Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Tamika Alexander - New York, USA

After ten years with one of New York’s powerhouse steel orchestras, Tamika Alexander could be described as being ‘Despers USA to the bone!’  She is impassioned about, as she calls him “My big time Arranger! Odie Franklin” of Despers, while also cherishing arranger Marc Brooks, who gave her her first lessons on the instrument at age six.  For Tamika, it’s all about her love for the steelband and her ‘Pan’ family. 

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - the dedicated performing artist talks about her journey in pan to date, and hopes for the future of the steelband art form and community.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about Tamika Alexander?”

Tamika A. - “My name is Tamika Alexander; I’ve been playing sweet sweet pan music for about 14 years now. I started my pan career with Sesame Flyers and now I jam out my summer nights with my family Despahhhhhs!!! (Despers USA).”

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

Tamika A. - “I was first introduced to Steel Pan as a young girl. My father would take me to different pan yards to hear bands practice. I took my first lessons when I was 6 years old from none other than Marc Brooks. When I was 14, I went to a few practices at Sesame Flyers to watch a friend play and I also knew KJ Marcelle. After a few practices the manager asked me to join and I said yes!”

Tamika Alexander with Sesame Flyers - KJ Marcelle is on drums (right)
Tamika Alexander with Sesame Flyers - KJ Marcelle (right) is on drums

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

Tamika A. - “I love everything about the whole experience. The way the band sounds when the different instruments blend together, the vibe I get when I’m jamming to an Odie Franklin Minor! That’s my Arranger by the way!❤. I really just love the way Pan brings people together, being able to share a vibe with old and new members is what drives me to play.”

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

Tamika A. - “As of right now no one else in my family plays pan. I hope to one day get my two sons behind a pan of their choosing! My oldest son Navion is already taking pan lessons.”

Tamika Alexander with son Navion
Tamika Alexander with son Navion

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

Tamika A. - “Never. I just love to play pan. My love for the instrument has always shown itself through my dedication which is fueled by the love I receive from my band.”

WST - “You are an integral part of New York’s Despers USA Steel Orchestra; talk about your overall involvement with the band.”

Tamika A. - “I’ve been playing with Despers USA for ten years now. I started in the summer of 2010. “Last Band” was the song choice and it holds true! Despers is the Last Band I playing for! I’ve been the guitar section leader for about five years now and I am also the vice treasurer of the band.”

WST - “Do you have a preference in which voice of pan you play? And if so, what makes that the case?”

Tamika A. - “I prefer background music. I love jamming on my guitar pan. The way the chords blend and the uncontrollable urge to move; yea, background is where it’s at!”

Tamika Alexander on guitar pan with Despers USA
Tamika Alexander on guitar pan with Despers USA

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

Tamika A. - “Nope. Pan is meh only lovah!”

WST - “What advice would you give to young girls and women who are part of New York’s present-day steelband community?”

Tamika A. - “Women have come a long way in the pan community and we should be more supportive of each other. If music is your passion and you love this instrument and everything about it, don’t give up, just continue to work hard at your goals. We need more female arrangers in this game we call steel pan! If men can do it, we can too!”

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

Tamika A. - “I think women are big contributors to the steel pan art form. We see a lot of women on the committees of bands, from executive board members to section leaders. In that sense I think women are being acknowledged more, however I still think it’s harder for female arrangers to get the support needed to enter the Panorama arena.”

Tamika Alexander with younger son outside the panyard, after recording session with Despers USA
Tamika Alexander with younger son outside the Despers USA panyard, after recording session

WST - “You are a proud mother, and you have brought your son to the panyard. Are you looking forward to the day that your children might develop an interest in and perhaps play, pan - as has been the experience of many in the steelband community??”

Tamika A. - “To be honest... They have no choice, LOL. It’s a dream of mine to see my sons playing pan alongside each other. I grew up listening to pan through my father which sparked my love for the instrument and I hope my sons develop the same love.”

WST - “You may have come across colleagues who did not understand what you mean when you say you ‘play pan.’ If this has ever been the case, talk about how you shared your steel band experiences, and their reactions?”

Tamika A. - “Well when I come across someone who isn’t familiar with pan I always say “You know the round metal thing that sounds like ping pong ping and it’s played on the parkway for Labor day?” Once you say that they automatically know what I’m talking about. I’ve also invited a few of my “outside” friends to a couple of pan events and practices. They all know when summer comes around it’s Pan Season and they can only find me in the yard! DO NOT DISTURB ME!”

WST - “If you had a choice, would you consider pursuing Pan as a full-time musician, as a career path, if it was financially lucrative?”

Tamika A. - “If I can play pan with my band all year round and receive benefits, then yea, I would pursue that career path.”

WST - “Who are your musical influences?”

Tamika A. - Marc Brooks! was the first person I watched play a pan. I also love “Boogsie” Sharpe! His arrangements make me want to dance and sing! And last but certainly not least! My big time Arranger! Odie Franklin! He has been a huge influence in my pan experience. Not only does his music make me want to play, but Odie himself encourages me as a player.”

WST - “Do you have a favorite arrangement? If so, what is it, and why?”

Tamika A. - “Despers USA 2011’s “Trini”!! Why?! Because that’s my arranger’s first Panorama arrangement! And it was a beautiful one too!”

Tamika Alexander with Despers USA Steel Orchestra performing ‘Trini’ during the band’s 2011 panyard recording session

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Tamika A. - “Panorama to me is a Musical “War.” Bands really give every season their all, gearing up and perfecting their craft to battle it out on the big stage. It’s an epic experience.”

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

Tamika A. - “From my perspective Panorama is a blessing. Over the years it has brought many friends together and made them family. Summers spent in the Panyard saved a lot of us from the harsh realities of life. I think the problems we face within our communities are the cause for the negative side of Panorama. The lack of space for bands to practice and the lack of support from the community itself make it easy to wonder if Panorama is even really worth it, but to me it will always be worth it to spend the summer jamming with my familay!”

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

Tamika A. - “If I could change one thing in pan right now, I would change the Panorama judges from a bunch of random people to actual panists who understands music from the perspective of a musician. Meaning they don’t just like pan music but they understand the structure of a Panorama song.”

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

Tamika A. - “I am most proud of our 2018 win! Not only was it my first win it was also Odie’s first win as a Panorama arranger! It was one summer I will never forget!”

Tamika Alexander with Despers USA Steel Orchestra performing ‘Year For Love’ during the band’s 2018 panyard recording session

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

Tamika A. - “What disappoints me the most, is how the organization that is supposed to oversee and provide for the bands in New York is being run. From a player perspective it doesn’t feel like they’re are directly involved with the major issues we New York bands face every season.

“To me it seems like we are constantly asking for help from W.I.A.D.C.A. (West Indian American Day Carnival Association) and not receiving the proper support as a pan community. To be honest I’m still a little salty about what took place in the 2017 “Panorama.” No rain date?!”

Tamika Alexander
Tamika Alexander

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

Tamika A. - “My vision for Steel Pan? Every band has their own permanent panyard and a major sponsor to provide all the needs a band has. Such as new instruments and Panorama uniforms!”

WST - “Do you have any other observations/thoughts relative to the steelpan art form?”

Tamika A. - “They are many talented people within the pan community who I have been blessed to meet and share connections with. I just want to say thank you for teaching me how to become a better player and accepting me for me!”

WST - “What is next for Tamika Alexander?”

Tamika A. - “I am Despers and Despers is me. Wherever my band goes I will follow.”

Tamika Alexander with band mates in the Despers USA panyard
Tamika Alexander (in olive green) with band mates in the Despers USA panyard


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

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