WST - “Tell us about Tiajuana Hernandez?”
Tiajuana H. - “Tiajuana Hernandez is a determined, energetic, talkative young lady who has a passion for music, teaching, traveling and the arts.
“I grew up in the village of El Lluengo, Maracas, St. Joseph, amongst so many talented individuals. My community was a creative one and I can say that the people and environment have contributed to the person I am today. Here, I have done beauty pageants and was crowned “Miss El Luengo 2012” and “Miss Pretty Teen Maracas Valley 2012,” awarded Miss Intelligent in both competitions.
“I attended Curepe Fatima RC primary school. There I participated in the school’s calypso competitions and later Sanfest with the school’s folk choir and parang group led by George Carter. Today, I can say, Mr. Carter is solely responsible for my involvement in music, as he was the person that recognized my talent and taught me to my first note. This was when I started music theory. By the time I graduated primary school I completed grade 4 royal school theory examinations under Mr. Carter’s tutelage. I went to Tunapuna Secondary School where I did CXC Music under Mr. John Ramesar and ventured my creativity into Theatre Arts. I furthered my studies at St. George’s college, where I did GCE music and started practical steelpan exams under the tutelage of Vanessa Marcus Ryan. I sang with the folk, patriotic and gospel choirs, and was a member of Los Chavales de San Jorge parang group, Georgian Steel and Georgian Instrumental ensemble, entering many Sanfest and Junior Parang competitions.
“I have been a member, and played Panorama with Exocubs Youth Steel Orchestra (2012-2013) and Revelation Institute for Performing Education – RIPE (2013- 2018). At RIPE I was a protégé and accomplished grade 6 theory and practical pan exam qualifications. I have also ventured to playing with bands in different categories such as Curepe Polyphonics, San Juan All Stars, Fascinators Pan Symphony, Harvard Harps and my current stageside large band Supernovas Steel Orchestra (2018-present). Apart from steelpan I have learnt to play the trumpet at beginner level, completing two workshops at TTYP (Trinidad and Tobago Youth Philharmonic) Orchestra and have been a member of Los Buenos Paranderos as a singer/maracas player for six years.
“Presently, I am pursuing my BA in Musical Arts at the University of West Indies, St. Augustine. My dream is to become a great music educator, touring solo musician and have a successful music business in the future.”
WST - “When and how did you first become associated with the steelpan instrument?”
Tiajuana H. - “The first time I was exposed to the steelpan was at primary school by my music teacher George Carter. However, at that time I only studied music theory and I never played the instrument. Mr. Carter recommended that I join a steelband to my parents, but it wasn’t until 2012, when my dad, who was always a pan fan himself, registered me at Exocubs Youth Steel orchestra. That was my initial introduction to pan, with my first teacher being Mr. Carter’s youngest son, Kristofer Carter by coincidence. The first song I learnt was ‘Our Nation’s Dawning’ with the novice group; I learnt it on tenor bass, then double tenor. Later, I learnt it on high C tenor and was moved to a higher group that would give me more challenge. My first Junior Panorama was “50 Years of Steel.” Exocubs was truly a great experience in my initiation into the pan world, I was happy to be a part of the Exodus family with the great opportunities I was presented. Following that, I did the Pan Minors scholarship program level 1 & 2, where I got some formal music literacy training and played the double tenor. I later moved to RIPE, which was home band. Here I improved my skills as a panist, leant to play different pans, expanded my repertoire, was a stageside member doing playouts, a protégé and played my first small band Panorama.”
WST - “Tell us about being a player in Supernovas Steel Orchestra?”
Tiajuana H. - “Hmm… “be a part of us” is the Supernovas mantra. That is my first thought when I think about Supernovas. However, I am honored to be a player in Supernovas Steel Orchestra because I was always inspired by the Samaroo family. I used to listen to music recorded by the Samaroo Jets but I never met any of them before. Jit Samaroo is my favourite arranger and I feel like playing with Supernovas in some way is my dedication to him.
“However, it was my friend that brought me to play with the band. I only knew of Supernovas as a small band, but I didn’t know much about them at all. Now I can say being a member of the large band Supernovas is a proud feeling to know the band itself has come a long way, from small to large and has accomplished 2nd in the world. And, I have finally met some of the Samaroo family that played with the Jets!!! Supernovas is really shaped by this family vibe. The members have worked very hard to give the band its name and have recognition, coming from the village where they are. As a player, and a somewhat new member, I would like to continue the hard work and contribute to future growth and accomplishments.
