Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Rosanna Toney - Brooklyn, New York

Culture is her lifeblood. The Performing Arts flows through her veins. She’s a triple threat - Educator, Dancer, and Percussionist - Rosanna Toney speaks on her moves from the hardwood to the engine room and Pan in an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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

Rosanna T. - “In 2000 when I was in Trinidad, in my village we had a pan side named West Wind, Cocorite West Wind, and I got involved there. Then, later on in the 2001 New York Panorama, I saw Dem Stars Steel Orchestra, and a whole lot of other steelbands in a field [Thomas Jefferson High School Athletic Complex in East New York] , and I said “I have to join them.” And that is how I got involved in that [playing in steelband rhythm sections/engine room] up here.”

WST - “Over the years you have become one of the most recognized female members of several steel orchestras’ rhythm sections - tell us about being a woman player in the engine room?”

Rosanna T. - “It was easy for me to adapt to the engine room through my profession as a dancer; I’m a dance instructor, that’s my ‘living.’  I love rhythm and I also play drums, and through that I said “I just have to play the ‘scratcher.’”  I just love music, I could play the congas, the cow bell, you know. That’s where it [the love for “scratching” in the engine room] really comes from.”

“And my father is also a panist, [back] home [Trinidad]; at the age of eighty-something, eighty-five he still plays pan.  From small, you know, we in to that; he always had us into beating this bucket and ting, beating the rhythm.  He played with Sun Valley and Sonny Roach years ago, but now he plays with a small family group.”

WST - “So what keeps your passion for Pan going?”

Rosanna T. - “The instrument, really. I don’t know. Rosanna, it’s like she just ‘born into this kinda of music,’ you know?  It’s emotional, it’s like everything’s there.”

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

Rosanna T. - “The competition with the Panorama. I just find it has a little “pulling and tugging” there; it’s like the best bands always on top, and the other bands always.... you know, although they play so good...? To change that, you know, maybe more like an even playing field...”

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

Rosanna T. - “Panorama!”

Rosanna Toney

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

Rosanna T. - “The lack of unity at the administrative level and again, there is too much pulling and tugging there going on.”

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

Rosanna T. - “Take it to heart - for the love of music, and do it professionally.”


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

Rosanna T. - “Lord Kitchener, Pelham Goddard, and all types of music, generally.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Rosanna T. - “Panorama to me is like an avenue for arrangers to express their creativity, and the panmen, their skills, to show off their skills, and [also] like myself, in the engine room - and to enjoy it all.”

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

Rosanna T. - “It’s a blessing.  You see we have people who survive by their talents, their ‘Pan talents,’ the arrangers and others, it’s a livelihood, you know?  There’s people up here [in NY] and all over, ...in Trinidad....  that’s what they’re doing to make a living, to survive so it’s a blessing.”

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

Rosanna T. - “To see steelpan, and churches and choirs and schools even more integrated.  Also, like differently-abled children, the Pan should be used to help them - they should get a chance to try it.”

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

Rosanna T. - “There should be a selection of judges with no ties to steelband.  Nobody should know these judges. There should be no “friend.”  Let people [judges] come who know only music, who are qualified, and only have at heart, the interests of the steel band music and art form for the competition. A clean competition.

“I just find that the heads of all the steelbands should really come together and mean it. Instead, they’re only coming together and they don’t mean it.  There’s pulling and tugging; if everyone could come together, they could make better demands (as a united front).  Don’t study your side alone - who played better, who came last, etc.”

WST - “What’s next for Rosanna Toney?”

Rosanna T. - “Panorama 2013!!”

Their Story, Their Voice, Their Life, Their Dreams - click for more stories

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