WST - “How and when were you first introduced to the steelpan instrument?”
Jossane F. - “From a very young age, around 5 years old, I told my parents that I wanted to learn to play the steelpan. They insisted that they did not want to raise a musically illiterate pan woman and so they enrolled me in Louise Mc Intosh’s Pan Pipers Music School where Chantal Esdelle, Harold Headley and Sat Sharma were my first music and steelpan teachers.
“I started off learning the double tenor and the double guitar pans, and then at the age of 11, I switched to the 4ths and 5ths high tenor pan when I joined Success Stars Pan Sounds.”
WST - “What made you fall in love with the steelpan instrument and its music?”
Jossane F. - “At 5 years old, my parents took me to Renegades’ panyard and I was totally mesmerized by the level of complexity and difficulty of Dr. Jit Sukha Samaroo’s music. This compelled me to want to grow up to become a Renegade to be able to play his music and, I did just that! I have always been a real die-hard Renegade.”
On the Track with Renegades Steel Orchestra at Panorama Finals 2016
WST - “What keeps you so passionate about Pan?”
Jossane F. - “When I was less than 10 years old, my mum would take me to the Pan is Beautiful competitions which used to be held at the Jean Pierre Complex and, what really intrigues me is hearing music come to life from a music score. In the 1990s, Pan is Beautiful was held every year, one year for Seniors then the next year for the Juniors and so, I would always be intrigued by the test piece compositions and also hearing tunes of choice like John Williams’ theme music of Star Wars come to life and looking at the conductor take command of the orchestra.
“When I started to play with my first big band, Solo Pan Knights, as a teenager, I was one of about two persons who could have read music in the band. I always longed to see the day when pan men and women could read music and operate just like musicians from the traditional symphony orchestras. Thank goodness, I have lived to see the day when this has come to pass, especially with the advent of numerous music schools and both the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) which have created avenues for this to be achieved.
“What keeps me passionate about the Pan is stressing on sound quality, artist management, logistics and the quality of the orchestra’s general performance. I consider myself the Loretha “Cookie Lyon” of Pan. Taraji P. Henson plays this role in the popular American musical drama, “Empire.” We need more “Cookie” Lyon types in the industry.
“I have done tours and experienced how professionally we have been treated while abroad, that I have always longed to see the bar risen and musicians and management operating at such a high level right here in Trinidad and Tobago. The possibilities of just how far the art form could be taken in terms of global reach, also keeps me passionate and quite driven.”
WST - “You are a valued veteran member for Renegade Steel Orchestra. Tell us about some of your global travel through Pan over the years.”
Jossane F. - “Thank you kindly, I am honoured to be considered as such. Some of my travels through pan over the years have been with:
- Success Stars Pan Sounds – Aberdeen International Youth Festival, Aberdeen, Scotland - 1996
Representing Trinidad and Tobago with Success Stars Pan Sounds in Aberdeen Scotland for the Aberdeen International Youth Festival - 1996
- Performing at various shows and we even created history, performing with Awakening Theatre Dance Company, Bronx, New York at a sold-out show at His Majesty’s Theatre. It was the first time the theatre was sold out and also, we got to perform alongside American Tap Dancer Tarik Winston who owned Awakening Theatre Dance Company. Tarik was already famous as he was one of the American Tap Dancers in the world-renowned Irish Tap show “Riverdance.”
Ebony Steelband, London, United Kingdom - 2000
Members of Ebony are my family. I grew up with them as I have known them since 1995. They would exchange and come to Trinidad for our Panorama and members of Solo Pan Knights would go up to London to play at their Nottinghill Festival. All of this was thanks to the relationship Mr. Pepe Francis MBE had built over the years with the management of Solo Harmonites and then Solo Pan Knights.
In 2000 I was on vacation from University when I went to London on my own for vacation and while there, my Barbadian and Guyanese friends I was staying with asked me if I wanted to play steel. Of course I said yes, so I immediately contacted Brent Holder and my friends from Ebony, and so, while there, I really got to see how a band really operates like a business - as I always say: Pepe accepts gigs behind God’s back and his big toe!
After playing with Ebony’s stage side for 4 days for the five-month period while I was on holidays, Pepe was sending me on gigs to the Channel Island of Sark; we had to stop on the Channel Island of Guernsey to get there. We did shows all over London, Wales, and the Isle of Wight (twice within four days) and so I learned to commute all over London and I got to tour all over the UK. Pepe really keeps his orchestra busy. A true business man and steel band Manager to the core.
