Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Elisabeth Fidele - Brooklyn, New York

Most disappointing? “...The idea that Panorama is everything and all pan has to offer. Bands work so hard during the Panorama season. Sacrifice, time, money, stress - all for those few minutes on that stage. But afterwards; silence. Not much is being done, a few gigs here and there, but pan is so much greater than that.”

She is bright, talented and committed. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - panist, performing artist and budding entrepreneur Elisabeth Fidele shares her reflections, experiences and views on Pan, and the steelpan art form overall.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about Elisabeth Fidele?”

Elisabeth F. - “I’m a 21-year-old Brooklyn native who’s always had a love for music. I’m one of seven children and the only one that grew a knack for playing pan. I’m a tenor player, but I’m ready to move to another pan or just maybe even find myself behind a drum set one day.”

WST - “When and how were you first introduced to the steelpan”

Elisabeth F. “Getting into pan was actually completely unintentional. It was the summer of 2011 and I was with my friend Tiara when her father took us for a drive. They wouldn’t tell me where we were going so next thing I know we’re pulling up on Fulton Street and Kingston Avenue [in Brooklyn] to USA Eastside Symphony’s panyard. Now prior to this I had absolutely NO knowledge of pan. I’ll never forget, years before I heard a man playing ‘Englishman In New York’ on a tenor in some train station, but at the time I didn’t get to see what instrument he was playing; I just knew it sounded nice. Once I started learning the Panorama tune I immediately fell in love! That summer I remember hearing Despers USA practicing Prophet of Pan across the street and wanting to go visit and listen, and ended up joining the next year in 2012.”

Hands in the air:  Elisabeth Fidele (right) in musical ecstasy with Despers USA
Hands in the air:  Elisabeth Fidele (right) in musical ecstasy with Despers USA in 2013

WST - “Being female, were you cautioned or perhaps dissuaded in any way, from becoming involved in the steelband art form?”

Elisabeth F. - “I was in a way. Once I started playing, I had a conversation and was told to ‘be careful’ because I’m a woman and some men will try and come on to me, so be cautious of how I move and who I talk to. At the time I believe I was 17 and still in high school. My friend Tiara’s father was well known in the pan community so as “protection” I guess, we started saying we were sisters and that he was my father. I think some people still think we’re sisters but cats out the bag now, LOL. It really is disappointing though because nobody should have to deal with that discomfort, and it’s not only in pan but society in general.”

WST - “You’re a valued member of Despers USA Steel Orchestra. It is an organization with a lot of history. What does it mean to be a member of that band - and in particular, what makes the women of Despers USA so special?”

Elisabeth F. - “Being a member of such a powerful band like Despers USA is amazing. We as the younger generation have some great footsteps to follow. The women of Despers USA have so much pride and confidence and we each play a major role in driving the band forward.”

Elisabeth Fidele with Despers USA at a band launch in Brooklyn, New York
Elisabeth Fidele with Despers USA at a band launch in Brooklyn, New York

WST - “What changes, if any, have you noticed since you first started out in Pan a few years ago, and present day (2016)?”

Elisabeth F. - “Well I still feel fresh in this scene so I haven’t really experienced much change.”

WST - “What keeps your passion for pan going?”

Elisabeth F. - “The sound! And the mood it puts me in when I play. There is absolutely nothing that makes me feel the way pan does. I wouldn’t be able to quit even if I tried. The pride everyone shows for the instrument and culture is also what keeps me around.”

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

Elisabeth F. - “Hands-down going to Trinidad to compete in Panorama with Skiffle Steel Orchestra.”

WST - “What about the Pan community do you find most disappointing?”

Elisabeth F. - “The idea that Panorama is everything and all pan has to offer. Bands work so hard during the Panorama season. Sacrifice, time, money, stress, all for those few minutes on that stage. But afterwards; silence. Not much is being done, a few gigs here and there, but pan is so much greater than that.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Elisabeth F. - “War of all wars! This is the arrangers’ time to shine and for the band to execute their vision and bring their music to life. I love hearing two arrangers choose the same tune but come out with two completely different arrangements.”

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

Elisabeth F. - “Definitely a blessing. Of course it’s a great way to showcase the arrangers’ talents and styles, but another positive outcome of Panorama is that around that time the band is practicing everyday. It’s great seeing so many kids and young adults occupying their time with something positive, especially since it’s during their summer vacation. It keeps them out of trouble and danger, and that’s very important. Its crazy hearing stories about how dangerous pan was back in the days, but this goes to show we’re headed in the right direction.”

WST - “What is your fondest memory with Pan?”

Elisabeth F. - “Being on stage with Skiffle for semi-finals. The vibes were crazy! I admit I shed a tear when I heard the results, I was soooo proud!”

WST - “What is your vision for Pan in New York a decade from now?”

Elisabeth F. - “Pan needs to be given more respect. To some it’s just “noise” and the lack of appreciation is upsetting.  It would also be nice for bands to own their own property!”

WST - “If you could change one thing about pan what would that be?”

Elisabeth F. - “Pan is a lifestyle. But it’s hard to make pan a form of income, and that’s where the drive for some people is lost. Everyone has their separate lives outside of pan, so most won’t sacrifice a shift at work to come to practice or go to a small gig whenever bands manage to book one.”

WST - “Describe your recent experience with Skiffle Steel Orchestra in Trinidad & Tobago.”

Elisabeth F. - “The hospitality Skiffle has shown was beyond that of anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve observed and learned so much from them. I’m so grateful to have been able to participate and couldn’t be more proud of KendallMarc, and my arranger Odie!! However, there was some negativity surrounding the fact that Skiffle chose to bring in foreign arrangers, and that’s part of the ignorance holding us back.”

Elisabeth Fidele with Despers USA on J'Ouvert morning in 2015
Elisabeth Fidele with Despers USA on J’Ouvert morning in 2015

WST - “You may have come across colleagues who did not understand what you mean when you say you ‘play pan’ - if this has ever been the case, talk about how you shared your steel band experiences, and their reactions.”

Elisabeth F. - “The first reaction is always confusion, it’s kinda funny but at the same time frustrating, because so many people have never heard of pan, and that has to change. After I show a picture or a video they get excited and are so eager to come to a show or gig to support.”

WST - “What advice would you give to young and upcoming females who would like to follow in your footsteps as a steelpan musician?”

Elisabeth F. - “Be confident in your skill and waste no time! Perfect your craft and love what you do.”

WST - “As is common in the steel band community - there is great camaraderie among the players, you stay in contact and hang out together year-round with fellow-band mates, outside of the Panorama season. Talk about these relationships.”

Elisabeth F. - “Year round I stay in contact with a few players and band mates. I met one of my closest friends through pan, and I also work with a band mate. It’s cool talking about pan outside of a panyard, whereas some friends who aren’t in the pan community have no idea what pan is.”

Elisabeth Fidele (left) practices with Despers USA in 2015
Elisabeth Fidele (left) practices with Despers USA in 2015

WST - “Where does Elisabeth Fidele expect to be from a career perspective in 5 years from now?”

Elisabeth F. - “I’m still trying to figure that out but it will definitely be music-related.”

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

Elisabeth F. - “Of course! MANGO CHOW! *Insert fire emoji* We need to show more support for each other whether it be books, shows, or any other venture.  ‘Mango Chow’ is a steel pan merchandise business, mainly focusing on T-shirts at the moment, which is not my brand but the vision of Aliandre Maraj, and was up and running since January 2016. I saw his vision so I decided to hop on board and do everything I could to get it to reach its full potential.”

Elisabeth Fidele performing with Despers USA Steel Orchestra

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