Amrit Samaroo and Tiajuana Hernandez
“Having Amrit Samaroo as an arranger has really made me a better player. He is a very humble person, who has a good relationship with his players. He is very cool and makes a statement in calm ways and I think that character rubs off on the band. I believe once you have played Amrit’s music, who can style you? It’s just his musical style. No matter what pan you play tenor, double tenor, running seconds or cello, you really have to show some level of dexterity. It really draws on technique and the weakest player will improve after a Panorama playing runs, or time on a stageside playing Amrit’s music.
“So I am proud to say that I am a member of Supernovas Steel Orchestra. I think as a player of Supernovas I’m very hopeful, because I know there are plans that management has in store for us that will take us far, and I am eager to be a part of that and make history with the band.”
WST - “Were you ever dissuaded relative to, or encounter push-back for, pursuing your passion for pan?”
Tiajuana H. - “I have. Not just dissuaded from my passion of pan alone but also my passion for music. I have a lifelong auto-immune illness called Lupus. And honestly, I can say my health is a very challenging thing which gets in the way of what I want to do and what I am able to do at times. Lupus gave me second thoughts. However, at times we all have our doubts, and there are always many bumps associated with anything you do. I have accepted that it is a journey and it won’t always be a perfect one, and I can only do what my body allows me to do at a time, and I have to take care of myself. Yet, music and pan are my passion and I cannot for one day imagine life without pan. So there is no way I am letting Lupus get in my way, there must just be a balance, that’s all!”
WST - “What keeps your passion for the instrument going?”
Tiajuana H. - “Pan makes me happy, it relieves my stress, gives me an avenue to express myself and feel free! The feelings while playing with a steelband is priceless. Just knowing that I was blessed with this talent keeps that passion going. But also, teaching students fuels my passion for the steelpan, as seeing the outcome of students playing something you teach them, knowing that pieces of that are a product of you. That is an amazing feeling. It makes me eager to always want to improve and learn something new to pass on to my students. I always look forward to new experiences and there are so many opportunities associated with being a panist; the passion will always be there.”
WST - “What are the thoughts of your family regarding your involvement with the steelband art form, and do any of them play?”
Tiajuana H. - “I am the only panist in my immediate family. However I have younger cousins that have fallen in line and started playing. There is the minority who question whether I can have a successful career with pan or music. Those who don’t appreciation the art form. Some dislike the idea of me being a young girl playing pan all over the country, since it is a safety risk. It never deterred me. However, I must say the majority of my relatives have always supported me. My aunts, uncles and cousins have always cheered me on, looked out for me on television and attended many of my performances. I believe I have had a very strong support system, my parents have always been by my side, waiting up at my rehearsals when I played at junior category, funding all my pan examinations, and now attending my performances and encouraging me when things get tough. Now that my illness has presented me with challenges, I have seen my family encourage me a little more, and I truly appreciate that.”
WST - “It is known that in Trinidad and Tobago, the “home” of Pan, there are those who are indifferent to Pan, and others who do not care for the steelband art form at all. Do you ever cross paths with such Trinbagonians, and if so, does the subject of Pan come up - and how do the conversations continue from there?”
Tiajuana H. - “Maybe I have, but at the moment I cannot think of any incidents of this in particular. The majority of persons that I am associated with is aware of the steelpan culture of Trinidad and Tobago. However, if I do cross paths with such Trinbagonians in that instance of a conversation about pan, it would be an opportunity for me to educate them, to my pleasure.”
WST - “If you had the power to change something in pan immediately what would that be?”
Tiajuana H. - “The stigma of pan being from the bowels of society, involving “badjohns” or the thought that steelpan music is noise or “wine or jam” that exemplifies the devil... Because I believe it is so much more than this. The ability to play pan is truly a gift from God. The steelpan instrument can play any genre of music, that’s including gospel. I think that calypso and soca music, although being popularly featured during Panorama at carnival time should be respected, and not classed as devil worship, especially considering the idea of showcasing the creative skills of arrangers. These genres of music are the culture of Trinidad and Tobago. I definitely would like to change this idea concerning steelpan and pan music.”
WST - “What have you been most proud about as it relates to pan?”
Tiajuana H. - “I am proud that the steelpan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, invented in the 20th century. Over the years, pan has come a long way, considering its history of steelpan, evolving from African drums, tamboo bamboo and metal pans. Innovators have experimented and improved the instrument to the steelpan we know today. Steelpan clashes are now a thing of the past, and there is now healthy musical competition amongst the steelband community at Panorama, which has highlighted the instrument and given it international recognition. People from all parts of the world now appreciate the instrument, starting foreign steelbands, as well as themselves coming to Trinidad and Tobago to partake in Panorama. This indeed is something to be proud of as a member of the steelband community.”
