11 at a theatrical production. I remember staring intently at the shiny instrument and was awed by its sound. Six years later, as a gift from my friend Kelly-Ann for my birthday, I saw UWI (University of the West Indies) Panoridim in concert. An entire stage of steelpans singing together. That one gift lasted for decades. I joined them the following summer.”

WST - “Talk about your experiences as captain of UWI Panoridim?”

Raisha L. - “Of course, I feel very much at home in UWI Panoridim’s panyard. I was on the executive for many years before becoming captain, so it seems like a natural extension of what I know. The captain runs the non-music side and the music director deals with the music. This year, I am both. But my team is awesome and we run the band together. I love their enthusiasm for the instrument and their eagerness to perform. I especially love seeing the players emerge from the regular people we were when we first walked into the panyard. This is my final year as captain, and I will miss it. I have learned a great deal while leading the band.”

Raisha Lovindeer
photo by Le-Anne Roper

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

Raisha L. - “Short answer, no. I can’t speak for the entire country, but in Kingston I actually find people are very intrigued when they learn that I play pan. I have gotten no negative social stigmas attached to me because I am a panist, or a female panist. Women have penetrated the Pan culture so much that no one is surprised to learn that we are music directors, or captains of bands. It’s almost a good fit. We often think of teachers as women and most music directors are seen as teachers here.”

WST - “After playing Pan for some time, several young adults eventually cease playing. As of now, do you think you will be playing for some time to come?”

Raisha L. - “Oh I definitely see myself playing for a very long time. I am passionately in love with this instrument. I only recently (less than a year now) switched to doing the arts fulltime. I’m still juggling way too many things, so time is my limiting factor, but Pan is in my life to stay.”

WST -“Do you have any advice for young women who are interested in playing pan?”

Raisha L. - “My advice is really not gender specific. If you love it, go for it. Like any percussive instrument, you need a basic rhythm and lots of practice.”

WST - “If you could have a major ‘say’ in the issue - what would be your vision for the future of the steelpan instrument?”

Raisha L. - “I definitely want to see steelpan listed as one of the instruments in the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) exams and other accrediting exams. I’m sure it can be done. I would also love to see more opportunities open up for training young tuners and pan-makers. It’s very laborious and I know most are not drawn to that process, but we live in an age of innovation, and we need to be able to keep up with demands for the instrument.  

“For Jamaica, we need a body of people that oversea and push steelpan in the island, one that can start the process of adjudicating inter-school competitions (an obvious and easy place to start). It’s very much within our reach, and is a good short-term goal that can grow to our own Panorama someday.”

WST - “What is your favorite genre of music to play on steelpan?”

Raisha L. - “I push for playing all genres well on Pan, but my favourite is soca. It’s just too sweet. Right behind it though, is classical, where you really hear the pans.”

WST - “As far as When Steel Talks is aware, there is not a Panorama competition in Jamaica; if this is indeed the case, would you, Jamaica, like to have a Panorama experience of its own?”

Raisha L. - “Definitely. I dealt with this in my previous responses, but I am a firm believer in good, fair competition. It drives excellence.”

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

Raisha L. - “Only to thank When Steel Talks for being a source on the net for Pan events and discussion. It’s great for this unique set of musicians to feel connected through sites like yours. I would love to see more conferences and forum opportunities emerge so that we could exchange ideas and discuss the issues that matter to us as Pan professionals.”

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