Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Tameeka Garcia-Harris - New York, USA

“What keeps me going are my memories of growing up and being a part of pan sides in both St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and Brooklyn, NY during the summer months. Those were the best times of my life. There was a special kind of love and unity amongst the various pan sides.”

She is a performing artist, manager and co-owner of Steel-X-Plosion USA Orchestra. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - Tameeka Garcia-Harris shares her joys, concerns and vision for the future of the Steel Pan instrument in New York and abroad.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about yourself; how did you first become involved in pan?”

Tameeka G.-H. - “It seems like forever!  I first learned to play pan from my dad Freddy Harris, II—the Trinidad & Tobago-renowned guitarist & panist—at age 6, in New York City.”

WST - “Is there anything else that is, comparable - like pan, for you?”

Tameeka G.-H. - “The closest element to pan for me is playing the piano, but with pan it will always be most special because of the nature of the instrument. Pan is an instrument that calls to you. No matter where you’re at, and what you are doing, you will always be drawn to it.”

WST - “Every year you and many other young people sacrifice and invest a good portion of the summer towards Panorama. What keeps you going?”

Tameeka G.-H. - “What keeps me going are my memories of growing up and being a part of pan sides in both St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and Brooklyn, NY during the summer months.  Those were the best times of my life. There was a special kind of love and unity amongst the various pan sides.  I can walk into just about any pan yard and feel so much love.  Every summer I work especially hard for SXP (Steel-X-Plosion USA) to have that kind of energy. We are more than just a pan side.  During the winter months all the youths can talk about is Panorama again and missing one another.  They are true warriors! No matter what we place in Panorama, they will never quit, so if the members don’t quit on SXP, I can’t quit on them.”

WST - “What, if anything, do you dislike about Pan, and why?”

Tameeka G.-H. - “As for the pan instrument itself there is nothing I dislike.  I Love Pan! It’s my partner for life.  As for the Pan community as a whole?  Wow, there are much improvements to be made. The love and unity of the pan community seem to be deteriorating both here in New York and in Trinidad & Tobago. The appropriate funding is not being re-invested back into the movement and because of that it’s causing players to become disgruntled. The community is regressing as opposed to progressing.”

WST - “You have grown up in and around Pan; what do you find most different now as an adult, as compared to when you were very much younger, in the art form?”

Tameeka Garcia-Harris
Tameeka Garcia-Harris

Tameeka G.-H. - “In my younger years of being around the Pan community in Brooklyn, I remembered when players supported other bands more.  I remember the days of playing with like 3 bands.  When I played for several bands I did it for the love of pan and the culture. Financial gain wasn’t even a thought.  Now yards are different.  When you walk in a pan yards it feels like so much tension. Because of this I find myself trying to shelter my SXP youth players more. Want them to view Steel Pan in only a positive light.”

WST - “You are a valued member and manager of Steel-X-Plosion USA in New York. What is it that makes Steel-X-Plosion USA different?”

Tameeka G.-H. - “Well, I can proudly say I am more than a manager at this point (Laughing). I am actually one of the founders and investors of the band.  I wear many hats because we are like any business still growing.  We are only 4 years old.  SXP is not just a pan side, we are a pan school, a youth cultural center and production company. We teach our youth to be overall musicians and not just pan players.”

WST - “What would be your advice to young women who would like to become involved with the steelpan art form?”

Tameeka G.-H. - “Being involved with the Pan art form is the future of music.  It’s a unique instrument with tones that appeal to our feminine nature.  Long ago we were made to believe that Pan is a masculine instrument, but if you really look at the technique of playing it’s actually quite gentle; notes are played lightly and not banged, the chrome on the instrument shines and looks beautiful.  Pan is an instrument played with elegance and grace.  You will not only stand out amongst your everyday typical musicians, playing the normal conventional instruments, but to the world.”

WST - “If women controlled all aspects of Pan, what would be different?”

Tameeka G.-H. - “I believe there will be stronger leadership, more love and unity.  Because of our nature we are better organized.  Steel bands, and a larger youth participation - because parents will feel more safe leaving their children in a band with strong organization and female presence. Also the women of pan don’t sit around talking about the old days of pan wars in Trinidad because we were not involved in it. We know the history of it because of our forefathers, but we don’t carry on the emotional baggage of that time. We just wanna play pan and evolve the art form from being pan players, soloists, band owners and arrangers. Steel Pan is now universal!  The world as we know is evolving; we now have women running for President.  When we look around the pan yards worldwide you see more women playing pan than men.  Women are the future of Pan!”

WST - “Have all aspects of discrimination towards the steelpan musicians in general, become a thing of the past, among your generation?”