Tiajuana Hernandez at Junior Parang
WST - “What disappoints you the most in the steelpan movement?”
Tiajuana H. - “The same persons attend pan events continuously. More persons should patronize in pan events throughout the year. This is a way to show support to bands, help unsponsored bands raise funds and keep the steelpan culture alive. It is really disappointing when an unsponsored band falls apart due to financial challenges and the core members are separated going to other bands.”
WST - “What are your thoughts, overall, about Pan in Trinidad & Tobago?”
Tiajuana H. - “I believe pan in Trinidad and Tobago has come a long way and we are doing well, yet there is always room for improvement in different aspects. Pan unites people from different ethnic and economic backgrounds, and it’s one of main forms of culture of the country. It should not be seasonal.”
WST - “What changes, if any, have you noticed since you first started out in Pan years ago, and present day?”
Tiajuana H. - “There has been a lot more youth involvement in the steelpan industry, from young players to young arrangers. The number of schools entering Junior Panorama has increased. Having a female president of Pan Trinbago. The change of Panorama structure for categories, dates and venues. Less loyal players and an influx of pan hustlers, where panists play in several bands without allegiance, for monetary purposes - as a result decreasing the quality of playing or dedication to a band. The view of the instrument has progressed.”
WST - “If you had the opportunity - what would Tiajuana Hernandez of today, counsel/tell her much younger self in her first year or two, just getting into the steelband movement?”
Tiajuana H. - “Practice!!!!! Don’t compare yourself to others, everyone will grow at their own rate. Practice!!!! Do not be afraid to explore with your instrument, and do not limit yourself. Only with practice you will get closer to becoming a professional. Put the time into your craft with practice in order to get better. And hold it in there, girl, things will get tough but you can do it. Just practice.”
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?”
Tiajuana H. - “You will always have doubts or challenges throughout your journey. But as one of my teachers told me: have “good bad mind” and don’t give up. Every expert musician was once a beginner, and the more you sweat in peace times, the less you bleed in war. It’s wise to have a musician you look up to, to give yourself an example or a goal to work towards.”
WST - “Who and what are your music inspirations and influences - not only relative to Pan, but also in wider music genres?”
Tiajuana Hernandez with Len “Boogsie” Sharpe
Tiajuana H. - “I try to draw on inspirations from everyone, using them as examples to set goals for myself.
“Firstly, I would say that my music influences start with my all teachers and persons that advised me along my musical journey, from lessons in technique, pan history, music literacy, aural training. These include George Carter, and the Carter family, Vanessa Marcus-Ryan, Desmond Waithe, Maureen Clement, Danté Pantin, Natasha Joseph, Amrit Samaroo, Liam Teague, Dr. Jeannine Remy, Mrs. Patrice Cox-Neaves, Jessel Murray, Khion De Las, Kelly Ramlal, Satanand Sharma, Mr. Harold Headley, Alexica Adams, Devon James, Kelvin Daniel Griffith, Elizabeth Delamatar, Cheriese Pierre, Kurn Lopez, Denzel Headley.
“My musical inspirations include Chronixx, Bob Marley, Tarrus Riley, Hector Lewis, Ken “Professor” Philmore, Jit Samaroo, Duvone Stewart, Mia Gormandy, Keishaun Julien, Aviel Scanterbury, Earl La Pierre, Len ‘Boogsie” Sharpe, Akua Leith, Mark Loquan, Alicia Jaggarsar, Daisy Voisin, Aldwyn Roberts, Erphaan Alves, Roy Cape, Calma Carmona, Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, and many others.”
WST - “What is Panorama to you?”
Tiajuana H. - “To me, Panorama is the greatest experience you can ever have. It’s basically my involvement in Carnival, and the pinnacle of my year. It’s a time I wait all year for. Panorama is more than just the competition that showcases the creativity of arrangers in a big musical expression; it is an entire season that you are most dedicated too, forming bonds with band mates and working together for a common goal, showing loyalty to your respective band. Panorama is music therapy for me. The eight minutes I spend on the stage filled with energy are a product of countless hours of practice but it’s always worth it, win, lose or draw. Panorama is a part of my happiness.”
WST - “And do you have favorite arrangement? If so, what about it makes it so?”
Tiajuana H. - “For many years, I have battled between two arrangements being my favourite. In the beginning, hands down my favourite Panorama arrangement was always ‘Pan in A Minor,’ by my favourite arranger Jit Samaroo. However, after playing ‘Pan by Storm’ with Revelation Institute for Performing Education arranged by Danté Pantin, this became my favourite arrangement I ever played, which made Professor’s and Fonclaire’s “Pan by Storm” contend with ‘Pan in A Minor’ for favourite arrangement. However, if I was to choose a favourite arrangement that I have played with Supernovas for Panorama, it would be 2018’s ‘Sweet Fuh Days’ and for stage side, ‘Moliendo Café.’”
