Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Catherine Borneo - Brooklyn, New York

“Women have become more vocal - the Steelpan art form is an open forum for both men and women” -  With three daughters actively involved in Pan as steelpan musicians, she has a unique vantage point. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks -  passionate Pan mom, former panist and supporter Catherine Borneo shares her joys, concerns and experiences in an honest assessment and critical look at the steelpan music art form and culture.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive


WST - “You have quite a story; you have no less than three extremely talented daughters who are ace steelpan musicians - each of them among the best in New York; you are a past player yourself, and so too, your husband.  Tell us about Ms. KC Borneo?”

Catherine B. - “Well there is not much to tell...My name is Catherine Borneo born on September 15th 19-- on the lovely island known to us as Sweet T & T home of the Steelpan, Calypso and the Greatest show on earth,  Carnival. I am the proud mother of 5 kids and "glamma" to 4 beautiful babies. All of my kids have followed in my footsteps along the performing arts line. My eldest boy compose and sings music - different genres, soca...rap...reggae...r&b and gospel while son #2 sings in the church choir. My Gorgeous Girls are the ones who have clung to the steelpan and that's funny because, you would think it would have been my boys as my girls were born in the USA. My husband (Mr. Andre Parks) and I are very proud of our daughters for embracing their culture and the art form and for wanting to see the Productive side of it.”

WST - “What was your earliest introduction to the steelpan art form, and did you encounter any social 'stigmatization' when you first started and/or along the way?”

Catherine B. “I encountered the art form from a baby because many of my family members played the steelpan. I first encountered social 'stigmatization' when I asked my father to play the pan and his words to me was "A pan yard is for JAMMETS and young ladies are not allowed to play pan." Well I guess I wasn't a young lady (bears that sheepish grin) because I made it my business to play this wonderful and exciting instrument known to man as the STEELPAN.”

WST - “From your personal recollection, what are some of the differences in the Pan world today, compared to years ago when you yourself played pan? ”

Catherine B. - “One of the major differences I see is, Women have become more vocal, where the Steelpan art form is an open forum for both men and women. We no longer hide in the shadows of the male species, but rightfully take our place along side them and for that I am very proud.”

Catherine Borneo
Catherine Borneo

WST - “Which voice(s) of the steelpan instrument did you play, and do you ever miss actually playing at this point in time?”

Catherine B. - “I played bass and guitar and yes sometimes I do but, I get over it quickly (laughs to myself) when I think of all the hard work and sleepless days and nights, that feeling becomes a distant memory (laughs aloud).”

WST - “Even though you no longer perform, you are still avidly hands-on in the steelpan community in New York - talk about this "next phase" and how it came about.”

Catherine B. - “I became avidly hands-on in the steelpan community in New York because of my children. When I saw how my children gravitated to the steelpan I knew my purpose was to always be there for my children because as a parent you have to be a part of whatever your children are a part of.

WST - “In line with the previous question, your three daughters play with one of New York's power house steel orchestras, while however you are one of the vibrant forces supporting another New York steel orchestra; what is the backstory there?”

Catherine B. - “There is really no back-story with me helping another band. I started helping in Sonatas and at the time management and I had a disagreement and I walked away. Auntie Glenda of Pantonic asked me to come on board and help her with fundraising ventures and I accepted her offer and that's how I became involved with Pantonic.”

WST - “As a Mom - what would be your advice to the thousands of young female panists all over the world who are dreaming of following in footsteps such as those of your daughters, by becoming ace steelpan musicians?”

Catherine B. - “As a mom my advice to young female upcoming panists who wants to become ace steelpan musicians is..."Strive to be your best in any venture you put your mind to...always remember this equation...HARD WORK + DETERMINATION + DEDICATION = SUCCESS"”

WST - “If either of your children said they wanted to be professional Pan players exclusively, earning a living from the art form - would you be ok with it?”

Catherine B. - “If one of my kids wanted to play Professional pan exclusively, I would not be ok with it. As a parent you always look at the practical side of living...you want to know that when that time has comes your kids will be ok financially. I don't think pan has evolved enough in my opinion to make it a career without having something else to fall back on and this is from my point of view as a woman. I'm not saying you cannot play and earn money from the steelpan but, if you have a family to feed as a woman I don't see it being a practical career move. With that being said I can only offer my opinion to my children, they are the ones who have to make their choices as to what makes them happy in life and if that's what they want to do then as a parent you stand by them and give them your 150% support.”

WST - “Do you think, or perhaps observed - that being steelpan musicians benefited your daughters in any overall way within their academic environment, as they were growing up?”

Catherine B. - “Playing the steelpan has benefited my daughters my daughters' overall academic environment because as you know music makes the world a better place as my mom use to say. It made them more focused in their school work...it made them challenge themselves in different aspects of their lives and it made them see the importance of teamwork.”