Tameeka G.-H. - “I can say this is a thing of the past depending on where you are.  I have been in many states and countries where this statement is very true, but then I have been to some Caribbean islands where the discrimination of steel pan musicians still exists - and, sad to say, I have seen it here in New York as well.  Until we change the way we as pan musicians carry ourselves meaning:  let’s treat pan as a business and a true art form, let’s implement sheet music into the curriculum, in describing our playing technique - explain it as we “play” pan not “beat pan,” let’s remove the stigma when you walk into the pan yard as a learning environment and not as a hang-out.  If these ways do not change we will continue to face discrimination no matter where we go.”

Tameeka Garcia-Harris
Tameeka Garcia-Harris

WST - “You may have come across colleagues 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 steelband experiences, and their reactions.”

Tameeka G.-H. - “Well I do not tell my colleagues I play pan, I tell my colleagues I play steel drums.  This changes the whole perception of the instrument, allowing them to understand what instrument I am referring to.  If you use the term Pan, especially with me working in corporate America they will stare at you with no clue.  If you say Steel Drums they automatically relate to the round shiny instrument that are played on cruise ships and the Caribbean.  “Hey - it’s not the only place it’s played but at least that’s a start, right”? In my younger years many Americans didn’t even know the term “steel-drum” so we have come a long way.  The greatest pleasure I feel today is showing my colleagues YouTube clips of steel bands and individual panists playing all genres of music, to include Pop and Hip-Hop.  At that point they are blown away and the follow-up question becomes: “Can you and your band play at my next function?”  Those are the words you truly want to hear next.”

WST - “What is your favorite Panorama piece?”

Tameeka G.-H. - “In Pan overall, Phase II’s ‘Woman is Boss’ is my personal favorite piece, and I learned how to play it too as a teenager!  For SXP, my favorite is ‘Soca Train.’  We were a part of Sesame Flyers during that time; however - because it is still the arrangement of one of SXP’s founders, Freddy Harris, III, it’s still my favorite panorama song to date.”

WST - “After playing Pan for some time, several young adults eventually cease playing.  Why do you think this is?”

Tameeka Garcia-Harris
Tameeka Garcia-Harris

Tameeka G.-H. - “I think it’s due to rehearsal locations - due to gentrification of neighborhoods so we are forced to rehearse in not-so-desirable areas and not in the best of conditions either.  It’s also the police presence of shutting down yards so players become frustrated.  Lack of funding so bands are not able to compensate players like they should - and I would always, say lack of unity.  If existing bands support one another that is the driving force of membership.  No one wants to give up valuable hours of their life to be in an environment of hostility instead of love.”

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

Tameeka G.-H. - “I think both. I say both because for pan players who sacrifice for gigging and learning a 8-10 minute piece, Panorama is a reward. It’s like our Caribbean recital. However being a veteran of Pan and now an owner/investor it becomes a curse. The reason for ‘curse’ is the large financial cost needed to enter a band into competition. The cost to enter a band is more than the winnings in the competition. In any competition - I don’t care whatever it is, if your winnings do not outweigh your entry [cost], then how do you grow as a band, person or organization? It’s like investing in a product year after year no return. If it doesn’t make money, then it doesn’t make sense.”

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

Tameeka G.-H. - “It would be to provide rehearsal space for all bands!  Steel bands on a whole are a positive culture for our communities. It creates growth of the instrument as a whole.  The more pan sides available in New York, the more we can teach this art form to our future youth.  What many don’t realize is that the art form of pan strengthens everyday academic fundamentals.  Pan enhances a kid’s Math, Science, logical & analytical skills.  It also enhances physical endurance and increases memorization.  [There would be] Rehearsal locations for all bands throughout if I had it in my power to do so.”

WST - “What is your vision for Pan in New York?”

Tameeka G.-H. - “I would like to see pan sides in all boroughs, not just Brooklyn.  Our representation of Pan should NOT only be one borough but throughout New York state. Daily I receive calls asking if there is a pan side in the Bronx, Queens, Westchester County, Upstate New York, etc. There should be Pan Stars all over New York State.  Everyone should be able to walk out their door and join the pan side of their borough, just like you see basketball courts on every street corner!”

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

Tameeka G.-H. - “The only matter I would like to bring forward is: let’s become more unified as a pan community. Elders who have knowledge, pass it on to the youths.  Lead by example.  The youths are the future and in order for the world to continue on and evolve you must pass on the knowledge. Please let go of the old way of thinking about it’s “we ting.” Pan is a gift to the world and without you this was not possible “so take a bow.” Now let’s work together and evolve the art form!”

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