Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Kayleigh Lewis - UK

“Pan links everybody together from all over the world and to know I have family in Trinidad, Japan, and Guadeloupe amongst other places, makes me know I have many places to stay if I want to travel the world. I am proud to belong to something. Some people don’t have one family so I feel spoilt to have a few. To be able to connect to people through music is a wonderful feeling.” 

She is truly a stellar practitioner of the performing arts. A comic and musician who is more than up for the joys and challenges of being an intercontinental pan player. Now a champion with two of the world’s premiere standout steel orchestras, Kayleigh Lewis shares her feelings, experiences, expectations and concerns for the Steelband music art form and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about yourself - who is Kayleigh Lewis?”

Kayleigh L. - “I am an Ebony Steelband four-pan player, a Renegades quads player, a saleswoman, a stand-up comedian and a woman trying to change standards in everything I do. Oh, and a very loud, short woman who always has a glass of wine in my hand and a bright colour in my hair! I am also the host for a few London Pan events like the BAS (British Association of Steelbands) awards and Pan Clash, as well as Ebony Concerts and shows.”

WST - “When and how did you first become aware of the steelpan instrument and art form?”

Kayleigh L. - “I was about six years old when I was introduced to them. We were lucky enough to have them included in our music lessons in primary school. I looked at the recorders and the flutes, and then at the shiny silver pans and was immediately drawn to them.”

WST - “You are a member of the UK’s champion Ebony Steelband - what is this like, and what makes the experience special for you?”

Kayleigh L. - “I always say that being in Ebony is not just about playing pan, it is a lifestyle. I have been in this band since I was nine years old and it is one of the greatest achievements and commitments I have to date. To be apart of a winning band that has toured the world, won many competitions and given me the opportunity to meet royalty and celebrities, is a life I am sure many people would love to be a part of. The experience is great. I say it with my chest when I say I play for Ebony Steelband. It’s definitely something I am proud of and happy to belong to.

“We work hard! In the build up towards Panorama I don’t see my family and friends. The whole of August is dedicated to Ebony Steelband and in the 22 years I have played my peers understand that. For us, practice makes perfect. So we eat, sleep and breathe practice in the summer months.

“I joined with my best friend Cerise in 1996 and we both still play and have never missed a Panorama since we joined. Being able to be in a band with your best friend and doing holidays together (I mean tours) and winning competitions by each other’s side is a great feeling. 

“I am an Ebonite through and through. First comes pan and then the rum. Some forget the order it comes in, but for me it is pan before anything!”

Kayleigh Lewis
Kayleigh Lewis

WST - “Do you perform with Ebony’s stage side during the year?”

Kayleigh L. - “Yes, I perform with the stage side but not as much as I used to.  I am in the Ebony Elites, also known as the Ebony Senior band, even though we are much younger than pension age. We had our stage side time, and as there is a generation below us it is their time to be the stage side and do the majority of the gigs and performances. However, us Ebony Oldies still do some gigs and practice throughout the year with each other. We have a tour in France in June that we are practicing for at the moment.”

WST - “What keeps your passion for the instrument, the music and art form going?”

Kayleigh L. - “I love pan. I love love love it. There is something about the instrument that literally makes me zone out and go into my sunken place. It allows me to express myself in so many different ways. Whether I am putting down my own interpretation of a song or playing it, it allows me to feel and enjoy something that isn’t on the surface. You can’t buy that type of passion. The music is deeper than words because you feel every note you play and hear. It really is an amazing instrument that is far more than just playing “Yellow Bird” at carnival. I mean, “Yellow Bird” is a great song but we have a come a long way from that. Steelpan is an instrument that can be played anywhere and be put in any orchestra with other instruments playing any genre of music.”

WST - “Are there any other instruments you play?”

Kayleigh L. - “I can play a good soca beat on the drums in the panyard, although the other members don’t think it is as great I do. So yeah, I play drums. Kind of...”

WST - “What is your vision for Pan in the UK a decade from now?”

Kayleigh L. - “I would love pan to be on the main stage. Not just at Caribbean events. I would love it to be seen as an instrument like a guitar or a trumpet. All on the same level playing field. Ten years is enough time for us to get it together and promote pan as the beautiful instrument it is.”

