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Meet Zaynab Wilson of Montreal

She is good... Real good and setting a new tempo. In an exclusive, When Steel Talks (WST) speaks to musician Zaynab Wilson of Montreal

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “You are an excellent panist. You are a multi-winning Panorama drummer.  And you’ve been the anchor for the Salah Wilson’s Steelpan Academy for a number of years. Tell us a little bit about Zaynab Wilson the musician?”

Zaynab W. - “Thank you, and I respect and appreciate the title “musician.” Being fortunate enough to play so many instruments, I want to avoid the stereotypical associations that come with being just a drummer, a panist, percussionist or a vocalist. ”

“Basically, my musicianship developed from a very young age, about five or six. In retrospect, it was a great thing my parents did, making my siblings and I stick with the pan, despite our clearly visible disinterest. Pan was definitely a “gateway” instrument that opened my eyes, and ears, to other instruments and genres. I had to cycle through a few instruments that I either didn’t like or liked a little more – tenor, alto then baritone saxophones, timpani, gong… before I got to the drums. Now I can proudly say that I enjoy being able to go between pan, drums, vocals, percussion and feel at ease.”

WST - “Where are you currently completing your studies and how is that going?”

Zaynab W. - “I’m currently in the Bachelor of Music program at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario, with one more year to go! It’s been an interesting yet rewarding experience. I did a lot of growing up in my first three years (also completed a one-year Intro to commercial music certificate prior to entering the degree program): learning how to practice and train myself, keeping healthy and realistic goals and not worrying about every little thing. I’m still growing but it feels like I’m close to my “thing” and I’m growing into the person and musician I will be, at least for the next little while. Humber kicked my butt so many times that I learned how to learn from mistakes, get out there and do what I need to do to always keep this fun and exciting for me first. I’ve met amazing students and faculty and become exposed to different styles of music and ways of thinking. I also got to move away from home and live like a real person.”

WST - “How long have you been involved in the steelpan art form?”

Zaynab W. - “Oh my, super weird to say… about 19 years.  Nonstop.”

Zaynab Wilson
Zaynab Wilson

WST - “How did you become a drummer? And what attracted you to this instrument?”

Zaynab W. - “I feel like drumming and rhythms were always a part of my music playing. I started off on the guitar pan, the pan that basically strums syncopated and intricate rhythms throughout tunes, and I picked them up fairly quickly and easily. But I do recall the day I actually picked up drums sticks and taught myself a typical soca pattern. I had seen my dad play it so many times during panorama rehearsals, which were everyday all summer long, so my 12-year-old wondering mind, mixed with absolute boredom, went to the kit and kind of just worked it out. It was an instant joy and a beautiful distraction from pan all day.”

Zaynab Wilson

WST - “As far as WST is aware - you and Mrs. Codington of the “Codrington Pan Family” are the only active female panorama drummers for competing orchestras. Is the world ready for Zaynab as she anchors the winning panorama band on the big stage sometime in the near future?”

Zaynab W. - “You know, I didn’t know about Mrs. Codrington but that’s good to know we’re making some kind of a dent. We should meet someday soon. I sure hope the world is ready for me because I’m ready for the world.”

WST - “What has been your biggest challenge as a female panorama-class drummer?”

Zaynab W. - “Fortunately, I can’t say I’ve experienced any major challenges but I’ve had to deal with a few “power trips” especially from rhythm section players who couldn’t quite handle instructions, including being told [when] not to play, from a “little girl.” I like to make sure I know my material so well that no one would have any opportunity to try and criticize me, especially with my being a female. In these situations, I never approach the drums thinking I have to prove something to anybody; I completely subtract the gender difference and play the way I know how. If people like or dislike my drumming it has nothing to do with my gender.”

Zaynab Wilson

WST - “Which drummers have inspired you? And what forms of music do you listen to?”

Zaynab W. - “Max Roach has inspired me since the day I was introduced to his music. He was unlike any other—not disregarding all of the other amazing drummers of his time—but he had a style that caught my attention, which has stuck with me. It would have been an experience to meet him, I’m sure. As per my musical taste, it’s all over the place and I think that’s what keeps my creative juices flowing. I’m inspired by so many people: Esperanza Spalding (since day one), Billy Talent, System of a Down, Brian Blade, Beethoven. I think that’s enough to show how eclectic my taste can be.”

WST - “Where would you like to see the steelpan art form in Canada move towards?”

Zaynab W. - “Honestly, and especially within the Toronto and Montreal communities I’m familiar with, I hope that there will be more steps forward and fewer steps back, which come as a result of large egos and not working together for the sake of Pan. It will always be a “Trini” thing; we don’t have to keep reminding people and being overly protective of it - sometimes even exclusive. There is an increasingly higher demand for pan and we, as advocates of the steelpan movement, need to respond to that demand openly and enthusiastically.”

Zaynab Wilson
WST - “What advice would you give to young and upcoming female who would like to follow in your footsteps?”

Zaynab W. - “You go girls! I would say establish yourself as nothing less of a musician. No gender titles involved. Always go into every playing situation knowing that you’re in control of the pressure, and the happiness you feel. So know your material, play it the best way you know how and always lay it down HARD.”

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

Zaynab W. - “I think it’s a work in progress, but pan should definitely become a part of the school curriculum across Canada, with the help of educated and knowledgeable instructors. The Arts need to stay alive in Canada and Pan just might be the thing to keep that flame from dimming.”

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