Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Justyne Simon - Brooklyn, New York

“....The feeling I get when I’m playing – it’s like I can feel the music running through my body. Playing pan invoked so many positive emotions. I found myself thinking about it 24/7. Singing before I went to sleep and waking up, picking up right where I left off....I just love steel pan so much. I can’t imagine life without it.”

To say that she ‘loves’ Pan would be an understatement. It is in fact, fulfillment; it completes her.  With a primary concern for the state of Pan In New York, she is all about the art form. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - passionate panist and performing artist Justyne Simon 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 yourself; who is Justyne Simon, and how and when did you first become involved with Pan?”

Justyne S. - “I am a member of Despers USA Steel Orchestra of Brooklyn, NY. I am currently in school pursuing my nursing degree to become an OB (Obstetrics) Nurse. I have always known about steel pan because of my Caribbean roots but never really took a full-on interest in playing. I first got involved with pan about 7 years ago when I was invited to attend an event at Despers USA pan yard on a Friday night. I was welcomed by several players to join the band for the upcoming Panorama competition. That following Monday I found myself in the pan yard ‘taking music’ and I’ve never left since. I fell in love instantly with the instrument.”

WST - “What made you fall in love with the steelpan instrument and its music?”

Justyne S. “I just love everything about it; it spoke to me. I love the sound of the instrument. The feeling I get when I’m playing – it’s like I can feel the music running through my body. Playing pan invoked so many positive emotions. I found myself thinking about it 24/7. Singing before I went to sleep and waking up, picking up right where I left off.”

WST - “Is there anything else that is, comparable - like pan, for you?”

Justyne S. - “The only thing I can compare to steel pan is Dance. Dancing involves emotions; using your mind, body and soul - and so does pan.”

Justyne Simon
Justyne Simon

WST - “What keeps your passion for Pan and its culture going?”

Justyne S. - “Along with my love for the instrument, the love for my band plays a role in my passion for steel pan and its culture. The family atmosphere, loyalty and love that you feel when you are a member of Despers USA is an additional incentive for me to stay involved with pan. It does get difficult at times to stay involved due to the hardships that Pan faces, but I know I would only be torturing myself if I stayed away. I just love steel pan so much. I can’t imagine life without it.”

WST - “Have you encountered people unfamiliar with Pan, and what is that interaction like, how do you explain it to them?”

Justyne S.  - “Yes, I have interacted with people unfamiliar with pan. Steelpan is a hard instrument to describe so I usually go on YouTube to show what it is. People are always fascinated with the fact that I am able to play such an instrument and that there are functioning steel bands!”

WST - “What, if anything, do you dislike about Pan, and why?”

Justyne S. - “There is nothing I can say I directly dislike about pan. However, West Indian people in America don’t seem to value the instrument and their culture. This directly contributes to the current hardship steelbands face. One of the reasons bands have trouble finding yards [for practice] is because even in our own community steel pan is viewed as just noise.”

Justyne Simon
Justyne Simon

WST - “If you could have a major ‘say’ in the issue - what would be your vision for the future of the steelpan instrument?”

Justyne S. - “My vision for the future of the steel pan would be for instrument to be standardized. I think that standardization would help to make the instrument more mainstream.”

WST - “What is your favorite genre of music to play on steelpan?”

Justyne S. - “I know it so typical - but my favorite genre to play on Steelpan is Soca and Calypso; though I am not opposed to playing other genres such as Jazz, Pop and Reggae.”

WST - “What would be your advice to young women who would like to become involved with the steelpan art form?”

Justyne S. - “My advice to any woman that would like to be involved in pan is Go For IT! Women can do anything we set our mind to do. I love to see other women playing pan with great skill. It pushes me to perfect my craft to show that women can be just as great musicians as any man.”

WST - “What is your favorite Panorama piece?”

Justyne S. - “I wouldn’t say I have a favorite Panorama piece, but some songs I do love to listen to are Pantonic’s  Ben Lion and Phase II’s  Fire Down Below.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Justyne S. - “Panorama to me is a competition where not only arrangers but also players can showcase their talents. It takes teamwork in order for a band to go Panorama. It’s not only about the competition but also about unity within the band.”

WST - “Is Panorama a blessing or a curse?”

Justyne S. - “I wouldn’t categorize Panorama as a blessing or a curse. Like anything else in life, Panorama has its pros and cons. I try to go into the Panorama season optimistic every year but also remembering that there is so much more for pan other than one competition. It’s a great opportunity to be a part of something so beautiful every year. Those 10 minutes on stage are the most terrifying yet best 10 minutes of your life! Also, being able to listen to so many different stylings and arrangements from other bands is another added bonus. However, the amount of time and money spent to enter the competition at times is not recognized or rewarded.”

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

Justyne S. - “If I could change something in Pan immediately I would change the way bands are organized and run. If the steel bands and steel band organizations were more united we would be able to obtain more funding for the growth of the culture.”

Justyne Simon
Justyne Simon

WST - “What are your fondest memories with Pan?”

Justyne S. - “One of my fondest memories with pan is after the 2013 Panorama competition members of the band went back to the pan yard and played the recording of the song we just played. As the recording was playing we danced, we laughed and enjoyed the music. At the time it didn’t matter what position we placed, it didn’t matter the experience of the competition, all that mattered was the music and the time we spent together that summer. In that moment I realized pan was about more than just the competition. It’s about our love and passion for our craft and culture.”

WST - “What is your vision for Pan in New York?”

Justyne S. - “My vision for Pan in New York is that all the bands flourish with their own permanent practice locations, brand new instruments and less hardship. I would also like to see Pan in New York be just as valuable as it is in Trinidad and other countries across the world...I would just like to see pan in New York be successful and stay relevant.”

Justyne Simone with Despers USA - Brooklyn, New York

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

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