Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Sparkle Demming - Brooklyn, New York

“Panorama is a blessing... The intricacies and nuances in Panorama arrangements are unique, making it a genre of its own.”

Thoughtful,  forward-thinking. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - musician, panist and performing artist Sparkle Demming shares her views and experiences while touching on the necessary qualities  essential for effective leadership in  the steelpan art form, and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

When Steel Talks ‘Celebration of Women in Pan’ logo

WST - “Tell us about Sparkle Demming?”

Sparkle D. - “I was born and raised in the small town of Sangre Grande in Trinidad & Tobago. My love for music began the day I was born as I was exposed to music by my father Selwyn Demming, who many know as the calypsonian “Brother Marvin.” At 4½ years old I began singing calypso and won the first-ever calypso competition I entered. I continued to sing all through primary school. At the age of 10 I reached the ultimate high in my calypso career when I sang with my father on his hit calypso “Jahaji Bhai” at Dimanche Gras ‘96.”

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

Sparkle D. - “Funny enough, I remember not liking the sound of pan; I have early memories of passing in front of Sangre Grande Cordettes’ panyard and covering my ears because the “noise” was unbearable. At that age, I didn’t understand that when the players practice individually within the same space, the band just sounds like a big commotion.

“When I was about 5 or 6 years old my parents registered me in the Manzanilla Police Youth Club, an arts and sports organization started for local children. At the youth club, I met Derron Ellies & Marcus Baptiste, who were the two main people that played pan there. They’re very talented on the instrument then and now. Watching them perform sparked my curiosity in steelpan. But I never got into it until junior secondary school when I selected music as my focus subject under the tutelage of Marcus Baptiste.”

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

Sparkle D. - “Music has been a part of my life for so long that I cannot imagine my life without it. My passion for music and steelpan is like breathing; it will continue until I am no more.”

Sparkle Demming
Sparkle Demming

WST - “You are a panist, leader, instructor, role model, performing artist - which role do you like best?”

Sparkle D. - “I’d say performing is the role I love best. I enjoy the rush of adrenaline I get when performing in front of people and looking up to see the crowd and people in my band genuinely enjoying themselves.”

WST - “You’ve been very successful in transforming the young New York Pan Stars into a respectable music franchise in a relatively short time. What do you attribute to your group’s success?”

Sparkle D. - “Although NY Pan Stars has transformed into a respectable music franchise in a short time, I surely cannot take full credit for myself. The band is structured like family with Marc Brooks (arranger) and Noah Smit (drummer) as the fathers, myself as the mother, and the experienced players (Andrea Wilson, Andrew Semple, Navarre Mason, Tamika Small & Antonio John) as the older siblings. All of us provide insight from past experiences and assist in bringing out the best in our younger players. As the “mother” of the band, I encourage everyone to be the best version of themselves as a performer and musician. It also helps that while the younger players of the band were new to the instrument when they joined, they had great chemistry almost immediately. This made it easier to work with them as a group because they encourage each other positively. The group’s success thus far has been a shared effort and I couldn’t ask to be in a band with a better group of people.”

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?”

Sparkle D. - “It is tougher to be a female leader in the steelpan community because there are those out there who think that women cannot be great leaders. This outdated mentality should be obsolete but it is still present in today’s society. I urge the up and coming female panists wanting to follow in footsteps such as mine to never let that particular attitude be a hindrance to what you want to achieve. To become a great leader and role model you must approach all that you do with good intentions, especially when you have to be tough on your players to get the job done. It is important to respect yourself and others around you, to always lead with pride and dignity. Don’t sell yourself short for anyone or anything.”

Sparkle Demming

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

Sparkle D. - “My closest friends give me love and support by default because they’re all involved in pan. My family has constantly provided love and support every chance they get by coming out to performances, preparing food for myself and the band if necessary and cheering the loudest. My mother especially has always been my pillar of support and strength.

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

Sparkle D. - “My earliest musical influences are my mother and father. I remember growing up there was always music playing in the house. If it wasn’t my father composing, it would be everything from Patsy Cline to Chopin coming through the stereo. This exposure allowed me to listen to and appreciate music by steelband arrangers that have influenced me such as Jit Samaroo, Clive Bradley, Ray Holman, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Pelham Goddard.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Sparkle D. - “Panorama to me is an infectious entity that takes over my life for a short period every year.”

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

Sparkle D. - “I don’t view panorama as a curse because it’s a platform that showcases the best of a band. In my opinion, Panorama is a blessing. I enjoy listening to and understanding the journey the arranger is trying to take the listener on. The intricacies and nuances in Panorama arrangements are unique, making it a genre of its own.”

WST - “From your experiences, what are your thoughts about the New York Panorama in comparison with Panorama in different parts of the world? How can it be improved?”

Sparkle D. - “I have experienced Panorama in St. Lucia and Trinidad as well as New York and the main difference between them is cultural. I think that NY Panorama can be improved by professionally marketing the event to target a wider audience, not just the Caribbean demographic.”

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

Sparkle D. - “The biggest challenge the art form faces in NY today is the lack of support within the communities the bands are based in. The nomadic existence of panyards does not help this situation as year after year it gets harder for bands to find a yard to practice for Panorama. After struggling to find a yard, they then have to struggle with the community who most likely won’t accept them simply because a steelband in their neighborhood is unfamiliar to them. To counteract this challenge, I think that steelbands need to make more of a conscious effort to include the neighborhood in their events.”

Sparkle Demming

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

Sparkle D. - “If I had the power to change mindsets stuck in the past, I would.”

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

Sparkle D. - “I am most proud of my NY Pan Stars “babies” as I affectionately like to call them. I’ve enjoyed watching them grow into fine musicians and I’m happy to have them in my life.”

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

Sparkle D. - “What disappoints me most about the steelpan movement is greed. There is nothing wrong with wanting to get paid to do what you love, but I am seeing more and more people get caught up in money that they neglect the needs of the others in their own band.”

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

Sparkle D. - “My vision is for it to be more self-sufficient.”

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

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