Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Liynaa’a McLean - Brooklyn, New York

“The steel pan has come a long way and I can’t wait to see where it is headed in the future.” She is a mixture of intellect, beauty, and ‘madd’ pan skills in one package. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - panist, musician, future Speech-Language Pathologist Liynaa’a McLean shares her concerns, experiences and outlook on Pan, and the steelpan art form.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about  Liynaa’a McLean?”

Liynaa’a M. - “Liynaa'a McLean is 28 years old with a very loving, caring, selfless, independent, funny, humble and strong minded personality. I was born to Trinidadian parents with strict and loving values. They've instilled in me that Family is very important. My passion is playing the steel pan and helping others. I am currently going to school to pursue my Masters in Speech Language Pathology. I plan on working in an NYC public school helping kids overcome their communication challenges.”

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

Liynaa’a M. “I was introduced to pan at the age of 5. My mother took my older brother and sister to learn to play at CASYM Steel Orchestra and I took a liking to the instrument right away, more than they did. My first Panorama was with CASYM at age 6, in 1994. Since then, I’ve played with Metro Steel Orchestra in 1995, Umoja in 1996, Moods Pan Groove in 1997, Sonatas from 1998-2012 and D’Radoes from 2013-present.”

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

Liynaa’a M. - “For 23 years I’ve grown to love the steel pan. I love the sound, the feeling I get when I hear and play the instrument. It’s like I get a high off the music it produces. My mother tells me I have a pan jumbie inside of me. At times I do want to stop because of the pan issues in New York, but I just can’t. If I do stop, it would be like I’m depriving myself of something that brings me so much joy. Also seeing the youths taking a liking to the instrument and actually arranging music is what keeps my passion for the instrument going.”

Liynaa’a McLean
Liynaa’a McLean

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

Liynaa’a M. - “If I had the power to change something in pan it would be the direction pan is going in Brooklyn. Panyards are becoming obsolete and steelbands are diminishing slowly. There used to be about 14 bands in the Panorama competition. Now we’ll be lucky if ten make it into the museum. Gentrification is slapping us in our faces; every vacant lot is being turned into apartment buildings and I just think many band leaders are just fed up of going through the same thing year after year in terms of losing a place to practice. I just want the love people had for pan to return. I think the love is there but it’s taken a backseat for many.”

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

Liynaa’a M. - “What I’ve been most proud about is that the steel pan has become a global instrument. I love to see videos of people all over the world, especially in schools and universities embracing the Trinidadian culture. The steel pan has come a long way and I can’t wait to see where it is headed in the future.”

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

Liynaa’a M. - “What disappoints me the most in the steel pan movement here in New York is, when I talk to people who used to play and I ask them their reason for not playing anymore and most of them say because pan is dying in New York. Others get discouraged when they aren’t given a chance to showcase their talent and arrange for a band they’ve been with for years. They say pan is not how it used to be and I say the same thing as well but I feel like they’ve given up on hope. One major issue that is really disappointing is that the bands in NY that are well established, I’m talking, been out for years, are struggling financially to keep their band afloat. Band leaders were very careless and greedy with their finances back in the days and now their bands are paying for it. I say this because I feel like there is no way a band can come across thousands and thousands of dollars and not once would someone think about investing in a “home” for your band. The price of property back then was very reasonable. That is the reason why we are having so many issues today.”

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?”

Liynaa’a M. - “My advice to the thousands of young female players would be to keep hope alive for the steel pan. Perfect your craft, practice daily and if you want to further your skills and compose music, GO FOR IT!! If composing is your passion, make sure you to go to school so you wouldn’t be limited on your musical knowledge. Pan is no longer male-dominated; females are showing off their talent and being recognized for it.

WST - “2015 was a great year of Pan for you - a NY Panorama championship with D'Radoes, and a credible showing with BSO (Brooklyn Steel Orchestra) in the International Panorama. Describe your International Panorama experience?”

