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Meet Nakita Wilfred - Barbados

“Whenever I play pan, I would drift to this place of total bliss where she [my mother] resides and I can never help but to smile uncontrollably and feel at peace. Onlookers always inquire about my ability to smile so consistently and effortlessly but when I express to them the sheer joy I experience whenever I play, they have a better understanding.” 

The steelpan instrument, in this case, the Tenor, is like oxygen for her.  Pan is Nakita Wilfred; Nakita Wilfred is Pan. And that pretty much tells the story right there. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - Nakita “Empress Sadé” Wilfred  explains  why Pan is the joy of her life, and in addition shares her 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 Nakita Wilfred?”

Nakita W. - “After years of struggling with that question, I can now say confidently that Nakita Wilfred is a passionate, free spirited, lover of life. I am twenty-eight years old and a native to the island of Barbados. Although I acquired a Bachelors Degree in Economics & Management from the UWI Cavehill Campus, my chosen career path for the last few years has been Musician/Steelpan soloist/Artist.

“I stand by the mantra ‘Music Is life’ hence why I cannot go a day without listening to some form of music and creating melodies in my head. I live in my head a lot but it is safe to say that music and steelpan have been a grounding force in my life; the fuel to the fire that keeps me going. I’m down for anything that encourages growth, stimulates my senses and promotes happiness - and music has done just that, and so much more for me.”

WST - “How and when did you first become involved with Pan? Talk about your musical journey in pan over the years.”

Nakita W. - “I am so blessed! I always tell persons that I didn’t choose pan; pan chose me because it just so happened that my neighbour was a steelpan instructor at one of the secondary schools on the island. I was around nine years old at the time when I heard this strange yet endearing sound coming from next door. I ventured over to inquire about what it was and when I saw Mr. Orlando Hurdle standing behind what had looked like a giant metal bowl at the time, using a piece of wood with rubber at one end to create a sound that resonated with my soul; I just had to be a part of that.

“He introduced me to the love of my life; the tenor pan and equipped me with the basic knowledge of the steelpan, and from there I felt like it has been following me ever since. The church I attended at the time formed a steelband which I hastily joined, and soon after, I made my way into the Israel Lovell Foundation Steel Orchestra which was a community-based group. My next move was to the Barbados National Youth Steel Orchestra (BNYSO) in 2007 where acceptance was based on auditions and my musical journey took off from there.

“It was at BNYSO where I was introduced to reading music and it’s also where I met my mentor; David ‘ZigE’ Walcott. He literally took me under his wing and brought me to perform with him at many different shows across the island, notably Harbour Lights’ Beach and Dinner show and the Barbados Jazz festival in 2008.

“Pan as a career only started for me after losing my job as an Accounts clerk in 2014. I left Barbados and moved to St. Lucia for nine months where I had the awesome privilege of playing with Panorama champions Pantime Steel Orchestra and it was there in St. Lucia that I discovered that pan was a part of my purpose. Unfortunately there weren’t many opportunities at the time for a solo panist so I returned to Barbados where things just seemingly fell into place.

“I said “Yes” to every opportunity that presented itself, whether I felt like I was ready or not and expressed gratitude for each one as it came along and the law of attraction just did the rest. I currently perform at many different hotels across the island as well as weddings, receptions, parties or any occasion that beckons for the sweet sounds of the steelpan. I was also blessed with the chance to represent Barbados in Ft. Lauderdale as part of a joint tourism initiative between the BTMI and JetBlue.”

WST - “What keeps your passion for the instrument and art form going? How has it impacted your life?”

Nakita W. - ““For every pain there’s a melody. For every trouble there’s a harmony that brings everything together.” Chronixx dropped that line in one of his recent releases and I truly believe this with all my heart; music heals and transforms. My mother passed away when I was thirteen years old and this obviously devastated me because she was my everything. However, I know she has always been around through my love and passion for steelpan. Whenever I play pan, I would drift to this place of total bliss where she resides and I can never help but to smile uncontrollably and feel at peace. Onlookers always inquire about my ability to smile so consistently and effortlessly but when I express to them the sheer joy I experience whenever I play, they have a better understanding.

“Steelpan has helped me to create new and long lasting friendships and has taken me to places both physically and spiritually that I never thought possible. My love for pan goes far beyond its ability to help me sustain a fairly comfortable lifestyle; steelpan has brought more love into my life.”

