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Meet Claudie Donne - Guadeloupe; Paris, France

“I just have to play pan. It makes me feel connected to my roots.”  - Claudie Donne

Pan is her passion. She radiates pure unadulterated love for the steel pan culture and art form. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks -  educator, panist and performing artist Claudie Donne shares her global views on Pan, the culture and her love affair with the instrument.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about Claudie Donne?”

Claudie D. - “I was born in Guadeloupe and now I live and work in Paris. I teach sales, economics and law in a high school. Music and Caribbean Culture are my main passions. I was in a Gospel Choir when I met this instrument and then my life changed. This was such a great experience that I decided to work on the feasibility of a steelbands festival for my master at university Paris. 

I began to play tenor pan and I had a great experience with two professional Pan around the neck’s steelband “PANASUK” and “D’N’ ROY”. Now I play triple Guitar but actually when I play at panorama. However, I usually play the four cello.

I also organize workshops with my classes at the Cité de la Musique and Philarmonie de Paris. My students are really different after experimenting pan. They are difficult students initially, during and after the workshops, they are becoming more sociable, their attitude change. They improve their memory, their attitude changes. Steelpan must be more present in schools and be the opportunity for young people to bloom.”

WST - “What were your earliest experiences with Pan?”

Claudie D. “In 1995, Selwyn Henry from PHASE II came to Paris to teach four tunes for “Couleur Carnaval, that was the first time I approach a tenor pan. Then the pan jumbie got me and I looked for a steelband to play with. That was the beginning of a long story between this instrument and me. I looked for steelbands to play and began with Mystère Bouffe Company and after that Calypsociation.”

WST - “What keeps your passion for the instrument, the culture and  the music going?”

Claudie D. - “From day one it felt so natural for me to be playing pan that it’s difficult to answer this question. I just have to play pan - it makes me feel connected to my roots.”

Claudie Donne
Claudie Donne

WST - “You have performed with steel orchestras from different regions of the world. How do they differ? And how are they similar in terms of culture and the challenges they might face?”

Claudie D. - I have performed with Ebony Steelband in London, Pamberi in Trinidad, Halcyon in Antigua, Angel Harps and Pan Wizards steelbands in Grenada. I have met great players in those steelbands. (see answer n°13) In London we can meet players native of various islands but still they have the same pan culture.”

WST - “How has Pan changed over the years, in terms of your expectations for the culture and the instrument?”

Claudie D. - “Through the years pan is more and more present in France and in other countries like Japan, South Africa .... With new people playing and arranging, there is new influences, new directions. About the instrument, Pans are sounding more precise. There is a lot of things to do with pan, you can see that tuners are more creative (for example E-pan, G pan) and it will continue.”

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

Claudie D. - “Why would I want to change anything in Pan?”

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

Claudie D. - “My work with Pan’à Paname Steelband as a musician and tour promoter.”

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

Claudie D. - “When I began pan, beside discovering the instrument I also found a great sense of community. Today I think that we tend to loose that.”

WST - “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 yours?”

Claudie D. - “I just have to say, live your passion.”

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

Claudie D. - “I love any kind of music such as Gwo Ka, Biguine, Zouk, Salsa, Gospel, Jazz, Funk, Soca, Calypso..., as long as it moves me.”

WST - “Tells us about PAN’A PANAME STEEL BAND. What made it so special?”

Claudie D. - “Pan à Paname is one of the precursors in France, it’s a professional steelband playing Soca, Calypso, Jazz, Classics and different arrangements and creations. When I saw this band playing I knew I wanted to play steelpan. I was very happy when one of the founder of Pan’à Paname, Guillaume Kervel asked me to play with them.

“What made it so special is that he wanted to mix Jazz influences (Emmanuel Bex, Olivier Ker Ourio, Marc Michel Le Bévillon, Rido Bayonne (Afro Jazz)) and steelbands.

“I was the first Triple Guitar in the band and I got specific and various arrangements specially written for me.

“Pan’ à Paname was the opportunity of beautiful music festival and we played for very interesting events. It also a human adventure. It gave me the great opportunity to meet and to play with the famous Duvone Stewart.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Claudie D. - “Panorama is a real great time where I can challenge myself musically and share with other panists. There is nothing like it - Panorama is unique, you have to do it once in your life as a panist.”

WST - “You’ve had the opportunity to participate in Panorama in different countries. What are the similarities and differences?”

Claudie D. - “The differences can be on the qualities of instruments and the financial support that the bands can get or not. All the steelbands have the same goal, so in all the countries we focus on the competition. All the players put their energy for the same purpose: winning the competition. The Caribbean culture is always strong present in this event. It is more impressive in Trinidad because of the organization of the competition which is unique and intense. With the prelims, semis and finals. I can feel it - the tension increases at every step, I enjoy the feeling! In London, Antigua, and Grenada it’s one shot.”

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

Claudie D. - “Panorama is not a curse!!! I really enjoy having the instrument in my life, there is something magic in steelpan. Panorama for me is a blessing. How could it be a curse!”

WST - “In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge the steelpan music art form faces in the world today?”

Claudie D. - “The question is how the steelpan shines all over the world. It is necessary to move closer to the panists from all over the world - they have to be closer to the steelpan culture. Cultural exchanges have to be promoted between Trinidad and West Indies and the rest of the world.”

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

Claudie D. - “The steelpan instrument must be considered as any musical instrument today and be a part of the orchestras. The harmonization of patterns can only contribute to the development of this fabulous instrument.”

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

Claudie D. - “I don’t understand why we still hear synthesized pan sound on the records when we have so much good panists playing.”

photo provided by C. Donne - (by Pascal VICART)

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