Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Amenti Quashie Francis - United Kingdom

“Music is literally in my blood… in fact, it’s in my soul… my soul sings through music. Music has been an important part of my life because of my relationship with healing through sound. We are born through sound and when we die music is played to walk us home, so a life without music can never be......”  -- Amenti Francis

Known as “The Priestess of Pan,” she successfully juggles every aspect of Pan - spiritually, mentally and physically.  In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - panist, performing artist, teacher, speaker Amenti Quashie Francis shares her experiences, views, reflections, expectations and dreams on Pan, and the steelpan art form overall.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

When Steel Talks ‘Celebration of Women in Pan’ logo

WST - “How and when were you first introduced to the steelpan instrument?”

Amenti F. - “I was introduced to Pan in the womb! My mother was an avid Pan fan and so she was jumping up to sweet pan when I was in the womb. Ebony Steelband won their first Panorama the year that I was born, so it’s my claim to fame! From in the womb, I was ready and waiting to enter the world of Pan! My family is from Trinidad, (and came to the UK during the Windrush Era) so pan and soca are a part of our culture and a big part of our family traditions. I started to play pan at school and then joined Ebony, as a player, at 15 years old.”

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

Amenti F. - “I would have to say my first love affair with Pan began as a child. I am from the Quashie/Lewis family who have been a part of The Notting Hill Carnival in the UK, especially within the foundations of Pan, Mas, and Community, and still are to this day. I come from a lineage of Pan players, Leaders, Healers, and Mas Makers. My whole family plays and have played in the band over the years - Earl Lewis, Carl Lewis, David Lewis, Wayne Lewis, Norma Quashie, Doreen Quashie, and Joyce Quashie. My grandmother, Monica Lewis was the resident Mas Maker for Ebony, so our house was always filled with the smell of glue, and sequins were everywhere.

Amenti Quashie Francis
Amenti Quashie Francis

“As a child, my summer holidays were centered around Ebony Steelband! I remember walking from White City to Ladbroke Grove, which was like the Mecca for Pan in London. I always remember the excitement! My whole family would get ready and walk down to ‘de yard’ for practice… my earliest memory was about 4 years old!  It was infectious. I would hear the pan playing from way down the road and my heart would beat with excitement. My Nan would say “De Pan Jumbie have you” and it did! Truly! I would go in the yard and all I thought was… “I wanna do this someday!” And I did!

“I later joined with my younger sister Pattrina Quashie and cousin Michelle Bartholomew. Twenty-five years later, my children play, my sister is one of the directors of Ebony and my mother, Irene Quashie is the chef, so the family has been integral to why I love Ebony Steelband. This is Ebony, Ebony is legacy!

“We have deep, strong roots that we are proud of and Pan and Mas are a huge part of my culture and my family. Pan is in my blood and my family is truly “Trini 2 De Bone” (with a sprinkle of ‘Greens’)”

WST - “You are a valued member of Ebony Steelband. Tell us about some of your travel with this band through pan.”

Amenti F. - “I have been in Ebony Steelband as a player for about 25 years now. I have traveled extensively across the globe with the band. This was one of the blessings that Pan gave me, especially Ebony Steelband. At a very young age, I was traveling worldwide, performing to large audiences, doing something I loved! Ebony is one of a kind. We were developed upon principles of Love, Family, Discipline, Community, and Music. I learned so much about life and traveled to amazing places such as India, Africa, Europe, Caribbean - worldwide! The only place I haven’t been to is South America but the band has been, so in spirit - I was there!”

WST - “Ebony is one of the UK’s music gems. What is it that makes EBONY so special?”

Amenti F. - “Ebony has a spirit that is like no other. The band itself grew from resistance and community. I remember the stories of my uncles and cousins in the band. It was like a safe space for the community as somewhere where they could use music as the weapon of choice for peace. Ebony Steelband is unique and God-blessed! Truly, the energy that flows through this band is unique! We are raised on a foundation of family and ambition. Ebony is also top of its game! We are leaders and innovators in the pan-industry both here in the UK and abroad. We are forged through discipline and education. The Ebony Magic cannot be replicated. And even though others may question our way at times, the results speak for themselves. What makes Ebony so special is the people, the community, the heart, the skill, the determination, and the spirit in which it was founded. Music is God’s work and we use music to uplift and inspire the world.”

Amenti Quashie Francis performs with Ebony Steelband
Amenti Quashie Francis performs with Ebony Steelband

WST - “As an accomplished performing artist - talk about your musical progression along the way, what perhaps stood out in the different musical experiences.”