Nakita Wilfred
Nakita Wilfred

WST - “Who, and what are you musical influences?”

Nakita W. - “I believe that every genre of music is necessary as it has its own unique audience, drawing people from different walks of life and showing them how connected we all are. I personally am open to listening to all forms of music because I know there is always something to feel and learn. However, if I had to choose it would be R&B, Soca and Reggae. In terms of who has influenced me musically, I would have to say Chronixx, J. Cole, Snarky Puppy, Celine Dion, R. Kelly, Kendrick Lamar, Stevie Wonder, ZigE, Channing Raheim Emmanuel, Andre Forde, Machel Montano, Kes and Erykah Badu, just to name a few.”

WST - “You’ve performed with Mosaic Steel Orchestra, and other bands in Barbados. Share some of your overall experiences with them - difference, similarities, size, repertoire, etc.”

Nakita W. - “When I first played with Mosaic Steel orchestra they had the most members compared to any other band on the island. I think at one stage, membership grew to about a little above sixty players, which characterised it as a large band here in Barbados. Meanwhile the other bands were comprised of no more than twenty players. I thoroughly enjoy every performance whether it is a solo performance, or with a small or large band. However, I get a more euphoric feeling whenever I’m playing alongside sixty or more players. The vibe and the atmosphere just bring out my wilder side, LOL.”

WST - “In addition to the bands in Barbados, have you performed outside of your country? If so, talk about this.”

Nakita W. - “I can safely say that one of the major highlights of my steelpan journey is being afforded the opportunity to travel and play pan. My first time performing outside of Barbados was in 2009 with then-Karmic Steel Orchestra (now renamed Mosaic Steel Orchestra). We travelled to play for the Taste of London and then took a bus to Birmingham where we played for an event held by the Rotary Club. That same year I had my first Panorama experience when some players were selected to play with the Ebonites Steel Orchestra for the annual Antigua Panorama competition. Members have been returning to participate in that event ever since. I’ve played with Ebonites on three occasions and each time on stage surfaced a feeling of belonging.

“My next taste of Panorama came when I played with Pantime Steel Orchestra in the annual St. Lucia Panorama competition in 2015. That year the band won the title which also meant that they performed a hat trick because they won two previous times consecutively. Although I had only been playing with Pantime for a short time, they quickly became my band and I was just as ecstatic for that win as the other long-standing members. Later that year, Pantime also represented St. Lucia at the ICP (International Conference and Panorama) competition held in Trinidad that same year, where despite the results, we put down a formidable performance. I’ve been playing with Pantime for their annual Panorama competition ever since and I don’t intend on stopping.

“The biggest highlight of my career thus far would have to be when I was called to represent Barbados in Ft. Lauderdale on three different occasions as part of a tourism initiative. Performing on such a big stage has opened my eyes and my mind to accepting that life is full of infinite possibilities and I am forever grateful.”

WST - “As a performing artist, you are known as “Empress Sadé.” Share some insight into how this name came about?”

Nakita W. - “For as long as I can remember, I have preferred the name Sadé. Sadé is my middle name and I have always felt more of a connection to that name. I love introducing myself as Sadé because it usually sparks a conversation about the singer Sadé (whom I adore). Empress stems from how I identify myself; hence the name Empress Sadé is the name I created out of love for music and love for self.”

WST - “Given that you’ve been a steelband musician for some time, what is most notably different in your opinion - from when you first started as a youngster, to now, several years later?”

Nakita W. - “The most notable difference would have to be the number of bands still around. This number keeps dwindling as time goes by. Members allow conflict within the band to cause them to lose interest, and the younger generation seem more focused on other activities. Another difference is the lack of pan-oriented events. I remember when I first started playing pan, there were Panyard Limes and regional pan events being held fairly regularly.”

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

Nakita W. - “As a female, the only time I’ve ever felt slightly dissuaded from being involved with pan was when my father did not fully understand my love for pan and expressed to me that it was a waste of my time. I considered this for a moment but quickly came to the conclusion that steelpan is a part of me and I will play on, come what may.”

WST - “What do friends, extended family think of your involvement with the steelband art form?”

Nakita W. - “My friends and extended family all know of my involvement with pan and have been supportive and happy to see me doing what I love.”

WST - “Various genres of music are played on pan. Do you have a preference for any one genre over another, as a musician?”

