Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Solange Baptiste - Trinidad & Tobago

“My love for music and the instrument keeps me going, together with the adrenaline rush and new upcoming challenges which a Panorama piece produces; while performing with fellow band members on the ‘Big Savannah stage.’” 

She  is brilliant, immensely talented, has a positive outlook and full of  confidence. And don’t be surprised if this panist/pilot is the airline captain flying the aircraft that you are on in the very near future. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - Solange Baptiste 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; how did you first become involved in pan?”

Solange B. - “My original musical instrument of choice at age 5 was the piano, where I attended music lessons with Mrs. Lorraine Assing-Borde who taught me to both read and write music. A few years later, at the age of 8, I first started learning the steel pan by my next door neighbour while their son was learning.

“I soon found practicing the piano to be a chore and boring, and the steel pan quickly became my new love; where practicing regularly came naturally and was always exciting. Upon entering secondary school, my father took me to Casablanca Steel Orchestra where my skills began to develop further, and soon after I attended music school by Mrs. Albino-DeCoteau for several years.

“In 2006 I was invited to play with Silver Stars Steel Orchestra for the “Pan In The 21st Century” competition and eventually made them my new home base. In January of 2016, I joined Supernovas Steel Orchestra for Panorama when they made a big step from Small to Large Band Category.”

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

Solange B. - “My love for flying airplanes as well as working with computers may be compared.”

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

Solange B. - “My love for music and the instrument keeps me going, together with the adrenaline rush and new upcoming challenges which a Panorama piece produces; while performing with fellow band members on the “Big Savannah stage.”

Solange Baptiste
Solange Baptiste

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?”

Solange B. - “Multiple categories for the Panorama competition as opposed to previously being two categories, pan round the neck and conventional Panorama. As well as the evolution of music used for competition and the various intricacies which make each arrangement unique and enjoyable in its own way.”

WST - “You are a valued member of one of the respected steel orchestras in Trinidad & Tobago. What is it that makes Supernovas Steel Orchestra different?”

Solange B. - “Supernovas Steel Orchestra is a family-oriented band. Meaning, they demonstrate to players and supporters alike a warm family-oriented style of welcoming you to the band. Each player is made to feel important and needed as a special contribution to what is happening; whether you are playing just for Panorama or if you are performing both with the stage side and by extension Panorama as well. Amrit and the management team, go out of their way to ensure players are safe, comfortable and enjoying themselves. And if you have a problem(s) feel free to approach and they will assist you as best they can.”

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

Solange B. - “Jump straight in, the art form isn’t only for men. As women, we too play an important part in making the art form what it has become today. Many women are involved and have made viable and positive contributions which have helped to groom talented young people and other women and girls alike.”

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

Solange B. - “Women run households and single parent families all the time, more than men do. As a matter of fact many men say the wife of the household is the boss. If women controlled more aspects or all of pan, the instrument would be the child or children, and the fraternity is the family of the analogy. Finances would be properly allocated and accounted for and pan properly taken care of; everything organized and maintained.”

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

Solange B. - “That it continues to grow, be recognized and enjoyed worldwide.”

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

Solange B. - “The most disappointing thing about the pan fraternity, is that we cannot seem to have an appropriate governing body which properly looks after and oversees bands without the accusations of corruption.”

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

Solange B. - “From chatting with persons within my generation, the discrimination, to me has stopped, or at least persons don’t show it much. This generation is more aware of and involved in steelpan, and is growing to appreciate it, especially as our national instrument. But there are however, the few who may dislike it or not understand it and prefer other instruments and genres of music. However, once someone is a musician regardless of instrument, likes or dislikes, respect is given to the title.”

WST - “You may have interacted with others (such as non-Trinbagonians) who did not understand what you mean when you say you ‘play pan’ - if this has ever been the case, talk about how shared your steel band experiences, and their reactions.”

Solange B. - “I usually start by explaining the instrument, giving a brief history and the various types. I try to compare more popular instruments to assist in understanding how the various pans sound. On most occasions I would have my phone in my pocket which has a number of recordings on it and I also have access to the internet – YouTube – by extension. I use these mediums to provide both audio and video of past performances of the wide variety songs and genres which can be played on the steelpan. I also encourage persons to visit the various bands for a closer interaction where they can further engage players and enjoy the live interactions and performances or rehearsals.

“Most reactions tend to be one of amazement and enjoyment of what is being heard. Some want to learn, as well as others seem to dislike it and consider it to be noise.”

WST - “What is your favorite Panorama piece?”

Solange B. - “I don’t have just one, but two favourite Panorama pieces. These are Edwin Pouchet’s Battle Zone and Amrit Samaroo’s ‘Breakthrough’.”

Solange Baptiste (right)
Solange Baptiste (right)

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

Solange B. - “Panorama is a blessing which forms part of Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival season. Although there are other music competitions throughout the year, it provides a medium for bands and arrangers to showcase their talents in a different spectrum and atmosphere.”

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

Solange B. - “To increase the avenues used to promote pan events.”

WST - “What is your vision for Pan in Trinidad and Tobago?”

Solange B. - “To be in every school and community flourishing gracefully, while Trinbagonians learn to appreciate and respect the instrument and not just tolerate it as part of the Carnival festivities; and if possible, all nationals learn how to play it with pride and joy.”

WST - “After playing Pan for some time, several young adults eventually cease playing. Do you have any plans in this regard?”

Solange B. - “As long as the Lord provides me with health, strength and life on earth I will continue playing pan. It’s a part of me and I consider it to be a great stress reliever.”

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

Solange B. - “For members of the pan fraternity to remember “It’s pan before band.” We represent a family of togetherness and that steelband was born in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Solange Baptiste
Solange Baptiste

   Solange Baptiste performs with Supernovas during the orchestra’s 2018 Panorama Finals Performance

photos provided by Solange Baptiste

Their Story, Their Voice, Their Life, Their Dreams - click for more stories

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