Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Adelle Joseph-Phillip - Trinidad and Tobago

“Playing pan for me is a happy place, it connects with my soul. As Bob Marley said “When the music hits, you feel no pain.”  That is pan to me. I truly love to hear and play sweet pan music on well-tuned pans. I can’t begin to understand persons who say they dislike hearing pan music.” 

She is an electrical engineer by day and a serious lifelong panist throughout her existence.  In addition, she is a firm believer in the importance of supporting arts and culture.  In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - Adelle Joseph-Phillip shares her spirit, feelings, experiences, and insight into the Steelband music art form and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about yourself; who is Adelle Joseph-Phillip?”

Adelle J.-P. - “In a nutshell, I am an electrical engineer who is passionate about all things regarding youth, and our arts and culture. Any way I can be of assistance I am willing to give of my time. I can play both the tenor and double seconds pan; however, my baby is the tenor pan.”

WST - “How were you first introduced to the steelpan?”

Adelle J.-P. - “My introduction to the steelpan came via my uncle Mr. Nervin Saunders, past arranger for Shell Invaders Steel Orchestra. From Primary School up to Secondary School, after school every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I was to head directly to my uncle’s pan school – Eastern School of Pan Music – to learn to play pan and read music.

“While attending Tunapuna Government Secondary School, I joined the school steelband, Tunapuna All Stars. Our home band was birdsong Steel Orchestra and this is where my Panorama journey began under the wonderful music of Rudy “Two Lef” Smith. birdsong Steel Orchestra and birdsong Academy will always have a special place in my heart. Also, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention it’s also while teaching music theory at birdsong Academy, I met my husband Damion Phillip, Panorama judge (local and overseas).”

WST - “You performed with the legendary Desperadoes Steel Orchestra for Panorama 2018 - talk about this experience?”

Adelle J.-P. - “Let me first say that I know my father (deceased) was looking down and smiling from ear to ear. Growing up my dad always said, “Girl why you don’t go and play with the best band in the world.” See, my dad was born and bred Lovell Place, East Dry River. I remember when I was younger and attending Panorama with my parents, from the time we were approaching Despers, you could hear men shouting out to him: “Woogie,” “Tom” - and of course we had to walk up to the stage with the band.

“It was definitely an eye-opening experience. Being a female accustomed to playing with bands from the Eastern Region, there was a fear factor, LOL. Big bad Despers, men from the hill, wondering if I will get pick - but to my surprise the band members were very welcoming. Even when the Panorama season was over, members of the tenor section continue to foster that sense of camaraderie. The culture of this band was different from the way practice was conducted, to the way in which the band sets up for rehearsal and sharing of music.

“The music!!!!! My goodness Zanda’s interpretation of this song was amazing. I listened to all the arrangements and in my unbiased opinion Desperadoes’ musical arrangement was the best. The way “Zanda” [Carlton Alexander]  brought in the ‘gun shots’ and the underlying “What they fighting for” and “Bun dem” throughout the song [Year For Love] - I thoroughly enjoyed playing this arrangement. Not forgetting the drilling done by Akinola Sennon. Listen, I think the best way to describe him is like a militant teddy bear. Aki was very soft-spoken and quiet outside of rehearsal. When the pan knocked, the pan beast would awaken, LOL... If you weren’t serious about the music, then don’t come to the panyard. The combination of Zanda and Akinola is amazing.

“Every band has their internal issues; however with the right management and dedicated players, these issues will simply be stepping stones to a stronger and more organized steelband.”

Adelle Joseph-Phillip
Adelle Joseph-Phillip

WST - “What are those eight minutes like on stage for you, performing in Panorama - talk about the experience?”

Adelle J.-P. - “The eight minutes seem like one, LOL. It’s definitely an exhilarating experience. I go through a mix of emotions from the moment the pans begin to come on stage. At first there is the calm, mentally prepping myself, saying a prayer. At the point where the counts start, it’s almost as if the earth is at a standstill. When I take the count and hit the first note, there’s a transformation. It’s like I’m letting everything out from the entire season. It’s a mix of full energy, concentration; every emotion felt is shown with each note struck, no holding back, dance, jump, and leave it all on the panorama stage. When the song is over, whew, heart racing, all smiles, my best hand was put forward.”

WST - “Being female, were you ever cautioned or perhaps dissuaded in any way, from becoming involved in the steelband art form?”

Adelle J.-P. - “Thankfully, my family has always supported my involvement in the steelband art form.”

WST - “Do any of your family members play pan?”

Adelle J.-P. - “Sure. In my family, locally my uncle who taught me still plays, my younger brother, and overseas both my uncle and cousin with Philadelphia Pan Stars Steel Orchestra.”

WST - “What keeps your passion for pan going?”

