Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Ronica Gordon - Trinidad and Tobago

Her vision for Pan - “For the national instrument to be treated as such, for pan men and women to be secured after retirement, for steelpan to reach as far as being featured on the Grammys and also to be a popular instrument which artists from across the world would use to create their music.....”  -- Ronica Gordon

She has had many rewarding experiences through her life long association with the steelpan instrument.  In addition she has been a member of a couple of the greatest steel orchestras in the history of Trinidad and Tobago Pan. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - panist Ronica Gordon 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 - “How and when were you first introduced to the steelpan instrument?”

Ronica G. - “I was first introduced to the steelpan at the age of 10 when I was welcomed into Carib Dixieland Steel Orchestra as it was the band my family supported. My uncle was the captain at a point and my brother played drums for the band.”

WST - “What made you fall in love with the steelpan instrument and its music?”

Ronica G. - “Passing by the pan yard and hearing that sweet sound of Calypso and Soca being played on the steel pan made my love for the instrument grow stronger.”

WST - “You are a valued member for Renegades Steel Orchestra and a member of their stage-side. Tell us about some of your travel with this band through pan.”

Ronica G. - “I recently joined the Renegades Steel Orchestra in 2018. I travelled with the band to Miami in 2019 to perform for the stars of Trinidad and Tobago Steel Band Spectacular. I am just getting started.”

WST - “Renegades is one of the Trinidad & Tobago music gems. What is it that makes Renegades so special?”

Ronica G. - “Besides being the only large band with a ‘Hat trick,’ I think it’s the vibe, aura and quality of music we portray for our listeners, not forgetting the management that glues the band together. It’s an all round effort that has the band where it is today.”

Ronica Gordon
Ronica Gordon

WST - “As an accomplished performing artist, you’ve previously been a member of other bands, including Dixieland, and Phase II. Talk about your musical progression along the way, what perhaps stood out in the different musical experiences, and your decisions to move on.”

Ronica G. - “I must say each band is unique. In Dixieland I’ve played arrangements from great arrangers such as Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Leon “Smooth” Edwards and Eman Hector. I moved to Trinidad in 2011 to further my studies but never had the intentions of ‘horning’ my band, LOL. I started following Duvone Stewart’s music around that time and fell in love with it; also being from Tobago I just wanted to have the opportunity to play his music. I said if I have to play with another band Renegades would be ideal but being the shy person I am, things didn’t work out at that time so my friend Natasha Joseph encouraged me to join Phase II.

“An invitation was also extended by Cheo Cato to play with Pamberi which I did for a couple years, in which I was honored to play great arrangements from him and Brian Villafana. Playing arrangements from the musical genius Mr. Len “Boogsie” Sharpe was an experience I would cherish for the rest of my life especially falling in love with his background music.

“Unfortunately in 2018 it was time to move on to my designated home at 138 Charlotte Street, home of the 11-time champion band Bp Renegades. Luckily for me the transition was easier than I thought because I met Captain Candice Andrews-Brumant through my job which opened the door for me. I explained my interest in joining the band and was welcomed with open arms. I am honored to be a part of such an amazing organization and also finally getting to play Mr. Stewart’s arrangements. Every arranger has their unique style and I would always cherish and appreciate those that I have been a part of.”

WST - “What fuels your passion for pan?”

Ronica G. - “The art form itself, the arrangements and the love I have for the instrument.”

WST - “Do you have a favorite arranger? If so, who and why?”

Ronica G. - “I don’t have a specific arranger but love arrangements from Duvone Stewart, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Clive Bradley and Dr. Jit Samaroo.

WST - “And what about a favorite arrangement?”

Ronica G. - “I have many favorites such as ‘Pan in A Minor,’ ‘Guitar Pan,’ ‘Misbehave,’ ‘Birthday Party,’ ‘Pan by Storm’ and ‘Woman is Boss,’ just to name a few.”

WST - “Do you prefer any specific genre of music on Pan?”

Ronica G. - “No, steelpan can play anything”

WST - “Who are your musical influences overall, including outside of pan?”

Ronica G. - “My musical influences are Duvone Stewart, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder and Dr. Jit Samaroo.”

WST - “You are truly a practitioner of the performing arts - you are an accomplished singer, dancer, and musician. Do you have a preference?”

Ronica G. - “Musician.”

WST - “How did the nickname “Drumma-Girl” come about?”

Ronica G. - “I grew up drumming on walls, desks in school, Crix pans, and people started calling me drummer girl. I further went on to join my cousin’s drumming group where I was the only female at the time playing the Djembe, and I also played the drums in church.”

WST - “ Is the support for the arts to your liking in Trinidad and Tobago?”

Ronica G. - “No, there is room for a lot more people to get on board with this art form, hopefully it changes soon.”

Ronica Gordon
Ronica Gordon

WST - “In 2012, you joined one of the powerhouse steel orchestras in Antigua, Halcyon, for the annual national Panorama competition. How did this come about?”

Ronica G. - “I was a stage side member of Carib Dixieland and we got the invite from the Prime Minister at the time Mr. Baldwin Spencer.”

WST - “Talk about that overall experience - and also share on some of the similarities, and differences, relative to the Panorama experience in Antigua & Barbuda, and in Trinidad & Tobago.”

Ronica G. - “It was great to experience another country’s Panorama. Only difference to me is that we had a shorter time to learn the Panorama tune; the first year we actually learned the tune in 2 hours. They welcomed us and treated us like royalty. They had the same vibe in the pan yards as we do in Trinidad.”

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

Ronica G. - “For the national instrument to be treated as such, for pan men and women to be secured after retirement, for steelpan to reach as far as being featured on the Grammys, and also to be a popular instrument which artists from across the world would use to create their music.”

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

Ronica G. - “Branding and Marketing”

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

Ronica G. - “Bands/players being given the opportunity to travel the world.”

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

Ronica G. - “The lack of respect for the instrument.”

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

Ronica G. - “No.”

Ronica Gordon with Renegades Steel Orchestra - Panorama 2019

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

Ronica G. - “Not fully, we are getting there slowly.”

WST - “What are your feelings on the embracing of popular tunes by the large steel orchestras for Panorama?”

Ronica G. - “I like the idea, it shows the versatility of steelpan and arrangers creativity to take a simple two chord tune and develop it into an 8-minute arrangement. It also helps the art form where artists from different genres can realize that there are no boundaries for the steelpan where music is concerned.”

Ronica Gordon
Ronica Gordon

WST - “What advice would you give to young and upcoming females who would like to follow in your footsteps?”

Ronica G. - “Enjoy life, stay disciplined and committed in everything you do.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Ronica G. - “Panorama is showcasing our steelpan culture, arrangers and players to the world.”

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

Ronica G. - “Everything has advantages and disadvantages. It’s a blessing because it showcases arrangers’ talents, helps promote steelbands, players and the Savannah experience. I won’t say it’s a curse but the competition aspect of it sometime divides bands and players causing animosity among each other.”

WST - “What is your vision for the instrument?”

Ronica G. - “To get the respect and attention it deserves.”

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

Ronica G. - “Not currently.”

WST - “What is next for Ronica Gordon?”

Ronica G. - “To continue contributing to the art form and to further my studies to expand my résumé.”

photos provided by Ronica Gordon

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

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