Celebration of Women
and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Naoko Yabuta - Tokyo, Japan

“After our Panorama performance, I listened to the final result on the radio at the Desperadoes panyard. I didn’t understand English well but when I saw everyone bubbling over with joy, I knew we had won!”

She doesn’t just love Pan - she breathes Pan and lives the experience of Pan. She was born and lives in Tokyo, Japan - but there is absolutely no doubt, that she is 1000% Desperadoes.  In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - panist and performing artist Naoko Yabuta 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 Naoko Yabuta?”

Naoko-san - “I’m Naoko Yabuta from Japan. I’ve been playing in the Panland Steel Orchestra in Japan as a triple or four cello player since 2002.  We practice every Saturday afternoon to prepare for various performances in the greater Tokyo metro area.  

“On weekdays, I work at a sportswear and goods company in human resources department.  And I study English diligently.”

私は薮田 直子(やぶた なおこ)です。日本では2002年からパンランドスチールオーケストラでチェロを担当し、毎週土曜日の午後に練習しています。


WST - “How were you introduced to the steelpan instrument; what pan do you play?”

Naoko-san “In 1999, I watched a Japanese TV program on Trinidad and Tobago.  That’s when I first learned about the steelpan and other Trinbagonian culture (music, food, nature, people, etc.).  The program was very interesting and it really made me want to play the steelpan.  In 2002, I joined the Panland Steel Orchestra, and I play cello now.”


WST - “What is it about steelpan that attracts you so?”

Naoko-san - “One attractive part of the steelpan is the sound of the instrument. Sometimes sweet, sexy, passionate, cute and more..... Steelpan has many facets depending on the number of players and the playing method. I hope to learn more about many aspects of the steelpan.”


Naoko Yabuta
Naoko Yabuta

WST - “How long have you been playing pan? Do you play any other instruments?”

Naoko-san - “I’ve been playing the steelpan since 2002, so about 14 years. I played the electronic organ for 25 years, and played the horn (brass) in primary school.”


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

Naoko Yabuta with Desperadoes
Naoko Yabuta ‘feeling it’ with Desperadoes Steel Orchestra

Naoko-san - “The Desperadoes!! I love Desperadoes music very much and everyone from Desperadoes. I’m so happy when I get to play with the band every year. If I’m drinking STAG, I become MUCH HAPPIER too!! Everyone knows that I love STAG.

“Every time I come back to Japan from Trinidad, I immediately miss Desperadoes. I’m already planning my next trip to visit Trinidad for next Panorama.”


WST - “This year you won Panorama in Trinidad with Desperadoes Steel Orchestra. What was that experience like?”

Naoko-san - “After our Panorama performance, I listened to the final result on the radio at the Desperadoes panyard. I didn’t understand English well but when I saw everyone bubbling over with joy, I knew we had won!

“I was extremely happy and it reminded me when I joined the band all by myself in 2011. At the time, I couldn’t speak much English. In 2012, we didn’t make the finals.  Since my time with Desperadoes, I experienced four arrangers and three different panyards. A lot has happened but I’m always happy to play with the Desperadoes. The victory from this year not only gave me happiness, but also thankfulness to the Desperadoes.

“I thinking to go back next year as a supporter and not a player to cheer on the Desperadoes, but I’m still deciding.”


WST - “What Pan did you play in Desperadoes this year?”

Naoko-san - “I’ve always played four pan since I joined the band in 2011.”


Naoka Yabuta with Panland Steel Orchestra
Naoka Yabuta with Panland Steel Orchestra

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

Naoko-san - “Steelpan brings lots of fun, pleasure and happiness to everyone. I felt the same when I was introduced to steelpan.”



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

Naoko-san - “The steelpan is not as well-known in Japan as in other countries.  

“Panland Steel Orchestra was formed to share the joy of steelpan with people in Japan. So, we are happy if we are introducing the steelpan to many more people to create joy through our music.”



WST - “How has Pan changed over the years for you?”

Naoko-san - “Steelpan changed my life. My life now revolves around steelpan. I take a long vacation every year. I think my family and friends understand that about me.”


WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Naoko-san - “For me, Panorama is like a combination of my birthday, Christmas, and New Year’s Day all mixed into one big holiday. There are many people from all over the world who love steelpan that go on to the stage in the Queen’s Park Savannah with lots of fun and excitement. Panorama gives us the best time together. It’s the happiest place.”



WST - “Do you have a favorite arranger?”

Naoko-san - “My favorite arranger is the Desperadoes arranger every year.”



Naoko Yabuta
Naoko Yabuta having fun with members of Desperadoes Steel Orchestra

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

Naoko-san - “I wish more people could know about the many facets of steelpan sounds. From children to elderly, irrespective of age, I hope they get an opportunity to encounter steelpan music and have fun.”



Naoko-san - “Lastly, we had a very sad incident after this year’s carnival. We lost one of our beloved steelpan players, Asami Nagakiya.  People from all over the world expressed sadness and shared condolences with me and others from Japan. I’m very thankful for your thoughts and prayers.  I hope to spread the music of steelpan and the wonderful culture of Trinidad and Tobago that she loved so much. I believe that all Japanese people who love Trinidad and Tobago feel the same way. I also hope to do the same when I visit Trinidad and Tobago.  It is our wish that more people from various countries can come to Japan to see Japanese steelpan culture someday.”



Naoko Yabuta performing with Panorama 2016 Champions Desperadoes Steel Orchestra in Trinidad and Tobago

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