WST - “Some people are still vague about the steelpan instrument, what it is, and far less, the concept of a full-size Panorama orchestra. Are there still times you encounter people to whom you have to explain the steel band art form?”

Kayleigh L. - “I encounter it all the time. People refer to it as ‘pots and pans’ or those things you play at carnival, and try to reenact playing a tenor pan with their hands higher than their head. Telling people I play steelpan and trying to explain Panorama to them gets a little bit much at times. I really wish I had a small booklet of what it is that I can hand out to people called ‘We don’t just play pan for you to limbo’ - but that could be a bit extreme. But a pan leaflet about what pan is would be a good thing to hand out, to educate the masses.”

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

Kayleigh Lewis

Kayleigh L. - “If I am honest, I am in male dominant roles in everything I do. Stand-up, Sales and Pan are all male-heavy industries and if anything it pushes me, to be considered as an equal. I can be just as good as the men and do it wearing lipstick and a pair of heels.

“In Ebony there were and are great female pan players to look up to. I had the late Crystal Holder who is the reason I play four-pan as she got pregnant and needed a break, and Pepe moved me from double seconds to four-pan which was one his best life choices. She is literally one of the main people who helped me to play my four-pan the way I do. I also have Carlene “Sweetwrist,” Delphina “Panness” and Navina to name a few, that I still look up to, wanting to be just as good as them.”

WST - “Who is your favorite arranger and why? And do you have a favorite arrangement?”

Kayleigh L. - “This is a tough one. I think there are some great arrangers so it’s definitely a hard choice to make. However, I will go with “Boogsie” back in the 90s/early 2000s. I played with Phase II for the first time in 2006 and got my first Trinidad Panorama win, and that was something I could tick off my list.

“I love Boogsie’s music because of the lines he gives to the middle pans. It’s not just strumming. He gives the 3’s and 4’s frontline parts too and even some bass parts. His minors take me somewhere not everyone can get me to. I literally need him to make an album of all of his minors that I can listen to on repeat.

“‘Birthday Party’ is my favourite Boogsie arrangement. It is amazing from top to bottom and you can not help but tap every bone in your body along to it. I have this ‘squint my eyes, throw my hands in the air and wine’ routine that I do to Boogsie’s minors. I just can’t help it. They are just amazing.”

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

Kayleigh L. - “I would change them being so heavy. I know its random but I am 5 foot 1 and hate lifting pan. Most of them are bigger than I am.

“Other than that I would change for Panorama songs to be played twice. Once slow, and then again at pace. When you slow down a song you are able to hear more of the accented parts that can sometimes get lost with speed. I love listening to a song slow, at a low decibel, and then again at a nice speed with dynamics. I think it will allow pans like the middle pans to be heard a bit more, because us middle pans have great music that sometimes doesn’t get heard as much when a song is counted at speed. It will allow the judges to fully judge the music and listen to every section more in-depth.”

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

Kayleigh L. - “To have another family. The pan family is great. I know people from all walks of life that have their own stories that you wouldn’t necessarily connect with on a normal basis. Pan links everybody together from all over the world - and to know I have family in Trinidad, Japan, and Guadeloupe amongst other places, makes me know I have many places to stay if I want to travel the world. I am proud to belong to something. Some people don’t have one family, so I feel spoilt to have a few. To be able to connect to people through music is a wonderful feeling.”

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

Kayleigh L. - “Is that some people put band before pan. Regardless of what band you play for, pan should be the thing we are all pushing together. It is great to be competitive, but at the same time we have a movement that if we all pushed together, we could get further.”

Kayleigh LewisKayleigh Lewis

WST - “Do you believe women in pan are finally getting the acknowledgment and opportunities they deserve?”

Kayleigh L. - “I don’t think we are where I would like us to be. I don’t think it is anyone’s fault, though. We know the arrangers of most bands are men because that is how it is, but it doesn’t mean there is a lack of opportunity for the women. I think that more bands are open to the idea to give women the opportunity to arrange - but are women brave enough to step up to the plate? I think maybe we just need some more encouragement.”

WST - “Overall - what is the Panorama competition to you?”

Kayleigh L. - “Panorama to me isn’t just a day, or just the judging. It is everything from the time and dedication you put in, to the practice, the late ‘limes’ and the banter from band to band. It’s a season to me. Playing on the stage is bittersweet as you want to win the title but it is also a realization that the season is finished.”

