Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Ashley Gateson-Amankwah - United Kingdom

“From my perspective I personally feel it (Panorama) is indeed a blessing. The people that I have met over the years, there is a likelihood I would never see again. I’ve got the chance to perform in front of thousands of people and to travel to places I never thought I’d visit. There is no better vibe or atmosphere in any other activity, like Panorama!” 

At an early age she fell in love with the steelpan instrument.  Now an adult the love affair continues. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - panist and musical director Ashley Gateson-Amankwah shares her experiences and  passion for  the steelpan instrument, its music, the art form and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about yourself; who is Ashley Gateson-Amankwah?”

Ashley G-A. - “I am Ashley Gateson-Amankwah. I am the proud owner and musical director of a small but growing family-based steel band called PanUp. 

“I began this epic journey when I was eight years old during primary school. 

“I have had the opportunity to be involved in multiple steel band competitions, such as; Champions of Steel UK Panorama (2005 onwards), Junior UK Panorama and Pan Explosion. 

“I have had the privilege to travel to Trinidad and Tobago for an exceptional experience of being a part of Panorama 2010. The effect of steel pan music has resonated within me.”

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

Ashley G-A. - “During my younger years in Fairchildes Primary School, New Addington, Croydon, there was an impressive selection of steel pans. A known group by the name of Croydon Steel Orchestra (CSO) was where it all started for me. 

Paul Dowie, the Musical Director of CSO was my Pan teacher throughout Primary and High School. My very first pan I started on, was a Double Guitar. Over the years I gained confidence through performing and competing as part of a group. I now play lead pan, Double Tenor for my own band.”

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

Ashley G-A. - “From the moment I started, there was never any discrimination towards female pan players. However, over the years, as I’ve gotten older and more involved with different bands, I’ve found that allowing my talent to speak for itself has given me the confidence to showcase my skills on a public scale.”

Ashley Gateson-Amankwah
Ashley Gateson-Amankwah - PanUp

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

Ashley G-A. - “A big ‘Yes’ to this question!  My mother, father and husband are all involved in my own band. I’m very lucky to share my passion with close family members.”

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

Ashley G-A. - “My passion for pan is ignited by the public satisfaction of the music we produce. On top of that, the pure excitement that children and adults demonstrate when being taught the art of pan is enthralling.”

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

Ashley Gateson-Amankwah with Pan Up
Ashley Gateson-Amankwah with Pan Up

Ashley G-A. - “In 2017 I was taken by surprise as I was nominated for the BAS (British Association of Steelbands) Crystal Holder Award. It’s a treasured moment in my life to have obtained such an achievement.  I now have a collection of medals and trophies I deeply cherish, and I’m proud to be involved in such a great community.”

WST - “Can you share some of your more memorable moments regarding Pan?”

Ashley G-A. - “My proudest and memorable moments would have to be travelling to Trinidad and Tobago in 2010, where I was chosen to perform in the semi-finals of Panorama with Invaders.

“It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass as this experience was second to none. The atmosphere was contagious and very exhilarating. What also adds to this memorable moment was that we learned and performed with the junior band, which went on to winning their category.

“After this experience, We also competed in Holland alongside CSI and another local band later.”

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

Ashley G-A. - “I enjoy every aspect that comes with playing pan. I’m struggling to find a reason to be disappointed but my only comment would be, that I wish steel pan would be more widely recognised and taught around the world.”

WST - “And what excites you the most, and/or makes you most proud about being affiliated with the art form?”

Ashley G-A. - “In East Sussex where PanUp Steel Band is based, we are classed as unique due to being so vastly different to what people of today are used to hearing and seeing. 

“We love to perform for every different event that is asked of us. We’re proud to say we put our own unique touch on contemporary music.”

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

Ashley G-A. - “In the UK the steelband community is now becoming more popular within schools and towns. I believe this will gain more respect for the sweet instrument itself in the near future. I think that every musician is respected for their art in what ever form that may be, which leads me to believe that I can achieve the same.”

WST - “Your band, PanUp SteelBand, is a family band; are there any plans to expand to perhaps include other members of the community? Do you get inquiries for membership?”