Nakita W. - “I actually do. My favourite genre of music to play on pan is R&B mainly because of the feelings it awakens inside me. It allows me to drift more freely and vibe more naturally. Soca is a close second, followed by Reggae :)”

WST - “Pan Pun De Sand during Barbados’ annual Crop Over festival features steelband performances. What is this like, and do you participate?”

Nakita W. - “Pan Pun De Sand in Barbados is the biggest pan event for the year and is held during the Crop Over season. It is a free evening concert where bands from Barbados and Trinidad perform on the beach for a crowd comprised of all ages. I’ve performed at Pan Pun De Sand from 2005-2015 and I can remember each experience as vividly as the last.”

WST - “Tell us a bit about your recording project, the steelpan cover of Sanctuary’s ‘Pick Me Up.’”

Nakita W. - “The song ‘Pick Me Up’ was one of the more popular sounds for Crop Over 2017 and I just loved the melody so much I decided to do a pan cover for it. I was privileged to be introduced to Chris Allman of Slamcity Studios and he gave me the opportunity to record the track there. This was my first solo recording and it is even more significant because the original song went on to win The People’s Monarch Competition here in Barbados. Studio vibes are some of the best vibes. The feeling of creating something to make people feel good is very satisfying.”

Nakita Wilfred
Nakita Wilfred

WST - “Do you have a favorite steelband arrangement?”

Nakita W. - “My favourite steelband arrangement is War by Exodus arranged by Pelham Goddard. That song gives me the chills.”

WST - “Do you have a favorite arranger? If so, who and why?”

Nakita W. - “I do not have a favourite arranger but every year I look forward to hearing from Exodus, Pantime, Renegades and Supernovas.”

WST - “What is your opinion on the current state of Pan in Barbados?”

Nakita W. - “I honestly feel as though pan is not thriving as well as it should in Barbados. We currently have no competition to promote growth and longevity and the only pan events we have to look forward to, come around once a year and last three days. I must say however, that I have seen an increase in the number of pan soloists on the island, which I believe is a result of pan being introduced into more schools and churches.”

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

Nakita W. - “The one thing I would change immediately is the absence of a steelband competition. I truly believe that a steelband competition would encourage players to practice their craft more diligently and push arrangers to endeavour to create a masterpiece each year, thereby perfecting their art form.”

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

Nakita W. - “As it relates to pan, I’ve been most proud of the intrigue it gathers from listeners both young and young at heart. I enjoy making people feel good and I am proud to know that I can affect them positively simply by doing what I love.”

WST - “What disappoints you the most in the steelband art form and movement?”

Nakita W. - “What disappoints me in the steelband art form and movement is the disunity that members sometimes display. I believe that some of us live in a state of mind of lack which causes us to sometimes feel threatened by another’s fortune and has also led to persons trying to sabotage others. There is more than enough for all of us and the success of one person does not deplete the success pool in any way. We are all meant to thrive.”

WST - “You may have come across from time to time, people 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 steel band experiences, and their reactions.”

Nakita W. - “This has not yet been the case. However, persons who come into contact with the steelpan for the first time are fascinated by the sound and question me about where it is coming from and how is it possible. It never ceases to amaze me how intrigued they are.”

WST - “What would be your advice to young female players all over the world who are dreaming of following in footsteps such as yours, especially as a career move?”

Nakita W. - “I would advise young female players who are dreaming of following in my footsteps to have a clear vision and love for what you are doing. Life is filled with peaks and valleys and every failure is actually a lesson and an opportunity for growth. Say “Yes” to every opportunity that presents itself positively, whether or not you think you are capable at the time. Trust that you can always get the job done and don’t be discouraged by criticism but rather use it to fuel your growth. There is always, always something to learn so be open and willing to try new things. You never know if you’re going to like it until you try it.”

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

Nakita W. - “My vision for steelpan is to see it genuinely being accepted and recognized as a legitimate musical instrument, and for the players to be respected as professional musicians. I also would like to see more regional pan competitions and pan showcases.”

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

Nakita W. - “Not at the moment.”

WST - “What is next for Nakita Wilfred?”

Nakita W. - “My goals for this year include working on a cruise ship, pursuing my music degree and creating a steelpan album.”

photos provided by Nakita Wilfred

   Nakita Wilfred performs with St. Lucia’s Pantime Steel Orchestra during the 2015 ICP held in Trinidad

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