Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Dianne Ariel Whiteman - Trinidad & Tobago

“....My father David R.C. Graham aka ‘Heshimu’ (deceased) who was also a former panist and drummer for Skiffle, was my main influencer to play pan and I believe that when I play pan now, he’s smiling in heaven and our souls are connected.” 

The talented Dianne Ariel Whiteman is a veteran panist for Skiffle Steel Orchestra in addition to being a mom, teacher and performing artist. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - the panist shares her love and special relationship with the steelpan instrument, its music, the art form and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

WST - “Tell us about Dianne Ariel Whiteman.”

Dianne W. - “I’m twenty-eight years old and the mother of a beautiful one-year-old daughter. I’m currently a Primary School teacher, Art tutor and a teaching assistant. I’ve been playing the steelpan for the last nineteen years and I’m a Stage Side member of the renowned Skiffle Steel Orchestra. Music and Art are my greatest joys, passions and loves; they’re my everything!”

WST - “Talk about your introduction to the steelpan?”

Dianne W. - “At the tender age of seven, I was introduced to the steelpan in a Summer School at Naparima Bowl, Trinidad. The steelpan tutor saw tremendous potential in me, so much so that I was chosen to perform a pan solo at our final concert where I performed “I Believe I Can Fly” and to this day, steelpan music makes me feel that I can fly.”

WST - “What has made the steelpan so attractive to you, what fuels your passion?”

Dianne W. - “From my early childhood to this day, the sound of steel has been my release and the steelpan has been my main channel to express myself. In addition to that, my father David R.C. Graham aka ‘Heshimu’ (deceased) who was also a former panist and drummer for Skiffle, was my main influencer to play pan and I believe that when I play pan now, he’s smiling in heaven and our souls are connected.”

WST - “Does anyone else in your family play pan?”

Dianne W. - “Yes! Presently, my multitalented sister Ashleigh Graham is a 3 Cello player.”

WST - “How do they relate to the long hours of practice?”

Dianne W. - “My family has a long history in the music industry and therefore, we have all grown accustomed to the hours required for success in this industry.”

WST - “As a woman in Pan, have you ever been discouraged from being involved in the art form?”

Dianne W. - “Not to my knowledge. I’m very strong-minded so maybe someone tried but I probably brushed it off easily.”

WST - “You are an integral part of Trinidad’s Skiffle Steel Orchestra; what is your overall involvement with the music organization?”

Dianne W. - “I’m a Stage Side member and I’ve been a member of the band for the past twelve years.”

WST - “What advice would you give to young girls and women who are a part of Trinidad and Tobago’s present day Steel Band community?”

Dianne W. - “Steelband can impact many aspects of your life, not just the duration of hours that you are away from friends and families, but it can also affect your emotions and personality. I want all young girls and women to understand that.”

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

Dianne W. - Duvone Stewart. I naturally like the sound of minor chords and he uses quite a lot of them. I’m also amazed by his method of musical storytelling.”

WST - “Who are your musical influences?”

Dianne W. - “I listen to an abundance of Jazz and R&B music so Jill Scott, Maysa and the band, Incognito. Fusion Steel Orchestra and the gospel group, Resound. I’m also influenced by Steelband arrangers who I’ve had the privilege of playing under such as Liam Teague, Keith Salcedo, Ray Holman, Darren Sheppard, Dike Samai, the Codrington Family, the late Ken “Professor” Philmore and Kendall Williams, Marc Brooks and Odie Franklin.”

WST - “What is the greatest challenge facing this current generation of steelband musicians from your perspective, that of a player/performing artist?”

Dianne W. - “I think that some persons from this generation unfortunately take the steelpan for granted. We’ve maybe grown too accustomed to it and so we no longer treasure it as much as I think we should. We need to increase our appreciation for the instrument. Persons before us have worked very hard to get the steelpan and the pan movement to where it is now.”

Dianne Ariel Whiteman
Dianne Ariel Whiteman

WST - “What is the greatest challenge facing this current generation of steel orchestras – specifically in Trinidad & Tobago?”

Dianne W. - “Sponsorship. In this current generation, numerous steel orchestras remain unsponsored which without a doubt limits their development.”

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

Dianne W. - “To an amateur extent, I can play the Guitar, Piano and African Drums.”

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

Dianne W. - “Panorama. I would change the concept of Panorama from a competition to a festival. The goal then wouldn’t be competing to win but each band will get their own opportunity to showcase themselves in the spotlight.”

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

Dianne W. - “Simply being on stage year after year for Panorama. I feel proud knowing that I have this avenue to express myself, my passion and do what I love in front of an audience that understands my passion and can relate to it. In addition to being able to entertain an audience.”

WST - “What disappoints you the most, relative to the steel band movement?”

Dianne W. - “The politics in the industry.”

WST - “Do you believe women are finally getting the acknowledgement and opportunities they deserve in the art form?”

Dianne W. - “Yes, thankfully!”

WST - “Is Trinidad and Tobago doing enough to recognize its steelpan greats? What is the responsibility of the young people in this regard, if any?”

Dianne W. - “No. I’ve seen groups and individuals attempt to recognize our greats but I believe that our country on a whole needs to do more to recognize our greats. I think our young people and young steel panists need to learn as much as possible about our steelband greats. The more you learn, the more you’ll respect these icons!”

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

Dianne W. - “To me, it’s both.”

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

Dianne W. - “I would first like for Panorama to have a larger international audience so that the art form can reach wider and new audiences. In addition to that, I would like the International Panorama to happen more frequently. 

“With the International Panorama, I think an interesting idea would be to have renowned arrangers working together on an individual song and also, to have members from numerous bands play together in one or several bands.”

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

Dianne W. - “No. Thank you very much for this opportunity!”

photo provided by Dianne Ariel Whiteman

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

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