Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Jenica Henry - New York, USA

“Set Goals, Stay Focused and don’t be afraid to fail (pressure can either bust pipes or make diamonds….and you, darling, are diamond material). Also don’t get caught up in changing who you are or what you value to make anyone else happy. Always be the most organic you that you can be. There is no one else like you and it is the only thing that can truly set you apart.” 

For this deep-thinking intellect and professional - the pan has been a constant companion that has now crossed and fused generations through a common experience for her children and her. Goal-oriented and focused, the extremely talented panist and pan mom Jenica Henry brings it all to the table. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - she shares her devotion 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 Jenica Henry?”

Jenica H. - “Born and raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn. First generation American of Jamaican decent. Mother of 4 (ages 14, 13, 7, and 3). Results-driven management professional; I embrace development both professionally and personally and love any opportunities. I love diversity and more so love being a member of the Afro-Caribbean Diaspora (I just love being a Caribbean girl).”

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

Jenica H. - “I had a best friend who I met in elementary school, Makeda Peters; her mom Joann Patterson (and by extension her family) is really who introduced me to pan and the culture of Trinidad and Tobago. As a child I always danced and acted and so in 1997 at age 16 when I first stepped into a pan yard (Umoja) I fell in love. Like I neeeeeeded to learn how to play. What made the big difference for me was that most of the members of the band at that time were kids that I already knew from growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn.”

WST - “You are an organizer, performing artist, manager, wife, steelpan player, administrator and of course, Mom. Outside of being Mom - which role do you cherish the most?”

Jenica H. - “Honestly to me they are all in a way the same. There are a set of skills that are completely transferable across all of these platforms. It’s really hard for me to choose one as I excel at them all, primarily because I don’t change much of who I am and what I can bring to the table when I wear these different hats.”

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

Jenica H. - “It’s usually harder in the summer months because I have to go to work the next day, but it does not bother me much. When you love what you do it’s not a chore it’s a pleasure worth sacrificing for (I have gained an appreciation Black coffee J)”

Jenica Henry
Jenica Henry with D’Radoes Steel Orchestra

WST - “Your children have played pan, in the same orchestra as you. Talk about their participating in Panorama, through their eyes, being a member of a large steel orchestra of one hundred musicians - your observations of them over the years?”

Jenica H. - “For me personally, it’s the main reason why I am still an active member of the steel pan community. Steelpan, in essence, is the reason my children are here.  Their father and I met in the pan yard. Every fiber of their being captures the essence of that particular time back in the late 90s, early 2000s when we were playing Bradley’s Music.  My son has no formal music training however he can play music by ear. My oldest daughter has already mastered the tenor bass and is interested in learning how to play the double seconds.  My 7-year-old daughter with no formal training has started to create original short arrangements on her own.  They love the steelpan and culture. There is no place that they would rather be than in a pan yard with their family and friends every summer.”

WST - “What, if anything, has changed since they were very young, running around the Panyard, to now being performers themselves?”

Jenica H. - “Beside there being a lot less practice space... Nothing much.”

WST - “At this juncture, yours is a completely musical family - you, your children, and their father are all performing artists. What is this experience like, overall, for you?”

Jenica H. - “Though their father and I are no longer together it means the world to me.  They are extremely musical because of the traditions and values that we have both instilled in them. They are able to share the joys of Steel Pan with the both of us and because we are amicable.”

WST - “Do you feel their involvement as musicians in the orchestra, positively impacts their education?”

Jenica H. - “Absolutely. My rule is... If they don’t get good grades they can’t play Pan J

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

Jenica H. - “Honestly I love them all but if I had to choose one I will have to say Clive Bradley. Like the entire vibe was different working under him.  One of my fondest (there are many) memories of him was how he gave us music. He would have the section leader of each section with their pans set in a circle around his keyboard, a sort of intimate session and we would just Jam. And as we played and Bradley heard something he liked, he would just look up and smile showing all the teeth he could show. It was like real love back then, for the music, for the instrument and particularly for the players.  He had a separate relationship with each one of his players, and he didn’t wait for you to say ‘Hi’ - he went out of his way to make sure he got to know you (the player).”

Jenica Henry
Through the years...   Jenica Henry with Pantonic Steel Orchestra

WST - “What is the greatest challenge facing this current generation of steel orchestras - specifically in New York?”

Jenica H. - “Finding close, affordable and adequate practice space.”

WST - “What disappoints you the most relative to the steelband movement?”

Jenica H. - “The lack of unity amongst the generations.  There is a new era of Pan being ushered in, however - the transition seems not to be a smooth one because a lot of the elders are holding on to the “Way things were.” There is no desire to pass their knowledge of the business on to the next generation (unless they are the immediate family members). It’s creating an ‘Us vs. Them’ when in essence we are all one.”

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

Jenica H. - “Administration L

Jenica Henry (at right)
Jenica Henry (at right) with Hip Hop artist Wyclef Jean, and fellow panist Athena Nicole in Pantonic’s pan yard

WST - “Who are your musical influences?”

Jenica H. - “I love Soca music, Ole School Dancehall and Rockers and R&B.”

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

Jenica H. - “Everything. My family, my friends, the music, the drama, the culture. PAN IS LIFE. J There is no group of people in the world that I can relate to like I relate to my Pan Family.”

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

Jenica H. - “No, though I did have an interest in learning Bass guitar.”

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

Jenica H. - “The connections and friendships I have made (many of them are stuck with me for life). I have had the pleasure of meeting some really awesome, amazing, and talented people.”

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

Jenica H. - “Some progress has been made however there is still much to be done.  I want to see more women making pans, drilling, tuning, arranging, being captains, etc. As far as I see, we are stuck with more administrative duties, taking notes, organizing the players’ meals and sorting Panorama uniforms.”

Jenica Henry
Jenica Henry

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

Jenica H. - “Set Goals, Stay Focused and don’t be afraid to fail (pressure can either bust pipes or make diamonds….and you, darling, are diamond material). Also don’t get caught up in changing who you are or what you value to make anyone else happy. Always be the most organic you that you can be. There is no one else like you and it is the only thing that can truly set you apart.”

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

Jenica H. - “It’s a blessing. I just love that if nothing else it continues to evolve. That’s the beauty in the nature of the Steelband art form, it is that it always matures, never staying the same.”

WST - “You have experienced Panorama victory in New York with both Pantonic Steel Orchestra and D’Radoes Steel Orchestra - describe your personal journey?”

Jenica H. - “My participation in Panorama and the victories that followed suit have definitely had a positive influence on me both personally and professionally. I am results-oriented and goal-driven execution is key for and integral to my success. I’ve learned through my victories that with hard work, dedication, practice and patience will help you achieve any goals you set.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Jenica H. - “For me it’s an annual celebration of Steel. It is a period of time during where you build bonds and form alliances with individuals like yourself who love and appreciate the steelband art form.”

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

Jenica H. - “I would love to see the evolution of a Foreign Exchange-type program for students. Where they can gain experience and academic credits while preparing and participating in Panorama, as well as learning how to make and tune Pans.”

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

Jenica H. - “When it comes to Pan administration there is this huge generational gap that we have yet to bridge creating an ‘Us vs. Them’ atmosphere. Once we bridge that gap, we will be able to develop a solid platform that can be used to propel the not only the instrument but it’s players. There is so much more that can be done for steel pan players who are often the last to benefit.”

   Jenica Henry performing with Pantonic Steel Orchestra

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

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