Adelle J.-P. - “Playing pan for me is a happy place, it connects with my soul. As Bob Marley said “When the music hits, you feel no pain.” That is pan to me. I truly love to hear and play sweet pan music on well-tuned pans. I can’t begin to understand persons who say they dislike hearing pan music.”

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

Adelle J.-P. - “I feel extremely proud particularly at School Panorama, when I see the primary school children performing their arrangements. In those moments, I feel as though our culture has a future, the children are interested, there will be some longevity.”

WST - “What about the Pan and/or the fraternity do you find most disappointing?”

Adelle J.-P. - Pan Trinbago touts itself as “The World Governing Body of Steel Pan.” Before you can govern the world, you must first ensure all ducks are in a row in your own backyard. The world is moving forward with the steel pan and the land of its birth is stagnant. We need to take the politics, corruption and self-gratification out of the organization in order for the fraternity to go where it should be. Pan players have to be united. There is the old saying “Stand for something, or fall for anything.”

WST - “Overall, is it (Panorama) a curse or blessing from your perspective?”

Adelle J.-P. - “Panorama is both a curse and a blessing. It is a blessing because arrangers across [the board] are presented with an opportunity to showcase the arranging ability to the nation. With each passing year the younger arrangers are able to develop and harness their ability. It is a curse because after Panorama then what? How many bands possess a functioning stage side? How many panyards are open after Panorama? What developmental activities are taking place for the band members, to place them in a better playing and performance position for the following year? During the Panorama season, too many bands are using Panorama as an opportunity to receive monies from Pan Trinbago.”

WST - “Do you think the steelband community and its musicians are well-regarded/respected in Trinidad & Tobago?”

Adelle J.-P. - “The ratio of performance to financial payment is very unbalanced in Trinidad and Tobago. Unfortunately, if a foreign artiste comes to the country to perform the same set of music, they will be regarded in higher esteem and be paid whatever fee requested. We have to learn to love and respect our own first.”

Adelle Joseph-Phillip, also an electrical engineer
Pan Woman/Desperadoes steelband musician Adelle Joseph-Phillip in her capacity as electrical engineer

WST - “What is your vision for Pan in Trinidad and Tobago a decade from now?”

Adelle J.-P. - “Each panyard possessing a music academy for children and adults to learn and grow - similar to the model at the birdsong Academy. The children are the future and as such we need to get them interested and develop them from an early age. Similarly, there will be adults who now decided they would like to learn to play our national instrument. This will aid with the longevity of steelbands.

“Quarterly workshops being held for persons wishing to become judges and arrangers to edify them in these knowledge areas. Utilize the persons in the fraternity who are experienced in these areas. Hopefully, they will be willing to share their knowledge. Yearly music festivals for steelbands to foster the development of players across all genres of music. Let’s say every year in July/August we have music festival. Players will be exposed to the calypso/soca genre during Panorama and then the classical and more controlled genre during July/August.”

WST - “If you could change one thing about pan what would that be?”

Adelle J.-P. - “I would love to see the players of the pan fraternity return to that place of band loyalty. Where we are playing pan for the love of the music and not to see how much money can be made for the Panorama season. As such, my change would be strict enforcement of players performing with only one band. To me the execution of the arranger’s masterpiece suffers when pan players are not present at rehearsals to receive music and to facilitate the drilling of the piece of music.

“As much as the players want the arranger to bring a tune with “vibes,” the arranger also needs players to be present to feed off of our “vibes” and how we execute the piece of music. I’m sure it can be very frustrating to arrangers when there is music to be given and no one to give it to due to their presence elsewhere, learning another arranger’s tune.”

WST - “What advice would you give to young and upcoming females who would like to follow in your footsteps as a female steelpan musician?”

Adelle J.-P. - “Steelpan is no longer just a man’s world, females are welcomed. What we must do is respect ourselves, know our worth, be disciplined and let your playing speak for itself. There will be persons who may taunt and say you are chosen because you’re a female. However, when you begin to play your instrument with excellence, they will have no choice but to keep a still tongue.”

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

Adelle J.-P. - “I truly appreciate this forum and the many issues which are highlighted and discussed. One question asked each year is who are the Panorama judges and what qualifies them to be judges. I think it would be good to pose questions to these persons, which can facilitate the enlightening of the pan fraternity who they are and what they bring to the Panorama judges table….. once questions are answered.”

WST - “What is next for Adelle Joseph-Phillip?”

Adelle J.-P. - “It’s Best Village Season!!!!!! Time for performance rehearsals with Malick Folk Performing CompanyJ

Adelle Joseph-Phillip
Adelle Joseph-Phillip

photos provided by Adelle Joseph-Phillip

   Adelle Joseph-Phillip performs with Desperadoes Steel Orchestra during the orchestra’s 2018 Panorama Finals Performance

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