Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Karima Mohan - Atlanta, Georgia

“As the instrument becomes more mainstream, we can’t let the uniqueness of the sound be lost through synthesizing.  The steelpan is its own instrument and sometimes in our quest to show that it can play anything, we sometimes focus on trying to make it fit in to mainstream rather than making mainstream find a place for it.....”  -- Karima Mohan

She successfully juggles being a wife, mother, daughter, and director of NuGen Steelpan Academy.  In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - panist and instructor Karima Mohan shares her experiences, views, reflections and dreams on Pan, and the steelpan art form overall.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about Karima Mohan?”

Karima M. - “I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York to parents of Trinidadian descent.  Over much of my youth, I played the tenor and double tenor with Sesame Flyers Steel Orchestra.  I was also the first captain of the orchestra which provided me with my first leadership role in an organized setting. This leadership role has helped me to successfully navigate my varying roles as: wife, mother, daughter, director in the financial services industry and management at NuGen Steelpan Academy.”

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

Karima M. “I became aware of the steelpan at age 7 at Sesame Flyers International. My parents are founding members of the organization. The organization viewed the instrument as another way to introduce the T&T [Trinidad & Tobago] culture to the children in the community.”

WST - “Tell us about some of the opportunities and unique experiences that the steelpan instrument and community have afforded you?”

Karima M. - “The opportunities have been vast and diverse. Through the steelpan, I’ve met various New York area political figures, obtained community-sponsored college scholarships, appeared on television shows and entertained my community in formal and informal settings.”

WST - “What advice would the 2020 Karima Mohan give to beginning panist Karima Mohan (nee Boyce) of, say, 20 years ago as it relates to the steelpan art form?”

Karima M. - “The steelpan art form has a wider reach than you know. As a young person, I did not always appreciate the instrument. I was afraid my peers would make fun of me for playing an instrument they weren’t familiar with. As a result, I shied away from sharing the instrument and the joy it brought me with my peers outside of the steel orchestra.  I didn’t realize the steelpan was being played around the world at that time.  Unfortunately, I think people are still of that mindset today.  My limited view of the instrument; limited my exploration of it and its possibilities on a professional level.  People always say explore your passion because you never know where it will take you and I’m not sure I did that enough when I was younger.”

Karima Mohan
Karima Mohan

WST - “As the Nugen Steelpan Academy Inc. Founder, Director and Instructor, what is the greatest challenges you are faced with running the operation?”

Karima M. - “Our greatest challenges are marketing, reaching outside of the Caribbean expatriate community, and growth. However, patience is key. We are very proud of our current student base and we hope through word-of-mouth and community exposure we will make headway through these challenges. The NuGen mission (expanding the reach of the steelpan in the Greater Atlanta community) stays paramount in our decision-making.”

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

Karima M. - “I’ve seen growth in the familiarity of the instrument to the masses. The view of the instrument has progressed from exclusively an island sound to a percussion instrument recognized in the music industry. There is more mainstream music containing steelpan sounds across different genres.”

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

Karima M. - “I do. There are so many recognizable females in the steelpan movement today. There are soloists, arrangers, professors, etc.”

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

Karima M. - “Gilmore “Gillos” Thomas, he was the arranger who taught me to play the instrument and grew my skill level to confidently walk into any pan yard. My husband, Nicholas Mohan, definitely gets an honorable mention in the favorite arranger category. His arrangements have Jazz, Latin and Caribbean influences with room to breathe. His sound is unique to him and demonstrates his confidence as a musician and person.”

WST - “What is your favorite Panorama piece?”

Karima M. - “Woman On The Bass, Trinidad All Stars.  Isn’t it loved by all 😊?”

WST - “When you are not listening to pan music, what are you listening to?”

Karima Mohan at NuGen Steelpan Academy
Karima Mohan at NuGen Steelpan Academy

Karima M. - “I listen to smooth jazz, R&B, and pop music mostly.”

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

Karima M. - “Sampling and maintaining the respect for the instrument. As the instrument becomes more mainstream, we can’t let the uniqueness of the sound be lost through synthesizing.  The steelpan is its own instrument and sometimes in our quest to show that it can play anything, we sometimes focus on trying to make it fit in to mainstream rather than making mainstream find a place for it.”

WST - “In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge facing this current generation of steel orchestras - overall?”

Karima M. - “The orchestra itself is a challenge. The amount of work and monetary investment that goes into a steel orchestra, the current generation might view the solo route cheaper and more self-fulfilling. However, the orchestra is important to the steelpan movement.”

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

Karima M. - “My passion comes from a place of gratitude. Most of my key friendships, relationships, intersect with playing steelpan. I met my husband, Nicholas Mohan, playing the steelpan. There were so many people that sacrificed their time in order for me to play this instrument. As a result, I see the best way to say ‘thank you’ is by passing it on. I truly feel if I could allow the next generation half the opportunities the instrument provided me, they would be truly blessed, and the steelpan movement will continue to progress.”

WST - “What is your most memorable experience in Pan?”

Karima M. - “My most memorable experience in Pan is the first Bomb competition in NYC. We practiced all night into the morning for that competition, thought about just not showing up and we ended up winning first place. It was our first competition as a steel orchestra. Sesame Flyers Steel Orchestra never entered a competition before that point. Previously, we assisted other bands in their quests to win NY Panorama. This was our win. We put in the work as a group and it paid off.”

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

Karima M. - “The ease in transporting the instruments. I think the size of the instruments can cause limitations for inclusion in certain venues.”

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

Karima M. - “The continued growth of the instrument. The invention of the e-Pan is a great example. People are also experimenting with the materials used for mallets. It shows that the community is always thinking about innovations.”

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

Karima M. - “I don’t have any disappointments of note with the steelband movement.  However, I encourage the steelpan community to stay united and uplift one another by patronizing events and providing monetary support to the movement. These are actions exhibited by alumni of universities, clubs and other organizations.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Karima M. - “It’s a show more than a competition in my eyes. Bands are telling a story through the player movements, the arranger’s song interpretation, the decoration of the racks even down to the uniforms worn by the players. There is such a vast level of creativity that goes into the production of a Panorama piece. In my opinion, it’s an expression of a group’s vision of a piece that should be accepted and appreciated more so than judged for a competition. It’s an expression of the carnival culture.”

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

Karima M. - “A blessing for the reasons listed above. Panorama gives so many individuals an opportunity to express themselves creatively whether it be through music, dance, décor, etc.”

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

Karima M. - “No.”

WST - “What is next for Karima Mohan?”

Karima M. - “Growing NuGen Steelpan Academy to a nationally recognized steelpan academy in the Metro Atlanta area.”

Contact NuGen Steelpan Academy

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

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