Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

 

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Meet Christine Pigott of Brooklyn, New York, USA

Her stated goal is to “create shows and documentaries that reveal issues, inspire action, and encourage self-reflection.” This young film director, panist and intellectual with a clear vision, is indeed focused and well on the road to achieving her objectives. Throughout her travels the steelpan instrument will always be in the mix - hence the name of  her production company - “Purple Steel.” In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, Fulbright scholar Christine Pigott of Brooklyn, New York, shares on her expedition with two of her life’s passions - Pan and film.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

 

WST - “Tell us about yourself - who is Christine Pigott, and how and when did you first become involved with Pan?”

Christine P. - “Christine Pigott is a Brooklyn-born documentary filmmaker whose passion lies in creating content that uplifts and shines light on issues prevalent in her community.  After graduating from Brooklyn College with a double major in Information Systems and Television & Radio, Christine received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in England at Falmouth University where she attained her Master’s Degree in Television Production. Since returning to the States, Christine has continued to showcase and develop her talents in television and film. Her most recent documentary, “From Prison to NYU” was recently featured in the African American Women in Cinema Festival, and tells the story of a young man’s journey from incarceration to education.

“I first became introduced to pan at age 8 when my uncle, Donald Thompson, invited my dad and I to the pan yard to see my cousins play. At the time they were playing with Silhouettes steelband. I would spend my evenings there hanging out with my dad, my cousins, and other kids my age. A year or two later my cousins (Omari, Jabari, and Toure Thompson) joined Caribbean Youth Panoramics and I followed them there. I played in my first Panorama with that band and stayed with them for several years. I played double seconds. I performed with the band at several events such as block parties, the African street festival, and small concerts. I then continued to follow my cousins from band to band. I don’t remember the exact order but I’ve played with several other bands including: Metro, Marsicans, Sesame Flyers, D’Radoes, Harmony, and Crossfire. One of my most memorable Panoramas was with Metro, when we came in 2nd place with “Boogsie” Sharpe as our arranger. That year was so memorable because we were literally homeless and we were practicing on the streets a few days prior to Panorama. We were practicing on the streets, “Boogsie” was making a lot of changes to the music at the last minute, and the odds were stacked against us. But despite this everyone stuck it out and carried on together as a unified band.”


WST - “What made you fall in love with the steelpan instrument and its music?”

Christine P. - “I fell in love with the steelpan culture/movement before later growing to really appreciate the instruments themselves. I loved being in the pan yard. It’s a place that’s full of so much energy and positive vibes. For me, the pan yard has a way of making you forget about all the stresses in your life. When you’re in the yard jamming, nothing else matters for those 3-6 hours that you’re behind your pan. You’re in a completely different world. A pan yard is one of the very few places you can visit in the dead of night and see kids as young as 5 years old jamming with adults as old as 70. It’s a beautiful sight.

“I love Caribbean music and I very much enjoy the process of an arranger’s interpretation of a soca song coming to life. The music speaks to my spirit and I can’t help but feel a sense of freeness when I’m jamming in the pan yard. I love the harmonies and the melodies that the instruments produce; it’s such a unique and distinct sound.”  


WST - “You were a member of Metro Steel Orchestra and Marsicans Steel Orchestra. Tell us about those experiences.”

Christine P. - “Wow, it feels like I played with them decades ago. I can’t remember too many specifics but certain memories stand out.  

“With Metro, I remember us being located across the street from a school. We were on the same block as a few other bands, Pantonic and Women of Steel, I believe. I loved that time period because all the bands were bundled close together.  Even though we were competing against one another, there was a strong sense of unity amongst all the bands and their members. You weren’t thinking about people trying to steal your music or your players, in fact it was quite the opposite. We loved listening to each other’s music and hanging out together after practice. There was this sense that we were all in this together. Everyone knew everyone and we were all there to uplift one another.

“As a member of Metro, I always felt loved and appreciated. I felt that the members always looked out for me. My band members were always eager to share the music and make sure I got it. Tony treated everyone with respect and kindness and people felt comfortable going to him to discuss any issues related to the band. I must have been 12 or 13 and I remember seeing Tony as a gentle giant. He had a big presence and he was a strong leader, but he was also very approachable and encouraging. Tony made us all believe in ourselves and each other and he made Metro a second home for the players. I made a lot of good pan friends from Metro and a lot of the players from my era have gone on to be great musicians. It was a great experience.

“My time at Marsicans was also great though it did have a lot more drama, especially when Panorama neared. The pan yard was very active, there were always people coming and going. People would drop by for band luncheons or just stop by to hang out and listen to the band. Every night was exciting. I love how lively the yard gets as Panorama approaches; everyone’s passion seems to increase ten-fold as welders start putting up more racks, leaders start rearranging the sections, the arranger starts fine-tuning the song, players rehearse their dance moves, section leaders make sure their section is united, and the band leader drills the band into the depths of the night all the while preparing the band to feel and perform like winners. It truly is an exciting and intense experience; one that I’m fortunate to have experienced for over ten years.”  