- Caribbean Magic Steel Orchestra, Hong Kong, China and various cities in Japan – 2002
An older Success Stars Pan Sounds player and Renegades player, Mr. Sheldon James, owned his own steelband called Caribbean Magic Steel Orchestra. He had been inviting me to join his band to do tours since 1999 but I was in University reading for my Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees and didn’t have the time to play as regularly, as I was focused on my studies. In 2000, while in London, I spoke with Brent Holder who had done the tours with Caribbean Magic from the very first tour and he encouraged me to make the time to do one of the tours with the band because it would really be life-changing. Finally, in 2002, while I was on vacation from school, I was available to make the tour. Indeed it was life-changing and an unforgettable experience. Mr. Sheldon James is by far one of the most professional persons I have come across in the business throughout my career. I was surrounded by full-fledged Renegades players and I was one of 4 females on the tour of about 19 players that year.
Jossane teaching at a workshop in Hong Kong, China
We toured Hong Kong, China doing workshops and performances for 4 days and we toured various cities in Japan over a 22-day period. While in Japan we performed in Kanagawa, Osaka, Tokyo, Okayama, Hiroshima, Kagoshima and Nagano. The level of professionalism exhibited by our agents and hosts was unforgettable. The logistics were flawless. We didn’t have to lift a finger. We were literally treated as if we were Michael Jackson. Fans would be running down our tour bus, crying and begging for autographs. I remained friends with a couple of the fans who have now become family; they visited Trinidad a couple of times since and stayed with my family and I now even have a Japanese godson. The commute to that side of the world is insane but it is worth it! I really do love Asia.
- Formerly TCL Group Skiffle Bunch, Madison Square Garden, New York – 2005
- We qualified for the finals of the World Steelband Music Festival which was held at Madison Square Garden (MSG), New York. Again, I was able to observe how professionally and strictly the staff at MSG operated as they ran a very tight schedule in order to finish the show on time.
- Pan Alive, Toronto, Canada – Co-hosting and Commentating – 2016
In 2016, fellow musician, First Lady In Parang and Parang Queen Alicia Jaggasar recommended me to renowned Trinbagonian actress who resides in Toronto, Canada, Rhoma Spencer - to go up to Toronto to co-host and provide music commentary at their Panorama competition, Pan Alive. I was ecstatic because it was always something I have wanted to pursue. Rhoma and I built a rapport and since then, I have been required to go to co-host and commentate on the music I’ve heard live at the show. Rhoma and I created history in 2016 as Rhoma was hired not only as the co-host but also the Artistic Director for the show and so we, but primarily Rhoma, changed the entire format of their Pan Alive offering. It was the first time that the show was being held in the new format.
Jossane co-hosting and commentating with Rhoma Spencer at Pan Alive at Lamport Stadium, Toronto, Canada 2016
In years gone by, Pan Alive took the format similarly to how Pan is Beautiful would have been, in terms of set up and, the judges would walk to each band to judge them at Lamport Stadium’s court. Now, the format and artistic direction in terms of visual impact and logistics, has been changed to reflect a show similar to Trinidad and Tobago’s Panorama which is held at the Queen’s Park Savannah. This new format has been well received and even the Trinidad and Tobago High Commissioner to Ottawa, Canada, who was present at the show in 2017, was pleased and stated that he wished that the same show could be brought to Ottawa.”
WST - “Renegades is one of the Trinidad & Tobago music gems. What is it that makes Renegades so special?”
Jossane F. - “First and foremost, Renegades is not just any ordinary orchestra. Renegades is a family. Once a Renegade, always a Renegade. I grew up from since my teenaged years under the watchful eyes of Mr. Michael Marcano, Mr. Duncan, past Captain Mr. Gibbs, Redman, our current Captain Mrs. Candice Andrews-Brumant, Andrew Brumant, Selwyn “Snail” John, Robert “Swaggy” Alleyne, Tony “Cocoa,” “Chinee,” Trevor, Mr. Brandt Speede, Tony “Soul” Yeates, Anthony “Tucker” Ward, Mario Joseph, Obasi Farai and Kelly Ramlal to name a few. Some are still with the band and some have moved on to pursue other endeavours, but, these are some of the persons who took great care of me as a young female in the orchestra and up to this day, those who are still with the band, still do take very great care of not only me but everyone else in the band. Those traits have passed on to the younger ones who are instrumental within the orchestra, they always take care of one another by making sure that everyone is alright, comfortable and safe. Mr. Duvone Stewart, has also ensured to continue fostering and nurturing that culture within the band. The band’s precedent is set very highly and we are welcoming, down to earth, friendly and humble.