WST - “You played with Renegades Steel Orchestra for Trinidad & Tobago’s National Panorama.  Can you share your Renegades experiences?”

Kayleigh Lewis

Kayleigh L. - “My Renegades experience is great. They are my extended family. Sometimes we refer to ourselves as the ‘Ebogades’. I came into the panyard in 2012 and asked to play a four-pan but there weren’t any available so I was offered a quad pan. I had never played quads before (although my four-pan in Ebony is set up similarly to a quad with 2 up, 2 down) - but as it is not an actual quad, I was nervous and didn’t know if my short self could handle it.

“The section leader “Pin” was determined for me to play and taught me over the weekend, and by Monday I had the tune and was having a time with the rest of the quads. It was great to be pushed to try something new by someone who didn’t know me or my ability.

“In 2012 Duvone wasn’t our [Ebony’s] arranger so we didn’t actually have any ties to Renegades but were welcomed regardless. We actually have a WhatsApp group which keeps us in the know of everything pan and Renegades. I have played with Renegades three times now and helped get the win this year which was epic! My quad section aka the White Oak section (because of the amount of rum we consume) was nothing but vibes and hard work. Every year I set foot in the panyard I am surrounded by love, hugs and a White Oak. Renegades is a brilliant, well-organised band run by the female captain Candice [Andrews-Brumant] who is amazing at her job. It is great to see a woman leading a band to success. I loved being a part of the history we made this year.”

WST - “In your opinion, what are the similarities and differences for you regarding Panorama in London, and in Trinidad & Tobago?  The preparation, the competition events?”

Kayleigh L. - “In London we only have one day and one stage to perform on. We only have one chance to get it right. In Trinidad, there are prelims, semis and finals. There are single bands, small bands, medium and large bands. We wear T shirts for Panorama where in Trinidad there are some great - but outrageous, colourful finals outfits. A big band in London is the same size as a medium band in Trinidad. I would say Panorama is just as competitive in London as it is in Trinidad but we know we are on a smaller scale. I look at it like the Euros and the World Cup. The Euros is like London Panorama, and the World Cup is Trinidad Panorama. Both great competitions to win in their own right but one is bigger than the other.”

WST - “Is Panorama a curse or blessing from your perspective?”

Kayleigh L. - “Panorama is both for me. It is definitely a blessing, but for us in London the cost to play in Panorama is definitely a curse. Money aside, it is an absolute blessing. It brings thousands of people together and togetherness is definitely a blessing!”

Kayleigh Lewis with Renegades for 2018 Panorama finals in Trinidad
Kayleigh Lewis with Renegades for 2018 Panorama finals in Trinidad

WST - “What would be your advice to young female panists who are dreaming of becoming involved with the steelpan instrument as a career move?”

Kayleigh L. - “Don’t be scared or threatened by the males in the industry. Men are great but ‘Who runs the world? GIRLS.’ Jokes aside, I think that we shouldn’t have to be seen as male and female to be accepted in music. We should be seen as musicians, and put everything down to the music and not whether you are male or female. Never give up and always know that you are amazing. Dreams can become a reality with pan, and it’s amazing to have women like Vanessa Headley as a role model who is setting trends for us women.”

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

Kayleigh L. - “I would love to see stars like Beyoncé who perform all the time with a live band have a steelpan in the band. To have people performing all over the world with a pan as apart of their orchestra. As I said, Pan is an instrument and I would love for it to be seen as one. Not just a carnival instrument.”

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

Kayleigh L. - “I would love to see Pan and Panorama streamed from everywhere in the world. When I don’t come to Trinidad Panorama I have a ‘lime’ at my house to stream it. Why is a stream not available for London Panorama or America Panorama and everywhere else? I would love to be aware of all arrangers all over the world and all bands all over the world. Pan is not just Trinidad and London to me. I would love to see pan in other countries but we need a main platform to get to know everyone. A live pan stream for every Panorama and Blockorama is needed.”

photos provided by Kayleigh Lewis

   Kayleigh Lewis performs with the UK’s Ebony Steelband during the orchestra’s 2017 winning Panorama Performance

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