Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Mikela Simmons - Antigua & Barbuda

In regards to Pan: "The moment I would have to say I am most proud of, would be last year, when I won my first competition as an arranger.” In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, Mikela Simmons of Antigua and Barbuda shares her vision for the steelpan art form and how the steelpan music culture has impacted her life.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive


WST - “When and how did you first become associated with the steelpan instrument?”

Mikela S. - “I began playing the pan at the age of six at the Le Chateau D'or Music Academy. Like every other little girl I had dreams of being a ballerina, but , my father seemed to thing that music would be a better use of my extra time.”

WST - “Tell us about being a woman player Antigua?”

Mikela S. “Being a female pianist in Antigua is as challenging as it is rewarding. I say challenging because of the stereotyping females receive from those in and out of the pan world. I find that in Antigua females are always put at a lower standard then males. We are expected to show up, look pretty, and let the men take the lead. There have been many where my band and I have gotten comments like "wow you play well for girls" or "you should let a man help you lift those pans". I find these comments especially frustrating but, I use them as fuel to do better and surprise even more people. It's not all bad though.  The challenges are what bring the rewards and the best reward is having people enjoy what I play ”

WST - “What keeps your passion for the instrument going? ”

Mikela S. - “My passion right now is fueled by my love for making people happy. Whether it's through what I play, or how I play, or just helping a child learn something new so that they too can develope a love for the instrument. ”

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

Mikela S. - “I am not sure if there's anything I would change about pan in general, but I do have a few ideas about improving panorama in Antigua in the future.”

Mikela Simmons

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

Mikela S. - “The moment I would have to say I am most proud of would be last year, when I won my first competition as an arranger. I got to compete with and learn from a few experienced arrangers and they, along with my mentor Gavin Francis, helped me get the job done. ”

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

Mikela S. - “What disappoints me about pan in Antigua is the lack of support that most parents have for their children to play pan. It is still viewed as a boy's instrument which doesn't help the fact that it is already male dominated. That, and the fact that young people today seem to have little to no interest in learning anything that may seem even a little challenging outside of their school lives. Everything is digital, and no one wants to put in the hard work and dedication.”

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

Mikela S. - “ My advice would be to never tell yourself that anything it too hard for you. Whether musically or other wise. You can do anything you want, and if anyone says other wise,  your job it isn't to respond, but to make your talent and skill speak for you.”

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

Mikela S. - “My list of musical influences could go on forever however the most important ones would have to be those around me. Gavin Francis, Cleo-Antoinette Hampson and my own big brother Robert Simmons are just some of the people that inspire me and influence my passion for pan.

WST - “What is Panorama to you? ”

Mikela S. - “Panorama for me is a time to meet new people, to build relationships, to challenge myself as a player, and help others who may be less experienced than I am, better themselves. I'm extremely competitive so I'd panorama is really my time to let out all my built up energy from the rest of the year.”

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

Mikela S. - “Panorama is an absolute blessing me and my country in a whole”

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

Mikela S. - “My vision is for pan to be as widely recognized as any classical instrument out there.  Not just in the Caribbean but all over the world.”

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

Mikela S. - “The only matter that comes to mind  would be that we as a pan family need to be a lot more supportive of each other. If we all lived by the motto each one teach one, pan would be even more amazing today.”

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