Liynaa’a M. - “2015 was definitely a great year for me. Playing on the big stage in D’Savannah has always been a dream of mine. I’ve never played in Trinidad prior to ICP. That experience was incredible. Skiffle hosted BSO and I must say their hospitality was very welcoming and warming which in turn made our trip even more memorable. Just being in the land of the Steel Pan and seeing and hearing bands from all over the world showcasing their talent was amazing. It really was a sight to see which made me so proud. I can’t wait for the next one.”

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

Liynaa’a M. - “My two musical influences are my father and The Late Great Dr. Jit Samaroo. My dad plays the piano and introduced the instrument to me at a very young age. I took piano lessons for years and even won a scholarship to take lessons at Brooklyn College. I love the instrument but after years of taking lessons I felt as though I was only playing to make my dad happy, so I rebelled. At the time I was young and ignorant to the fact on where my musical knowledge and skills could’ve taken me. My father saw my potential and encouraged me to stick to it. I stopped taking lessons and sometimes I do regret not sticking to it because who knows where I could’ve been today. My father has taught me and still is teaching me a lot about music. I do love the fact that we can have deep conversations about pan back in the days, pan today, issues in pan and just music in general.

“Dr. Jit Samaroo, one word to describe him…. Genius. It’s really hard to put into words why I admire his arrangements the way I do, his music speaks for itself. My fascination for his long passages, intricate chromatic runs, seconds and middles solos, harmonious melodies and love for the minor key is like no other. In my eyes there were no flaws in his music. Jit had classics! Masterpieces! I can go on and on about how one of his masterpieces, Pan in A Minor, somehow didn’t win panorama but yet is taught in Universities all over the world. No one even remembers who won or what song the winning band played that year. The same goes for my favorite, Bees Melody, another classic that should’ve easily been his 11th win. That’s neither here nor there. I really get passionate speaking about Jit’s music because it’s just so captivating. To sum it up, he was a BOSS and his music and name will live on.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Liynaa’a M. - “Panorama to me is a platform where arrangers can showcase their musical talent. Arrangers get exposure which opens up many doors for them. It’s a night when friends become “musical enemies.” It’s a musical war that night. Every band comes out looking their best, sounding their best and putting on their best performance in hopes of grabbing that first place spot and bragging rights for the year. It’s a day everyone looks forward to. The pan players sacrifice their spare time to go to practice every night during the pan season, showing their dedication and love for the instrument. What is really amazing to me is that whatever issues players have during the pan season seems to go right out the window when those lights hit you and it’s time to put on your game face and best performance for those 8-10 minutes. The adrenaline rush during the performance is like no other. Everyone is happy and united because of one thing, the steelpan.”

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

Liynaa’a M. - “Panorama could never be a curse from my perspective. It is definitely a blessing. So many friendships have been created during the Panorama season. The youth who play pan for Panorama are doing something positive which keeps them out of trouble. Panorama has paved the way for thousands of musicians to enjoy doing something they love.”

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

Liynaa’a M. - “My vision for the steel pan instrument is to see everyone exposed to the instrument. Even though it is recognized and played all over the world many still don’t know what the steel pan is. I would love to see it being incorporated in every music course in every school, just like the flute and violin is. I don’t want it to just be referred to as “that circle thing” or “the trash can” or “that stuff people play in the train station”.”

WST - “Is Pan in danger? Why?”

Liynaa’a M. - “Is pan in danger? Yes it is in danger. I say this because everyone is not being compensated equally. All of the money keeps going in one direction, which is to the arrangers and management and the players are barely getting anything out of it. This issue is the main reason why pan is in danger and it is so disheartening. Of course the arrangers put down the music, but the players are the ones dedicating their time and hard work bringing the music to life. What is a band with no players? Just a name. Many bands are losing players because of this. This is a major issue in New York and in Trinidad. Bands are fighting to get and keep players, when it used to be that bands were pushing away players because they were packed. Everyone wants to feel like their time is worth something!”

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

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