Ashley G-A. - “PanUp SteelBand has grown slowly over the years due to relocation. We are now happily situated by the sea in East Sussex. Our numbers have increased and we are continually getting inquiries about children’s and adult classes which are in progress for the near future. We are in contact with friends from other steel bands which come along to some of our performances. Joining in the madness of carnivals held by the coast. Schools and academies local to myself have gotten in contact with me to collaborate in upcoming events with their students.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Ashley G-A. - “Panorama is an event you cannot miss! 

“The process of getting everyone together and the pure intelligence of any arranger who signs up for the job, is outstanding. 

“I thoroughly enjoy Panorama. The intense atmosphere of rehearsals and the urge you get when you feel the rhythm, it’s an experience which is very hard to explain. The energy is palpable!”

Ashley Gateson-Amankwah - BAS Awards
Ashley Gateson-Amankwah - BAS Awards

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

Ashley G-A. - “From my perspective I personally feel it is indeed a blessing. The people that I have met over the years, there is a likelihood I would never see again. I’ve got the chance to perform in front of thousands of people and to travel to places I never thought I’d visit. There is no better vibe or atmosphere in any other activity, like Panorama!”

WST - “Do you have a favourite Panorama arrangement - and if so - what is it about that piece that endeared itself to your soul?”

Ashley G-A. - “My favourite would have to be “Tell Dem” as one of my proudest and most memorable moments in my life was visiting Trinidad in 2010. I had come to the stage where I believed in myself, gained confidence as a musician and proved that I was good enough. So in my opinion I told them through my talents on pan.”

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

Ashley G-A. - “Honestly, I am more of a general listener to all genres of music. I am inspired mostly by a variety of styles. For example: Ska, TV/film, soul, funk, rock, etc. I cannot pinpoint a solo artist but I do generally focus on the ‘What is popular today.’ This type of music we choose to perform is usually what everyone loves to sing along to. This also makes us unique in our own special way.”

WST - “Who is your favourite arranger and why?”

Ashley G-A. - “From this journey I have endeared, Annise “Halfers” Hadeed has to be top of the list of arrangers. My first reason for my choice has to be that he is a technical mastermind of a composer. His process to teach is unique but the pure skill he possesses is inspiring.

“During Panorama, as the tune is coming together, to watch the connection from mind to pan is mind boggling.”

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

Ashley G-A. - “Pan in the next decade will show more upcoming talent, both female and male musicians in the next generation. Pushing for steel pans to become a part of the wide variety of instruments readily accessible by anyone.”

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

Ashley G-A. - “I am very passionate when I teach the art of pan. Children and adults who have disabilities, are unfortunately restricted as to what they can achieve. This is due to the limited stock or knowledge of stands, sticks and pan makers in the UK. So I’d like to change how everyone interprets steel pans and imagine how it can be tweaked so every person can give it a try comfortably.”

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

Ashley G-A. - “Everyone can be inspired by an individual or even an event that they may encounter in their lives. Every experience is a unique one and one to cherish. If you ever get the chance to play or perform on a steel pan, be proud that you’ve been given the opportunity to learn a new skill. 

“As I’ve been playing and performing for over 17 years now, I am amazed as to what can be achieved once you set your mind to it. The art of pan will never die, it will always be available to us for many, many years to come. Let your hands do the talking and show off your skills.”

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

Ashley G-A. - “In my humble opinion, UK Panorama should be more publicized. Drawing from my vast experience within the steel pan community, the channels to promote such a big event is minimal. 

“Panorama is the very first event to start  the spectacle that is Notting Hill Carnival. However, this has never been publicly promoted as well as it could be. It’s a must-see event for all those who appreciate music and respect its art form.”

WST - “What is next for Ashley Gateson-Amankwah?”

Ashley G-A. - “My next step is to become a teacher within schools in East Sussex. To grow my band and to share my musical ethos. To feel the inspiration I felt at a young age to continue the legacy of these instruments.”

photos provided by Ashley Gateson-Amankwah

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