WST - “You’ve now made a transition from behind the Pan to behind the camera. How did that materialize?”

Christine P. - “I’ve always been passionate about creating documentaries that tackle issues prevalent in my community. I love the creative process that goes into transforming an idea or a snippet of reality into a visual story that can be shared both with the people in my community as well as the world. Ever since I took a video production class at Midwood High School, I’ve been hooked on directing and editing videos, whether it be a music video, or an educational video for a class project, or a family home video. I loved capturing experiences and sharing them with others.  

“To fast-forward a bit, when I returned from the UK, I got reacquainted with NY and after several months of job-hunting, I finally landed a production assistant gig at NBC Peacock Productions. However I always had it in the back of my head that I wanted to do a documentary on pan, but a specific story hadn’t yet jumped out at me. It wasn’t until I spoke with my friend Elizabeth and she informed me that Freddy Harris, III was thinking of coming out with his own band this [2013] year. I called Freddy up to get the details and he said he was putting together a band, Steel Xplosion. I was really excited about the news and his enthusiasm to fulfill a long-time dream of his. However, nothing was set in stone. It wasn’t until I got word that he was definitely moving forward that I decided it would be awesome to document the band’s journey and to give people a real taste of all the hard work that occurs before these bands end up on stage on Panorama night. And just like that, the documentary began.

Christine Pigott at work in the panyard of CrossFire Steel Orchestra
Christine Pigott at work in the panyard of CrossFire Steel Orchestra

“Though I was passionate about making this documentary, the journey wasn’t easy, it required a lot of hard work and sacrifice. For a majority of the week days I would work from about 10 a.m.–6 p.m., head home, eat, get all my gear together, and arrive at the pan yard around 8/9 o’clock ready to film. I would usually be out until midnight. However, as Panorama approached, I found myself staying out until 2:00 to 3:00  in the morning. On top of that, I was working pretty much on my own, a one-man army. Every couple of days or so, I would film at other pan yards, such as D’Radoes, Metro and Crossfire. Since I had strong ties with these bands, I was able to get permission to film in their yards. Also, because I had been in the pan scene since I was 8, I knew a lot of people and people felt comfortable having me around and being interviewed. Every night after filming, I would download all my footage and charge everything for the next day. Getting through the night wasn’t all too difficult because I was surrounded by great music and people who were just as passionate about pan as I was.”  


WST - “Do you miss playing - and do you consider still doing so on occasion?”

Christine P. - “I definitely miss playing. There were numerous instances where I just wanted to put down my camera and pick up some sticks, and play something, anything. I’d often think to myself, “Put me on the iron, I just want to jam with you guys right now, I don’t care what instrument I’m playing.” Hopefully I’ll be able to play this upcoming summer or who knows, there may be a part two.”  


WST - “You are truly a practitioner of the performing arts - musician, videographer and director. Do you have a preference?”

Christine P. - “All these different elements make up Christine. I don’t think either one supersedes the other; they all function and coexist together, influencing one another. My passions influence what I film and what I film expresses my passions.”  


WST - “What is Purple Steel?”

Christine P. - “After working on several video projects during my early college years, I decided to start my own small production company where I write, shoot and edit short films, music videos, and documentaries. I filled out the necessary paper work and Purple Steel was officially born. The name derives from my favorite color, purple, and my favorite instrument, the steel pan. I put the two together and came up with Purple Steel Productions.”  


WST - “This past Summer you were in the New York panyards putting together a documentary on Panorama. What was the objective and when will the film be released?”

Christine P. - “When will it be released is the magic question. I’m aiming to have a rough cut completed by the end of June followed by a small screening to get feedback. Afterwards, I’m aiming to have an official screening in July. I hope the film will shed light on how hard the people in the pan community work to be able to participate in Panorama, and to hopefully garner up some much needed support for the steel pan movement. We need more support from the community and our political leaders to keep the culture alive to make sure that bands thrive and not just survive. It’s so hard for bands to find a practice space and to accumulate the funds needed to make it to Panorama. The steel bands in Brooklyn truly uplift the community and our youth, by supporting steelbands, we’re supporting our community.

“I do believe the film may ruffle a few feathers, as there seems to be some politics involved, but that’s everywhere in life. The objective of the film is to increase awareness about steel pan in Brooklyn and to share with the world its impact and importance in the community.  

Here’s my proposal:  

“Panorama: Jamming to the Top is a documentary that explores a band’s exciting and intense journey as they prepare to make their way from the pan yard to the pan stage.

