Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Samantha Williams - Jamaica

“I was socialised to think that to be a successful person meant to be a lawyer, doctor or a businesswoman - but that could not keep me from my passion. I do hold a BSc in Human Resource Management from the University of the West Indies (UWI Mona) and am currently studying music at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, majoring in Steelpan.”

She lives her passion. And will be part of the great future for Pan. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - panist, musical director, performing artist and arranger Samantha Williams 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 Samantha Williams?”

Samantha W. - “I’m a Jamaican who grew up in a musical family. I first learned to play the piano, then drums and later on learned to play the Steelpan which I instantly fell in love with. Growing up in a society where little emphasis was placed on music as a career, I was socialised to think that to be a successful person meant to be a lawyer, doctor or a businesswoman but that could not keep me from my passion. I do hold a BSc in Human Resource Management from the University of the West Indies (UWI Mona) and am currently studying music at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, majoring in Steelpan. I do hope to further my studies in Trinidad.”

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

Samantha W. “I first became associated with the Steelpan my first year at UWI Mona. I was walking past the student’s union when I heard a Bob Marley song being played, and I said to myself that whichever instrument that song was being played on, I had to learn to play it. It wasn’t until my second year at UWI that I joined the UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra and have been an active member since. Had it not been for that band, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn about such a great instrument.”

WST - “You are an accomplished panist, musical director, a performing artist and arranger. Is there some natural synergy between these disciplines for you? Do you have a preference?”

Samantha W. - “I would say yes, as they all work hand-in-hand for me. If I arrange a piece for my band, I know all the parts so when it comes to running rehearsals, if I hear something contrary to what I arranged, I am able to immediately rectify that. Directing a band is no ‘walk in the park’ but I love it. I enjoy being able to express various musical ideas and to utilize the knowledge and expertise acquired through my studies. Being able to understand arrangements and knowing how to execute them makes me an even better performer. I can’t choose just one as a preference because I am passionate about and enjoy all of them.”

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

Samantha W. - “There are many things that contribute to this passion but first and foremost my family and friends. They have been supporting me 100% since I made the decision to pursue music. Yes, like any normal family in Jamaica, they were first skeptical about this choice but seeing where I am now as compared to when I started and how much I put into this passion, they continue to be my support system. Secondly, my band. Since the day I became a member of the band until now as I am currently the director, they have supported and encouraged every effort I have made towards pursuing music. They take all my crazy arrangements (as they would put it) and try their utmost best to perform each piece; whether they have to stand on one foot or lean way too much to one side just to catch a note. Last and certainly not least, I love the instrument. The sound it produces is one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard, there is so much one can do with the Steelpan and the fact that a country could make it their national instrument brings joy to my life. My aim is to see more and more Jamaicans appreciate the instrument and that keeps me going.”

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

Samantha W. - “The improper techniques being taught to some pan players in Jamaica.”

Samantha Williams with Jamaica 's UWI Panoridim at the International Panorama
Samantha Williams (foreground) at the International Panorama
photo by Alexica Adams

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

Samantha W. - “I am pleased to know that with the advances in technology there exist instruments such as the P.H.I. and the E-Pan as well as the various apps made available to devices. Although I prefer the original instrument, I am pleased to know that there are technological alternatives which can also be utilized to give a different feel to performances.”

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

Samantha W. - “What disappoints me the most is that the instrument isn’t being appreciated and used to its full potential. There is a vast world out there as it relates to pan and if we are able to tap into all of that and utilize that knowledge, we would take the instrument from where it is now to a place where no other instrument can compare.”

WST - “What would be your advice to the thousands of young female panists all over the world who are dreaming of following in your footsteps?”

Samantha W. - “My advice is to follow your passion. If music is what you love and more importantly what you want to pursue as a career, go for it. There will be factors to deter your choice but if it is really what you’re destined to do you will end up where you belong - as I have proven first-hand. Yes, it may be a challenge at first but in the end it will definitely be worth it. Nothing good comes easy so buckle up and prepare for a tedious journey.”

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

Samantha W. - “I have many influences but the most significant would be my lecturer, mentor and friend Ms. Angela Gay Magnus who is one of the highest-trained and certainly one of the best Jamaican panists I’ve had the privilege of knowing.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Samantha W. - “Panorama is like the Olympics. Different bands competing in different categories, going neck-and-neck with some of the most interesting arrangements I’ve ever heard, and putting in hours rehearsing just to be number one. A Steel band competition held on such a large scale, the toll it takes on individuals to travel from work to rehearsal to home and the fact that they do it every day, mirrors the hours of training athletes put in. I actually consider panists who take part in Panorama to be athletes, especially when it comes to playing certain arrangements at the ‘Panorama Speed.’”

WST - “Describe your experience at the International Panorama (ICP)?”

Samantha Williams
Samantha Williams
@ Edna Manley College

Samantha W. - “I’ve always dreamt of touching that stage at the Savannah, to feel that adrenaline rush and the music flow through my body. For me and most of the members of the band, it was our first time in “the land of Pan” and we enjoyed every moment. I got the opportunity to learn more about my instrument, to meet interesting people and to connect with a world once a dream, now a reality.

“Every single minute I spent around a pan made me a happy woman. The very day of the competition I was on the track rehearsing and thinking that I’m actually going to perform on the Panorama stage. When it was time for my band to perform, we went up, I looked in the crowd then at my band and poured my heart out in that performance. Being able to see different bands perform live and to actually perform on that same stage was the best thing that has ever happened to me as a musician.”

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

Samantha W. - “Bands aren’t utilizing the instrument to its full potential. You will hear some arrangements and immediately realise that a lot more could be done to showcase the versatility of the instrument. This is mainly because most bands are in the hotel industry, so for the purpose of entertaining tourists they play simple arrangements. Additionally, some individuals who arrange for bands do not understand the instruments that make up each section so you will find that their arrangements underutilize the ranges of each pan. Unfortunately, there isn’t a platform such as Panorama to really push individuals to think through and orchestrate complex arrangements, and for that reason it is my aim to start a music festival for steel bands that will eventually flourish into a Panorama.”

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

Samantha Williams
Samantha Williams
photo by Asami Noto

Samantha W. - “At present my vision is in the context of my country. I want to see pan become as common an instrument as the piano and percussion instruments such as the drums. I want to see more Jamaican bands incorporating the Steelpan, more artists working with panists on their albums. I want to see a Panorama in Jamaica and if I have to be the one to dream the dream and make it a reality I will work as hard as I need to.”

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

Samantha W. - “At present, the availability of tuners in Jamaica is a big challenge. There are several bands in Jamaica that use pans made in Trinidad, but these pans aren’t tuned as often as panists would want them to be. Majority of the time one tuner comes down from Trinidad but that individual is unable to tune all bands and what happens is that some bands end up having to wait a while longer. If by some chance a pan factory can be established in the country, I encourage pan makers to research such a venture. If it is that it wouldn’t be beneficial to you financially, a tuning course in the summer would be great. I aspire to be a tuner because I see where there is a need and if the only solution to that issue is having one in the country at their disposal, I am willing and able to learn.”

Samantha Williams performing with UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra at the 2015 International Panorama


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