Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Jose Ann Williams - Trinidad & Tobago

“ I would be in school and zoned out during class because I was playing my imaginary bass with my hands and humming songs that I knew in my head. It was as though I became addicted and it was then I knew that pan will be something that I would love forever.” 

She a multi-talented musician and scholar, who is not only a valued stage-side member of the world renown legendary Desperadoes Steel Orchestra but also a graduate with a Business Administration Degree in Management and Entrepreneurship. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks -  panist Jose Ann Williams shares her dreams, experiences, expectations and views on the Steel Pan music art form in Trinidad & Tobago and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

When Steel Talks ‘Celebration of Women in Pan’ logo

WST - “Tell us about yourself - who is Jose Ann Williams?”

Jose-Ann W. - “Jose Ann Williams. I was born on 14th May, 1991. I was born and grew up in Laventille. I am a simple, humble, helpful, always ready to learn and friendly person who loves to laugh and have fun with anything that I am doing especially pan. I always strive to better myself in everything I do.”

WST - “How did you first become introduced to the steelpan instrument?”

Jose-Ann W. - “Ever since I’ve known myself, steelpan music, especially Desperadoes music, have been playing in my household on a regular basis. My grandmother (may her soul R.I.P) was a die hard Desperadoes supporter. She use to take my younger brother and I to panorama and have us sit on the racks whilst they play on the “drags” heading to the big stage. However, it was not until I was 11/12 years of age that I started playing this wonderful instrument. I started at one of Desperadoes Pan Camps during the summer vacation thanks to my mother who were a lover of steelpan as well. After that, I’ve been with Desperados throughout, both playing and supporting.”

Jose-Ann Williams
Jose Ann Williams

WST - “When did you first come to believe that your love for the Pan was going to be a life-time affair?”

Jose-Ann W. - “After we learned a song in pan camp, I would go home and constantly sing the parts and play it in my head. I could not have waited for pan camp the next day. I would be in school and zoned out during class because I was playing my imaginary bass with my hands and humming songs that I knew in my head. It was as though I became addicted and it was then I knew that pan will be something that I would love forever.”

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?”

Jose-Ann W. - “Luckily, there weren’t any obstacles in my way in relation to steelpan. In fact, I was applauded by family, friends and even neighbors for sticking to this as some felt as though the culture was dying because not many young people have an interest in it. Others simply said they did not have the opportunity to be introduced to it.

Unfortunately, I was discouraged or cautioned by a few individuals with regards to focusing solely on the steelpan instrument as my passion in life. I was told that steelpan has no benefits in it if I don’t reach at an arranger level and the most that I can do as a common person with steelpan is teaching because there isn’t a huge market for the talent. ”

WST - “Do you play other instruments as well; talk about this?”

Jose-Ann W. - “I can only play the steelpan, no other musical instrument. However, since the beginning of the year 2017, I have been contemplating on getting a more in-depth knowledge of steelpan, other instruments and music overall at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT). Think I just need the extra push.”

WST - “You are a valued member of Desperadoes Steel Orchestra what does it mean to be a member of this legendary orchestra?”

Jose-Ann W. - “This I think means A LOT to me. As I stated in a previous question, Desperadoes have been in the hearts of my family and household since I’ve known myself. I joined Desperadoes thinking that I would just play my instrument and that would just be about it. After joining the stage side and being able to play all of Desperadoes out of this world music that I only dreamt of learning was one of my goals in life. Now knowing that this amazing, legendary band considers and values my participation and membership means so much to me that words can barely describe and for that I am beyond honored. ”

WST - “You recently graduated from college. What was your field of study?”

Jose-Ann W. - “I attended the College of Science, Technology & Applied Arts of Trinidad & Tobago (COSTAATT). I graduated with my Associate of Science Degree Management in the year 2013 then I successfully completed my Bachelors of Business Administration Degree in Management and Entrepreneurship in 2015 but graduated in 2016 because COSTAATT graduations are done once per year. ”

WST - “Who are your music inspirations and influences - not only relative to Pan, but also in wider music genres?”

Jose-Ann W. - “This is a tough question because there are so many arrangers and musical artist that leave a piece of something in me. However, there are those that out. In the pan world, I would have to say Clive Bradley. Playing his music from what I’ve learned on the stage side as well as hearing his music speaks to me and even raises my pores each and every time as though it is the first time I’m hearing it. I will always be in fully “wow’ mode. Another will have to be Carlton ‘Zander’ Alexander even before he became the official panorama arranger for Desperadoes, because I love what he does to what people will call non-traditional “pan music”.

Outside of the pan world, I would have to say Bruno Mars. Reason being, he is not like the average musical artist who is just simply seen on a mic. He plays several musical instruments and to me that shows a greater passion that he has for music since he was willing to take the time to learn other musical instruments. ”

WST - “From your perspective what is greatest challenge facing Pan in Trinidad and Tobago?”

Jose-Ann W. - “To me, one of the greatest challenge facing pan in Trinidad and Tobago is the lack of respect for the musical instrument by society and the government of this country. For example, something as simple as when the national instrument is being played, bars, big trucks, etc who are playing music should either low or take off the music because it is the law isn’t being treated seriously in this country. People continue to play their music to the point where the pan band must stop because they cannot hear themselves. If such a basic law can’t be abided by society what respect do they have for our national instrument? ”

WST - “What is the experience of Panorama for you?”

Jose-Ann W. - “Panorama is one of the best times on my yearly calendar. I look forward to it more than my own birthday. The big stage, the music, the pan lovers both playing and supporting all excites me. It’s always great to see how pan men and women put their hearts and soul to make this all happen.”

WST - “In your opinion, what do you think is the place of the annual Panorama competition, with respect to the overall art form in Trinidad & Tobago?”

Jose-Ann W. - “In my opinion, the place of the annual panorama competition plays a major role in respect to the overall art form in Trinidad and Tobago. Other than carnival, by the time you hear the word steelpan or panorama, you immediately think about Trinidad and Tobago. Foreigners come from all over the world just to either hear or play the instrument for Panorama. ”

Jose-Ann Williams
Jose Ann Williams

WST - “What are you most proud of in Pan?”

Jose-Ann W. - “There are two main things that I am proud of in pan. Firstly, the fact that it was created from something as simple as an oil drum to create this magnificent instrument that people can’t do without and fills the heart of many - And that is makes people happy, both players and supporters, and what is enjoyed around the entire world. Secondly, because of pan, I was able to see places outside of Trinidad and Tobago that I never thought I would be able to see. ”

WST - “Do you have any advice for young women now coming into the steelband art form?”

Jose-Ann W. - “My advice to young women now coming into the steel band art form is to challenge yourself to learn other pans. Don’t let anyone discourage you from reaching the highest point there can be in the pan world. Women are now holding leading and managing position in the pan world. Women not being able to do anything men can do ‘is long time thing’.”

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

Jose-Ann W. - “My vision for the future of the steelpan instrument is to see steelpan being respected and accepted right here in Trinidad and Tobago whether you play it or not and not just seen as a seasonal thing. ”

WST - “If there was one thing in Pan you could change immediately what would that be?”

Jose-Ann W. - “One thing I wish that I could change in pan immediately is for there to be more competitions or major yearly events (other than Panorama). ”

photos provided by J. Williams


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