“Every year, bands from all over Brooklyn and the tri-state area come out to participate in the steel band competition held at the Brooklyn Museum. Caribbean nationals and people from all over the country come out in large numbers to enjoy the sweet harmonies of music, culture, and delicious island dishes that are synonymous with Panorama. They come out to experience and witness first-hand the harmonious unity of the band members and their instruments as they compete to be crowned the champions of Panorama, but rarely do these very same people get the opportunity to experience the roller-coaster ride it takes to even make it to Panorama, nor do they get to really know the players beyond a smiling face on the stage.

“Getting to Panorama is no easy feat: there are fundraisers, numerous meetings, volunteers hustling to cook meals for over sixty people, lots of negotiation and compromise, fights, arguments, pan tuning, and rainy days. But most importantly there is a natural love for pan and Caribbean culture. There is determination, overcoming adversity, teamwork, unity, joy, excitement; there is life.

“I want to capture the life of the pan yard, the very “pan life” that encourages players as young as four and as old as 94 to come out year after year and play their hearts out. Panorama: Jamming to the Top will give viewers a whole new appreciation for the Panorama competition. It will give viewers the opportunity to get a glimpse into the lives and minds of a modern day pan player. It will change the way audiences view Panorama and it will change you.

“As a former pan player, I can say first-hand that being part of a steel band is like being part of a football team, or basketball team, or better yet, being part of a family. You fight, you argue, but at the end of the day, you look out for one another.

“Steel bands are such a positive entity in our communities. Not only do they provide great entertainment, but they keep our young people engaged. It challenges them, teaches them life lessons, and exposes them to experiences that they would not have had otherwise.

“With Panorama: Jamming to the Top, I aim to capture what it means to be part of a steel band and to shed light on why so many people love, eat, and sleep pan music.”  

Christine Pigott
Christine Pigott

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Christine P. - “Panorama is an expression of Caribbean musicianship intertwined with healthy competition, harmonious melodies, delicious food, and rhythmic enjoyment. It’s a stage for talent and recognition, it’s community, it’s culture, it’s the personification of ‘music in we blood.’”  


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

Christine P. - “I’d change its perception and recognition outside the Caribbean community. I want the steel pan to be just as respected as the violin or the piano or the guitar. It’s not just the instrument that you sometimes see people playing in the subway. The steel pan is a rich instrument with a distinct sound and it takes a lot of skill to master. I’d like it to be more accessible to the public. It’s 2014, I should be able to walk into a music store, see a pan on display and purchase it, but unfortunately we still have ways to go. I’m doing my part in whatever way I can to support the movement and I’m in it for the long haul.”  


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

Christine P. - “I love what pan provides to the youth. It teaches them patience, gives them the opportunity to travel and perform, allows them to develop leadership qualities, teaches them about management, provides a safe and fun environment for learning about music, and it introduces them to their culture. Pan changes lives for the better.”  


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

Christine P. - “I feel like the momentum has been decreasing. Maybe it’s due to the economy or a lack of unity, or both. But I remember there being about 13-14 bands competing in Panorama when I was younger and it would run until 6:00 a.m. in the morning. I recall the museum being packed to the brim and as lively as ever.  This past year there were about ten bands and one was from out of the country. The turnout isn’t as high as it used to be. I want the number of bands to increase and I want more bands to have the funds and support they need to come out to Panorama.”  


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

Christine P. - “I’m a huge fan of reggae music. I love, love, love Roots Reggae, Lovers Rock, and old-school Dancehall. Some of my favorite artists are Beres Hammond, Tanya Stephens, Bob Marley, Cocoa Tea, and Marcia Griffiths. I also enjoy old-school hip hop and R&B from the 90s and 80s music. I’m a huge fan of Lauryn Hill, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston to name a few.”  


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

Christine P. - “I’d say be committed to your cause and your goals and everything will fall into place. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and support you, because they will be the ones to provide you with encouragement when the going gets tough. I’d say know that your voice is important whether you’re a novice or a veteran, and that there’s someone out there who will appreciate your artistic expression, so follow your dreams and bring your vision to life.”  


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

Christine P. - “I’d like for the instrument to be more accessible and showcased on the wider spectrum beyond Caribbean-themed events. I’d like to see its presence increased in classical concerts, in school bands and in orchestras on Broadway.”  


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

Christine P. - “I want to express my appreciation for When Steel Talks. You all play an important role in connecting and informing the pan community. Your documentation of pan-related events continues to uplift the pan community and it will forever be an asset to the movement. Thank you.”  


More on Christine Pigott - bios - goals - accomplishments

  1. cuny.edu/about/people/students1/christinepigott.html
  2. fulbright.org.uk/about/meet-our-fulbrighters/christine-pigott/130
  3. purplesteelproductions.com/purplesteel/ - about-me




Christine Pigott (double second player in white, with hat, in front) performing with Marsicans Steel Orchestra in 2004



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