“From a musical perspective, not only has the band created records to go down in the annals of history, but also from the first bar of music, Renegades lets you know that we are here and that we are a force to contend with. Luckily for me, I have been fortunate to have experienced the musical arrangements of the different arrangers who have worked with bp Renegades, Dr. Jit Sukha Samaroo, Mr. Amrit Samaroo, Mr. Kenneth Guppy and now Mr. Duvone Stewart, all of whom have been homegrown and have always maintained Renegades’ elite signature sound.
“I must say that some players were born to be Renegades. We have similar characteristics which we can recognize within young players when they approach the band. Most times, from young, players just know that they ultimately want to be a Renegade.”
WST - “In addition to it being the band’s seventieth anniversary, 2018 is a very special year for Renegades; how does it feel to be champions again?”
Jossane F. - “It is an absolutely wonderful feeling for the band to be champions again, to have brought it home and restored glory to our pan yard. There is a whole generation of us who have been with the band for 19-20 years, who had never won a Panorama competition with bp Renegades. We have remained disciplined, dedicated and never gave up on our band. Even during the years when we did not win, we always felt like champions. We have always seen ourselves as world-class and as nothing less than the best.”
WST - “Is the support for the arts to your liking in Trinidad and Tobago?”
Jossane F. - “Support for the arts is only now striving to come along. We are creeping to come up to par with ideas which I have noticed when I travel abroad to places like Toronto, Canada. The measure of support is not to my liking just yet but I can see little dents and punches being made in the short run, in order to impact the creative industries in the medium to long run.”
WST - “What have you been most proud about as it relates to Pan?”
Jossane F. - “Well there are a few things which I am most proud about as it relates to my beloved steelpan instrument. Besides winning various competitions throughout the years, I have been most proud of the fact that I feel happy to know that our culture is in safe hands. The number of pan men and women who can now read music scores is one I am so very happy to see as musicians keep progressing in this regard. I have seen the development of young and very skilled musicians branch off to become pan makers, pan tuners, musical arrangers, musical conductors, producers and drill masters. It also warms my heart to see the youth involved in the orchestras and loving up our culture.”
WST - “What causes you the most concern about the art form?”
Jossane Kerrice Felix
Jossane F. - “What causes me the most concern is the state of affairs in which the smaller bands have found themselves. They are essentially dying or hanging on by a lifeline. They hardly have players and they really struggle when the Panorama season rolls around due not only to lack of funding but also lack of players.
“I am also concerned that things could be lost due to the hustle rather than players playing for the love of pan. It is a bit of a paradox because a lot of players are now professional musicians and so they make their living off the music. As a result, these musicians tend to showcase their skills by becoming musicians for hire at different bands especially during the Panorama season. Technically, I see nothing wrong with that, because in other countries, being a Musician is a profession and is very serious business which is regulated, however every band needs its share of “die-hard” members in order to keep the fire burning by being a positive light within its community.”
WST - “What is your vision for pan in Trinidad and Tobago a decade from now?”
Jossane F. - “My vision for pan a decade from now includes:
Seeing our musicians performing every single day, not only at our open spaces, our parks, squares, amphi-theatres and the like, but also in our hotels, restaurants and our soon-to-be established entertainment district. These types of activities occur in Toronto. Every single day there are shows in Dundas Square, at Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto City Hall and all over the city of Toronto. We need to ramp up the positive usage of our open spaces.
Hearing piped steelpan music throughout the cities, boroughs, towns, amusement parks and water parks just like how messages are piped to the public in China via strategically positioned speakers throughout the city of Shanghai. Trinidad and Tobago could adopt that along with LED screens at our promenades, on our buildings and electronic billboards. The public seeing steelbands’ music videos playing on DVD screens on our tour buses, and regular PTSC buses, aircraft’s in-flight videos, in cabins on cruise ships and at the airport in order to maintain the tourism thrust and public sensitization about the orchestras and our invention. Essentially drowning out the place with steelpan music.
I would like to see the development of more studios established for steelbands to record their music at places like Tamana Intech Park and the National Academy for the Performing Arts NAPA and SAPA campuses.
I would like to see our arrangers composing music for regular films and animated films produced both locally and internationally.
