Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Rheanne Edwards-Babb - Trinidad & Tobago

“The greatest challenge for this current generation is that there are too many distractions for them. Compared to when I started out, it’s a bit harder for this generation to stay focused with all the technology that exists. The onus is on them to use modern technology to enhance themselves and the artform and not make it a weakness.” 

She is a life-long Skiffle Steel Orchestra panist who fell madly in love with the steelpan instrument, its music, the art form and more. The extremely talented Rheanne Edwards-Babb has gone from child to woman with the steelpan always at her side. Just take in her story and experience her journey.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

WST - “Who is Rheanne Edwards-Babb - tell us about yourself?”

Rheanne E-B.  - “Rheanne Edwards-Babb is a very simple person with a drive to achieve whatever I set out to do. I’m the proud owner of ‘Miss Rhe’s Homework Centre.’ I opened a homework centre because it is my belief that homework is essential for children to get the required reinforcement for work done during the school day. However, due to many different circumstances of parents, some are not able to provide the necessary supervision and assistance; this is where I come in.”

WST - “When and how did you first become associated with the steelpan instrument?”

Rheanne E-B.  - “My first direct involvement with Steel pan was in 1999 when I started playing pan with my school band, San Fernando Secondary Comprehensive better known as “Ole Tech Steel Orchestra.” As the Panorama season was approaching all the new members like myself began talking about having the opportunity to play pan for Panorama. Of course, at that tender age my mother was a bit hesitant, but she was given the assurance by a member of Skiffle at the time (Richard Knights) that I would be taken care of. I remember it like it was yesterday. On Sunday Dec 12th, 1999 my Mom took me to Skiffle Pan Theatre and I played in my very first Panorama in the year 2000. This year was in fact my 20th Panorama with the band.”

WST - “Tell us about being a female player in the world-famous Skiffle Steel Orchestra.”

Rheanne E-B.  - “When I first joined Skiffle, I was the youngest female member and the band was male-dominated. This, however, didn’t put me at a disadvantage; I was taken under everyone’s wings and treated as the baby sister. As time passed the demographics of the band changed and the male-female ratio is now a bit more balanced. Actually, the band’s stageside could now be considered female-dominated.”

WST - “In your opinion, what makes Skiffle Steel Orchestra different from other steel orchestras? And what are the similarities with other bands?”

Rheanne E-B.  - “In my opinion, Skiffle’s main difference to other bands would be our repertoire. I think we have a very wide variety of music with regards to genre and musical arrangement styles. This is a result of our calculated choice of tunes and not having an in-house arranger, respectively. Over the years we have engaged many arrangers for both Panorama and stageside music. Even though we have not excelled in the Panorama circle (as yet), we have made our mark for having great concert performances and for being successful at Music Festivals.

The most obvious similarity with other bands would be sharing the love for the instrument.”

Rheanne Edwards-Babb - Antigua, Moods of Pan - 2008
Rheanne Edwards-Babb (at right) - Antigua, Moods of Pan - 2008

WST - “You are a valued veteran member and perform with the stage side. Talk about some of your global travel through Pan over the years.”

Rheanne E-B.  - “I joined Skiffle’s stageside immediately after Panorama in 2000. My first international trip with the band was way back in 2001 when we travelled to Canada and I’ve been on almost every trip since. It’s always an opportunity and a blessing to represent my band (and my country) especially internationally. I’ve been to Antigua, Barbados, Cuba, Grenada, and Jamaica (regionally) and been to different parts of America numerous times. My most memorable performance in the Unites States would be performing at Madison Square Garden for World Steelpan Music Festival Finals in 2005. We’ve recently established a Skiffle USA out in Virginia. It is located at a college named Sweet Briar College. As a result of this, we travel to Virginia quite often to keep that fire and bond going.”

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

Rheanne Edwards-Babb
Rheanne Edwards-Babb

Rheanne E-B.  - “Cautioned yes, dissuaded, no. As in everything else, especially during my school days, my mother would give guidelines to stay on the ‘right path.’ However, she always encouraged me and was my biggest supporter. Times have changed and being a pan player, especially a female pan player is no longer frowned upon.”

WST - “What keeps your passion for the instrument going?”

Rheanne E-B.  - “That’s easy: my love for the instrument and the artform. Steelpan has been my comfort for many years. During my school days (Secondary and Tertiary) steelpan kept me going. Whether it be to just take up my sticks and start playing at 2:00 a.m. when I’m tired of studying, or even to head to the panyard nightly for practice while studying at UWI. This instrument called steelpan even got me out of my worst depression. My mom passed away at the beginning of the 2011 Panorama season and the only thing that comforted me was being at the panyard.”

WST - “Do any of your family members play pan? If so, tell us about them.”

Rheanne E-B.  - “Yes, my husband Brandon Babb also plays pan. Brandon has been a member of Skiffle since 1996 and has been a Co-Captain of the band from 2016 to present.”

