Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Chanelle Walker - Brooklyn, New York

“If steel pan was able to sustain a healthy and stable lifestyle then I would be out of my mind not to....” - She is driven, focused and very talented.  In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - musician, panist, Chanelle Walker shares her views and experiences with Pan, the culture and the steelpan art form.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about  Chanelle Walker?”

Chanelle W. - “Hi, my name is Chanelle Walker, I am from the United States but my family are from the Caribbean Island of Barbados.  I am 25 years old and I will be 26 on May 16th. To describe the individual I am,  I am ambitious, competent, energetic, and persistent individual.   I am a Medical Assistant currently working on my dreams in the nursing career because when I reach hopefully God willing by the age of 30 I want to be a Nurse Practitioner by then.”

WST - “Like many of the ‘young veterans’ in New York Pan, you have been a steelpan musician from quite a young age.  For example, When Steel Talks has images of you performing with New York’s T.A.S.S.O. from more than twelve years back; so talk about your earliest experiences with Pan?”

Chanelle W. - “I have been playing pan for 21 years now since the age of 5.  I started out playing pan by accident.  At the time I was attending a private school named New Vitas Academy that was based off of the Caribbean education and culture, and the steel pan director Mr. Jeffrey Pierre who is a well-known arranger, was giving a steel pan music class.  One day I had to bring down some documents for him from my principal Ms. Hamilton, and he was teaching the other students who were learning the tenor pan notes and the phrasing.  As he was done showing them on his tenor, I being the curious little girl, wanted to see how it looked, so therefore I took up the sticks and started playing what he was showing the students.  He was quite impressed and from then I was drawn and captured in the steel pan world.

“I have worked with some good arrangers such as Mr. Jeffrey Pierre who introduced me to pan, the late Eddie Quarless with TASSO USA in 2001, the late Scipio Sargeant and Denzil Botus with Despers USA from 2002-2004, Eddie Quarless with Despers USA from 2005-2007, Yohan Popwell with Sonatas Steel Orchestra from 2008-2012, and currently Leon “Foster” Thomas with Sonatas Steel Orchestra from 2013- present. I would say for the past 21 years, my experience overall with steel pan has been a blessing because this wonderful instrument has led me to meet some wonderful and talented steel pan musicians over the years.  I hope this instrument in the future would lead me to more wonderful experiences.”

Chanelle Walker in 2002
Chanelle Walker (right) with T.A.S.S.O. in August 2002

WST - “You participate in the annual New York Panorama music fest, and are a well-known performer on the steelpan music scene during the summer months in general. What keeps your passion for the instrument and music going?”

Chanelle W. - “What keeps my passion for the instrument and music going are the love, excitement, enjoyment, and  exhilaration playing the instrument, and music gives me as a whole.”

Chanelle Walker with Sonatas Steel Orchestra
Chanelle Walker with Sonatas Steel Orchestra

WST - “You have been involved in Pan for the last several years, so do you ever consider a point in the future when you may ‘dial back’ your performance participation, or like many before you, move to the sidelines entirely?”

Chanelle W. - “I do not see myself seating on the sidelines or retiring any time soon in the future because I can not see myself giving up pan entirely.  I would more take a break more so.”

WST - “You have recently formally stepped into your ‘day job’ as a medical professional; will this impact your otherwise almost-assured, vibrant and annual involvement with the steelpan art form - and if so, how?”

Chanelle W. - “As of right now I do not plan to change my steel pan activities in the steel pan world but only time will tell.”

WST - “If you had the opportunity to make the steelpan instrument your full career as a performing artist - meaning it was extremely lucrative financially for you - as is the case for some musicians - would you focus solely on being a performer?”

Chanelle W. - “If steel pan was able to sustain a healthy and stable lifestyle then I would be out of my mind not to.”

WST - “Some people are still vague about the steelpan instrument, what it is, and far less, the concept of a full-size Panorama orchestra.  Are there still times you encounter people to whom you have to explain the steel band art form?”

Chanelle W. - “Most definitely, every single year, and this is why I would like to be an active member to the pan community that will bring the identity of the steel pan to a more known and welcomed state.”

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

Chanelle W. - “My advice to the up-and-coming women of steel pan is try to be the best you can be and just to remember to keep the culture alive.  Always remember [where] steel pan came from and where it is going.”

WST - “What are the thoughts of friends and family regarding your involvement with Pan?”

Chanelle W. - “My family and friends love and encourage the fact I play pan.”

WST - “A few years ago, Sonatas Steel Orchestra was unexpectedly “visited” by the NYPD (New York Police Department) a couple nights before Panorama - officers from more than one dozen squad cars with lights and sirens lined the block, and the practice was shut down.  Were you there at that time - what are your thoughts on that overall occurrence?”

Chanelle W. - “Yes, I was present at Sonatas Steel Orchestra at the time of the incident.  I was extremely disgusted, ashamed, and hurt by the treatment the NYPD portrayed that night. The New York Police Department is here to protect the community, not instill fear in the civilians.”

WST - “Do you think anything has changed since that night, regarding the difficulty in steel orchestras being allowed to practice for the annual New York Panorama competition?”

Chanelle W. - “I do not think anything has really changed and this is why I would like to remain in the forefront on changing the views on steel pan.”

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

Chanelle W. - “My musical influences are my mother Alicia Williams who used to be in a choir, my uncle Clarence Williams who used to play pan as well, my uncle Anthony Carter better known as “The Mighty Gabby” and Uncle Charles Smith better known as “The Mighty Romeo.”  As well as the countless pan players here and abroad that make me strive to be a better player.”

  Chanelle Walker performs with Sonatas Steel Orchestra in 2013:  ‘Fantastic Friday’ - during the Panyard recording session with Basement Recordings

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Chanelle W. - “Panorama to me is in a musical concert show casing the abilities and ideas of gifted musicians.”

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

Chanelle W. - “Panorama is both a blessing and a curse.  There are many things about Panorama that bring the best out of people whether it be music or organization within the bands, but then they are times when people’s true colors come out around Panorama week.”

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

Chanelle W. - “The challenges the steel pan art form faces are stability.”

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

Chanelle W. - “If I had the power to change one thing, I would give each band their own home.”

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

Chanelle W. - “The most thing I am proud is that pan is becoming more acknowledged around the world today.”

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

Chanelle W. - “The thing that disappoints me is the lack of unity.”

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

Chanelle W. - “My vision would be to see steelpan incorporated into orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic.”

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

Chanelle W. - “I would like to see the players take themselves more seriously with the art form.  At the end of the day you are a musician and you should carry yourselves as such.”

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

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