WST - “As a parent of Pan-playing daughters, and former player yourself - what advice would you give to PARENTS who may be hesitant to allow their children to pursue interests in becoming steelband musicians?”

Catherine B. - “My advice to parents who are hesitant to allow their children to pursue interests in becoming steelband musicians would be..."We must allow our children to pursue their dreams. We have to move away from the stereo typical mentality and close minded attitude that the steelpan is not as important as a piano or a violin. Allow your children to shine on a different platform and be right by their side cheering them on. The only way you will know your child's/children's full potential is if you allow them to TRY!!”

WST - “What are your personal reflections, and emotions at key moments - when you attend events at which your daughters play, and both you - and they - appear totally 'transported' by the steelband music performance and experience?”

Catherine B. - “ My personal reflections and emotions at key moments was...the first year my daughter Tori played pan and a panorama was with Harmony Music Makers at the time. She was young and inexperience and would not stay behind her pan. Panorama Friday night at practice she was doing her thing and enjoying every minute of it. At that time Ken 'Professor' Philmore was the musical arranger, and when practice was finished he had a talk with the band. He told them every night he would come practice and see Tori running in and out of the panyard but, he also saw her practicing and working hard at getting her music. He told her he was very proud of her because of her HARD WORK + DETERMINATION she has evolved into a beautiful pan player for the period of time he came with the band. That praise from the musical arranger should make an parent proud and I was a beaming momma. The next key moment for us parents...mom and dad was when our kids started to play with, Renaissance Steel Chamber Ensemble under the watchful eye of Ms. Renee 'Panchita' Ogiste and Mr. Michael Zephyrine. We were so proud to see our girls at their first classical concert, we were beaming parents and proud to see our kids take the next step up the ladder in the pan world. ”

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

Catherine B. - “What disappoints me the most is that as a pan community we have not progressed further in the pan movement. We have never taught the kids the FUNDAMENTALS OF PAN. Some kids just walk into a panyard pick up a pair of sticks and start pounding the pan. Kids don't know how to treat this bless instrument call the steelpan. They don't know the value of the instrument...they were never taught how to hold their sticks...how to wrap a pair of sticks or even how to clean the pan and I think that is so sad. They were never taught they had to learn their pan inside and out and how to respect the rules and regulations of their/or someone else's home...meaning panyard. ”

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

Catherine B. - “I won't use the word proud but, I'm happy to see that many arrangers are been given the forum to showcase their talents.”

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

Catherine B. - “If I had the power to change something in pan immediately it will be...GETTING RID OF MANAGEMENT HEADS WHO DON'T HAVE THE BEST INTEREST OF THE BAND IN MIND BUT, ARE THEIR FOR THEIR PERSONAL GAIN!!!! I have seen where the band and it's members suffer because of the greed of SO CALL MANAGEMENT and that has to STOP!!!!”

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

Catherine B. - “In my perspective the panorama competition has it's pro and cons. One of the pros is the young people of our communities look forward to this time of year to showcase their talents. They are very proud to showcase their culture and interact with young people of different cultures but share the same dream and passion for the steelpan. One of the cons for me will be the misuse and abuse to both the pan and the pan players by WIADAC!!! In my opinion they have done nothing to promote the steelpan movement but, has degraded both the steelpan and our culture!!! Note to WIADAC our players are not always thirsty and hungry but, would like payment in the form of a cheque that you give to other performers from different cultures for the same amount.”

WST - “You are experienced in the culture of Pan, both in New York, and in Trinidad and Tobago.  In your opinion, what are a few of the key advantages and disadvantages for the art form - relative to both places?”

Catherine B. - “In my opinion a few of the advantages for the art form is...because Trinidad is the home of steelpan, it is introduced to our children at a very tender age. Steelpan is part of the schools curriculum and that's why the young people have an advantage. Steelpan in Trinidad has a community base and is accepted because the pan is our National Treasure. The disadvantages in New York are...there is no community base and the steelpan is not as accepted. As West Indian parents we should fight to make the pan and music a part of the schools curriculum. We have no place to call HOME and the major disadvantage is the hassle from the NYPD!!!!”

WST - “What is the greatest challenge the steelpan music art form faces in New York today?”

Catherine B. - “In my opinion the greatest challenges the steelpan music art form faces in New York today is...The growth of steelpan music and it's community over the many years of it's existence in Brooklyn New York ”

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

Catherine B. - “I would like to see the TRANSPARENCY in the bands by their elected boards!!!!
B. I would like to see more RESPECT towards the Art Form and it's members!!!!  
C. I will like to see more COMMUNICATION and UNITY among the bands!!!!  
D. I would like to see the STEELBAND COMMUNITY STAND ON IT'S OWN!!!!  
E. I would like to see more of the UPCOMING YOUNGSTERS be given a chance to SHOWCASE their TALENTS!!!! ”

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