WST - “What changes, if any, have you noticed since you first started out in Pan years ago, and present day?”

Rheanne E-B.  - “One major change is the manner in which information is spread. It’s easy for a band to make announcements about their activities with the use of social media. Bands release rehearsal dates, tune of choice and even upcoming events via their Facebook page, etc. There are also numerous pan groups like When Steel Talks and Pan Paparazzi where information about what is going on in the pan fraternity is disseminated.”

WST - “The contributions of women to the steelpan movement are undeniable. Do you believe women are finally getting that acknowledgment?”

Rheanne E-B.  - “Definitely. For the first time in history, we have a woman holding the title of president of Pan Trinbago. We even have an all-female steel orchestra named Platinum Steel. Of course, I must also mention this forum where you take the time to acknowledge us ‘Women in Pan’.”

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

Rheanne Edwards-Babb
Rheanne Edwards-Babb

Rheanne E-B.  - “To date, Skiffle’s victory at the first World Steelpan Music Festival in 2000 holds the title of my proudest moment when it comes to pan.”

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

Rheanne E-B.  - “I’m disappointed every year when Panorama results come out. The reaction of the members of the bands that didn’t win is distasteful. Yes, I’m also saddened when my band doesn’t win; however - I would never make it a point to put down another arranger or band for their efforts. “Pan Before Band.””

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

Rheanne E-B.  - “If I had the power to change something, I would put things in place for Trinidad to be the main supplier of steelpan to the world. This is our instrument, we should have better control of its production.”

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

Rheanne E-B.  - “My advice to these young ladies would be to continue to believe in yourselves and work hard to achieve your goal. The sky is the limit. P.S. Brace yourselves for the long nights of practice.”

Rheanne Edwards-Babb

Rheanne Edwards-Babb with Skiffle Steel Orchestra at Panorama 2019

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

Rheanne E-B.  - “I admire most arrangers simply for that gift of being able to compose music. My choice of favourite arranger may be a bit biased. Very early in my Steelpan journey I worked with living Legend Len “Boogsie” Sharpe. Going through the motions for doing the music for World Steelpan Music Festival 2000 was a very exciting experience. This was the first time that I was playing such intricate music. That experience has definitely influenced my choice in music arrangement style. I must say though that steelpan is in good hands. We have some incredible arrangers who are now making a name for themselves in the Steelband world.”

WST - “And do you have a favorite arrangement?”

Rheanne E-B. - “‘In the Rainforest’ - even after so many years, is still one of my favourite arrangements of all time.”

  Skiffle Bunch performing In The Rain Forest at the 2000 World Steelband Music Festival

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

Rheanne E-B.  - “The greatest challenge for this current generation is that there are too many distractions for them. Compared to when I started out, it’s a bit harder for this generation to stay focused with all the technology that exists. The onus is on them to use modern technology to enhance themselves and the artform and not make it weakness.”

Rheanne Edwards-Babb, at left - 2008
At left: Rheanne in 2008

WST - “What is the greatest challenge the steelband music art form itself faces in Trinidad and Tobago today, in your opinion?”

Rheanne E-B.  - “In my opinion, the greatest challenge today would be the change in the economy. Hiring or hosting a steelband to perform at an event comes at a cost. These costs include payment for the transportation for players, transportation of instruments, as well as payment for players. As a result of this, most organisers opt for hiring a soloist as compared to the band itself to cut costs.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you, personally?”

Rheanne E-B.  - “Panorama is the biggest pan-related competition in Trinidad and Tobago where thousands of pan players come together to showcase our talent. It is one of the most dynamic and musically-inclined competitions in the world. Persons from far and wide visit our country to witness and/or be a part of it. As a pan player, the feeling you get when you hit that big stage is like no other. It’s pure bliss.”

  Skiffle - ‘Hello’ - Panorama Finals 2018 Trinidad Live - Panorama - 2nd place performance

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

Rheanne E-B.  - “It is a bit of both. Because my band is yet to win the competition, I sometimes feel as though it is a curse; however, it is a blessing to hear the mind-blowing arrangements that cross the stage for the competition.”

WST - “What is your vision for Pan in Trinidad and Tobago a decade from now?”

Rheanne E-B.  - “My vision for Pan in Trinidad and Tobago a decade from now would be having steelpan as a compulsory instrument for music exams in schools and to have year-round major pan events. Panorama shouldn’t have to be the ‘be-all and end-all’ for some bands.”

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

Rheanne E-B.  - “Not at this time.”

WST - “What is next for Mrs. Rheanne Edwards-Babb?”

Rheanne E-B.  - “I’m going to continue loving this artform and being a dedicated person to my family, friends and to my band, while pushing forward with my vision of a homework centre.”

photos provided by Rheanne Edwards-Babb

  Skiffle Steel Orchestra performing at Moods of Pan 2008

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