Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Athena Nichole - New York, USA

“I feel when you truly love something or someone musically, you can NEVER just like one of their pieces. Clive Bradley will always be my favorite arranger because of his inventiveness to create masterpieces.  To name only one song would be bogus, though...  Rebecca, High Mas, In My House and that’s just in Trini, (LOL).  He’s truly missed.”

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - veteran panist Athena Nichole shares her wisdom, experiences and intellect through her personal journey with Pan, and the art form as a nurturing environment for youth and community.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about Athena Nichole?”

Athena N. - “I am currently a New York City Public School Teacher and the mother to a beautiful 1-year-old!”

WST - “How did your involvement in Pan begin?”

Athena N. - “I remember it so vividly.  A friend and I were hanging in Kings Plaza mall back around 1996/1997 where CASYM was performing and we signed up for classes. I fell in love with pan from that day forward.”

WST - “Were there any obstacles along the way, or were you cautioned or perhaps dissuaded from focusing solely on the steelpan instrument as your passion in life?”

Athena N. - “I think the only obstacle would be life.  It comes at you fast and you’re hit with so many responsibilities.  Playing as a child it was all about school and hanging out but as the years passed, ‘adulting’ began. Balancing pan and my priorities can be tough but I look at pan as a vice, an addiction even.”

WST - “What fuels your passion for Pan?”

Athena N. - “My passion for pan is driven by the friends who have become family over the many years I’ve been in the community.  It’s like you work hard all winter to enjoy the long nights leading up to Panorama night with those that hold a permanent place in your heart.”

WST - “Compare your experience as a Woman in Pan in 2017, with what you experienced in the past?”

Athena Nichole
Athena Nichole

Athena N. - “Years ago, I was interviewed with ‘When Steel Talks’ as a Woman in Pan and sadly I feel not much has changed for the better in regards to Pan in New York.  I wish there was more respect allocated for such a brilliant instrument.  The pan lanes, the ‘last laps’ in the park and down Flatbush Avenue, the band launches - it brings such nostalgia every time I think about it.”

WST - “What is the greatest challenge facing this current generation of steelpan musicians in New York?”

Athena N. - “Politics in New York has lead to the near-extinction of steelpan as we know it! Between finding adequate locations for summer practice, to the fines given for ‘noise’ after hours, to the fees to enter the competition and just as important - the distribution of prize money.  It’s unfortunate what the scene has come to.”

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

Athena N. - “I would have to say politicians allowing us to practice through the night in a permanent summer yard.  Labor Day is such a money-maker for the city and steel pan is a part of it; 8-10 weeks of good music and socializing like the old days would be great.”

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

Athena N. - “Honestly, I love to see the children that are currently playing in the band.  They have watched us and are emulating it.  It’s impressive!”

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

Athena N. - “I’ve been in the movement for two decades and there’s always an apparent division between the youth and veterans of pan.  In my ‘perfect pan world’ more cohesiveness between the two would be ideal!”

WST - “What is it you believe the global steelpan community needs to work on?”

Athena N. - “I don’t know what they should work on besides tightening up the steelband governing bodies.  That is an exhausting topic in itself.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Athena N. - “I always had a love-and-hate relationship with Panorama.  The warm days and cold nights leading up to Panorama were some of my best memories growing up with Pantonic and Clive Bradley in the early 2000s.  Panorama night would be the highlight of the summer but then just as fast, it would be over and we would part ways just to do it all over next year!”

Athena Nichole with Pantonic, 2005 New York Panorama
Athena Nichole with Pantonic, 2005 New York Panorama

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

Athena N. - “An opportunity to display what you spent weeks learning from a crafted arranger can only be a blessing.”

WST - “What type of music do you listen to other than Pan music?”

Athena N. - “I love soca and conscious reggae music. R&B is also a fave of mine.”

WST - “What is your favorite Panorama piece and why?”

Athena N. - “I feel when you truly love something or someone musically, you can NEVER just like one of their pieces. Clive Bradley will always be my favorite arranger because of his inventiveness to create masterpieces.  To name only one song would be bogus though...  Rebecca, High Mas, In My House - and that’s just in Trini.  (LOL) He’s truly missed.”

Athena Nichole, Wyclef Jean, Jenica Henry
Athena Nichole, Wyclef Jean, fellow musician Jenica Henry

WST - “Is the steelpan community too nostalgic, and too reluctant to embrace the brilliance of “now” in Pan?”

Athena N. - “I would not say the community doesn’t embrace the ‘now’ at all.  From the appearance of the  electronic pan to the inclusion of popular soca songs from other countries as tunes of choice, I’d say pan is where it needs to be musically.  Some things I would hope stay consistent, I’m an old soul.”

WST - “You may have come across colleagues/acquaintances 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?”

Athena N. - “Growing up I was always ‘beating garbage cans,’ not playing pan.  It didn’t bother me much because that was just ignorance.  I took it more as some exclusive community that people didn’t have the privilege to be down with!”

Athena Nichole
Athena Nichole

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

Athena N. - “As an educator, I love the inclusion of steelpan in schools.  I wish more could be done to involve children in pan since they’re slowly replacing my generation in the pan community.  I hope that funds continue to be given to performing arts in school to continue steel band programs and exposure to the instrument.”

WST - “You are a valued member of the NY Panorama champions D’Radoes. Does the annual journey to Panorama ever get old?”

Athena N. - “Old - no, it actually makes my time there seem more valuable now that I have to set time aside from my responsibilities to learn music.  As a young adult, it was something to spend my time doing, now it’s something I have to devote time for.”

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

Athena N. - “Wouldn’t it be lovely if a global movement happened where winners of the various Panoramas got the opportunity to travel abroad and perform for other Panoramas as guests?”

Athena Nichole with D’Radoes Steel Orchestra
Athena Nichole with D’Radoes Steel Orchestra

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

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