Why not have the sounds of car alarms developed to be the sound of the iron or menacing/ominous musical tones of the steelpan. A car thief will think twice should the car start to hit him some sounds of iron! Programmers, get to work! I’d appreciate my royalties please.”
WST - “If you could change one thing about pan what would that be?”
Jossane F. - “I know that my suggestions would be contingent upon funding but if I could change one thing about pan, I would bring back the kinds of activities we had in the 1990s, adding them to the annual calendar of events. Bring back Pan is Beautiful for Juniors and Seniors, Pan Chutney Competition and Pan on Broadway. These events were staples on the annual calendar. Such types of events also expose the panists to different genres of music, only widening their scope, experience and increasing their levels of discipline to learn and execute the music as skilled musicians.”
WST - “Being female, were you cautioned or perhaps even dissuaded in any way, from becoming involved in the steelband art form?”
Jossane F. - “Oh no, not at all! I have never experienced that issue. Luckily for me, my parents always knew that one of their children would end up loving the steel pan. It turned out to be me, and so they understood that I loved steelband music and I have always wanted to be involved not only as a musician but also by being involved behind the scenes in the business of the steel pan. Too besides, in the past, my father was a Bass man with Solo Harmonites and some of my maternal uncles also played with Solo Harmonites so there were no issues. My cousins and the rest of the family actually laud me for loving the art form and really sticking with it throughout the years.”
WST - “What advice would give to young and upcoming females who would like to follow in your footsteps?”
Jossane F. - “As my musical director, Mr. Ben Jackson always told us, “Always give your best, because you never know who is watching and which opportunities may come your way.”
“Practice makes perfect but you can always better your perfect.” Ben Jackson
“Turn your light on brighter, never dim your light. You will find people who can’t handle your light. You don’t dare dim your light. If you disrupt some people who keep telling you your light’s too bright, just offer them a pair of shades.” Lisa Nichols, Motivational Speaker
“Never forget where you came from and the people who helped you along the way, especially the people who used to drop you home safely at night after practice.”
WST - “What is Panorama to you?”
Jossane F. - “I consider Panorama to be the Olympics of Pan and, I approach it as such. Panorama to me is about the experience of the season, ensuring that the quality controls are in place. The eco-system which allows the organization to be run like a well-oiled machine so that the arranger could focus on arranging, the players could focus on playing and all the other logistics are handled properly by the other arms of the organization.
“It is also about the camaraderie within the fraternity, enjoying great works, playing pan with my friends who are family both local and foreign who fly down to play, executing the music given to our orchestra to the best of our ability, witnessing the arrangers and producers at work, pure genius.
“Fighting the good, musical fight.”
WST - “Are there any other steelband-related matters you would like to bring forward?”
Jossane F. - “Yes there are three matters in particular I would like to bring forward -
Fortunately for me, I was exposed to various arrangers, directors and conductors during my musical career, from Mr. Ben Jackson, Mr. Sat Sharma, Mr. Trevor “Inch-High” Valentine, Mr. Cary Codrington, Mr. Salvary, Mr. Robert Greenidge, Mr. Annise “Haffers” Hadeed, Dr. Jit Sukha Samaroo, Mr. Amrit Samaroo, Mr. Kenneth Guppy, Mr. Liam Teague, Mr. Kareem Brown, Mrs. Avis Bruce-Brown, Mr. Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Mr. Duvone Stewart and Ms. Kimberli St. Clair. However, professional musicians are a bit pigeon-holed and in some cases are not allowed to play with other bands or to experience the styles and approaches which different musical arrangers may take. This I think is a limiting factor for our musicians who would like to widen their scope and musical vocabulary as they are up and coming in their career. It is not always about the hustle for some players, it is about the actual exposure and experience for their development in the field.
Bringing back Pan is Beautiful, World Steelband Music Festival, International Panorama, Pan Chutney and Pan on Broadway - once funding permits as stated previously - and also having more collaborations with artists in the other genres which make for great fusions.
Focusing on maintaining high quality controls and integrity within the industry, not only in terms of the quality of sounds produced by the orchestras but also the overall stage production. Orchestras ideally ought to be approached and run like a business. Our musicians ought to be treated with the highest level of respect. We must always strive to put on world-class competitions and productions so that our shows would rank just as highly as any other internationally-renowned artist’s production.”
Check out just released publication by Jossane Kerrice Felix - now on Amazon.
Jossane with bp Renegades at Panorama Finals 2012.
all photos provided by Jossane Kerrice Felix
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