WST - “Is Panorama a curse or blessing from your perspective?”
Tiajuana H. - “Definitely, without doubt, to me Panorama is a blessing!”
WST - “Do you believe women are finally getting the acknowledgment and opportunities they deserve in the art form?”
Tiajuana H. - “I believe with interview features like this, women in the steelband movement are beginning to receive acknowledgement in this present time. Women are taking leadership roles in pan today. The current president of Pan Trinbago—Miss Beverley Ramsey-Moore—is a woman! To some extent, women are finally being acknowledged for their contributions, as today, there are many recognizable females such as deceased Pat Bishop, Maureen Clement, Merle Albino-De Coteau, Dr. Jeannine Remy, Michelle Huggins-Watts, Vanessa Headley, Dr. Mia Gormandy, Natasha Joseph, Keisha Codrington, Yuko Asada and Josanne Francis, to name a few that stood out for me. It is a blessing to highlight the women in pan, as their roles are currently almost equal to men in the panyard, as opposed to the past when women in pan were frowned upon. Both genders have the equal opportunity to learn to play the steelpan or even pursue music or pan as an area of study or career. Women are now pan music educators, arrangers, drill masters, section leaders and even prominent band captains like Candice Andrews-Brumant, captain of Renegades Steel Orchestra, for example. There is always room for more to be done in terms of acknowledgements and opportunities for hard-working women like these contributing to the pan culture and art form.”
WST - “What is the greatest challenge the steelband music art form faces in Trinidad and Tobago today?”
Tiajuana H. - “Funding or finances as well as lack of standardization of the steelpan instrument.”
WST - “With women in several key positions of leadership in Pan in Trinidad and Tobago, what changes would you expect to see happen shortly, and in the long-term?”
Tiajuana H. - “I have already seen the various changes implemented for Panorama 2020, with the split of competition dates and venues for each category, which, although, I was quite skeptical about at first. I believe despite my concerns, it seemed to work in some ways. Yet I expect to see improvements to the organization and planning of these changes for future Panorama seasons. However, the changes that would be most important to me would be the reintroduction of steelband music festivals, year-round pan events and pan pageants, as well as more pan scholarships for pan students and of course, more pans and music education at schools.”
WST - “What is your vision for the steelpan instrument?”
Tiajuana H. - “I believe that my vision for the steelpan instrument would be its standardization. Where there can be a set design of pans available, giving players the luxury of being able to play pans anywhere that they go as there would be a familiar layout. Apart from that, another vision would be to improve the future player’s ability, having proper playing technique, music education and more pan makers to keep the instrument alive in the future. I believe steelpan should not be seasonal and there should be a revitalization of none-carnival events, where other genres of music can be performed to showcase the diversity of the instrument. Events such as Pan Down Memory Lane, Pan in the 21st Century, Pan Ramajay, Pan is Beautiful Steelband Music festival, Junior Steelband festival and National Pan Chutney Competition should be revitalized.”
WST - “Are there any other steelband-related matters you would like to bring forward?”
Tiajuana H. - “Many steelbands do not have a proper sponsor or funds to pay players or manage and maintain their bands, which can cause the band falling apart. Members then separate and join other bands. Also many bands do not have a suitable practice space, facilities or panyard for rehearsal. These are concerns.
“I am thankful to When Steel Talks for featuring me as well as all the others featured. It truly keeps pan history alive and acknowledges members of the pan community. This is good archiving for future research referencing.”
WST - “What is next for Tiajuana Hernandez?”
Tiajuana H. - “Next for me would be completing my music degree and later maybe pursuing my masters in music education. However, my ultimate goal is to follow my aspirations as a music teacher. Apart from that, I would like to improve as a panist and work on my solo pan career. I would like to conquer some more complex solo pieces, on both the tenor and double tenor and maybe dabble my hand a bit in arranging repertoire for a school stage side or youth touring group . I will be continuing with my parang looking forward to new experiences within the parang industry. In addition, I would like to be successful as a music supply retailer, growing my small pan stick business to a one day popular music store. Maybe then you can interview me again for an update of my progress, because I believe I have a lot to contribute to pan.”
photos provided by Tiajuana Hernandez
Their Story, Their Voice, Their Life, Their Dreams - click for more stories
Leave a comment in the WST forum
When Steel Talks shirts
Order yours now!