Amenti F. - “Music is literally in my blood… in fact, it’s in my soul… my soul sings through music. Music has been an important part of my life because of my relationship with healing through sound. We are born through sound and when we die music is played to walk us home, so a life without music can never be. From the sounds of the birds, or the crickets, to the stillness - music is always present.

“For me, I came out singing - (or screaming). But I have been singing and writing music since I was a child; I play and have played numerous instruments including the trombone, baritone, recorder, guitar, keyboard, voice, and pan. I also played the flute in school after being told by a teacher that I couldn’t because of my beautiful big black lips… I soon showed her - and enjoyed the instrument. Music was a way for me to express my emotions as a child. I would cry to song lyrics, I would feel into emotive music such as jazz and ballads.

“Music for me is like the tapestry of life, it gives color, emotion, release, and healing. I am a healer by nature, and sound has a way of transforming your energy and impacting the listener, so music for me is the language of the soul. It is Divine and so I feel like I was given a gift to help people transform, heal, and feel better through music. I have performed on global stages as a musician and singer and have ghostwritten for a few artists but music is my passion! I am a qualified Peripatetic Music Teacher and currently use music for healing as a Sound healer and continue to share music through song!”

WST - “What fuels your passion for pan?”

Amenti F. - “I Love Pan! It is the only acoustic instrument to be created in the 20th century, yet it is not celebrated enough. It is a profound healing tool! Pan uses vibrational frequencies to create an impact of effect within the body. Not just by listening but by being in the presence of its vibrations. We have not yet begun to truly take advantage of the gift that we have in Pan and this is what makes me passionate about it.

“It is a powerful tool and it was created by US. So we have to know the benefits and continue to share that with the world, in ways that support the development and future legacy of Pan. There is a space for Pan in the world music industry and we have seen many artists using a pan in their work, but PAN is not a ‘side dish’... Pan is Powerful on its own and needs to be celebrated and shared with the world in innovative new ways. There is an instrument called ‘The HANG’ or ‘Handpan,’ which is taking the world by storm. It is essentially a steel pan inverted and played by hand. We could take advantage of this trend and find innovative ways, to make pan more accessible to all.”

Amenti Quashie Francis
Amenti Quashie Francis

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

Amenti F. - “Wow! That is a question. Because I don’t really focus on the arranger per se, I like Music! And I appreciate good music, so this means that my preference in arrangers fluctuates. However, I grew up with the music of Annise Hadeed and I appreciate him as a great arranger. He managed to create a formula for musical creativity and expression for Pan in the UK and beyond. I love his arrangements and the way he uses notes and phrases to create atmosphere and dynamics within his music. The triple strum was a staple in our band under the tutelage of Hadeed. I love Hadeed’s music especially High Mas, Celebrating with Steel and Four Lara Four.  I also love Duvone Stewart and Samuel Dubois.”

WST - “And what about a favorite arrangement?”

Amenti F. - “Well again I don’t have only one, but some of the favourites are Woman On The Bass by Trinidad All Stars and The Bee’s Melody by Renegades.

“I also love Duvone Stewart’s arrangements of Ah Feeling and Far From Finished.”

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

Amenti F. - “I love to hear classical music on the pan, because I feel like the acoustic and the orchestral range and capability of the steel pan instrument to create moods and expressions in the music, is phenomenal and creates such a beautiful experience. I love it! Classical music played on Pan has a unique sound and dynamic that, in my humble opinion, brings the composition to a whole other level!”

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

Amenti F. - “That again is a very difficult question. I am inspired and influenced by most of the greats including Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, Mary J. Blige, Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Nina Simone, Prince, Whitney & Michael to name a few! I have a very eclectic range. I love classical, afro beats, roots, Reggae, and world music. I love Old Skool reggae, Lovers rock, and feel-good music. I am inspired by lyrical content and powerful storytelling in music. I am inspired by the vocal style of Brandy Norwood, Ella Fitzgerald, and Ella Andall.”

Amenti Quashie Francis
Amenti Quashie Francis

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

Amenti F. - “No I don’t! I believe they all work in synergy. You cannot have a tune without a movement. We as a people, even dance when we eat, and sing when something feels good. The arts, for me, are not separate; they are how I express and connect with the divine.

“I share my medicine and message through Dance, Healing, Music, and Singing. I believe that it is the greatest gift. Even when we were chained in the field, we would still find time to sing and dance. This is God’s medicine and his healing balm. So I cannot see myself without the arts. It is who I am. Life is art and I am my one artist creating a life I want to see through my art and expressions.”

WST - “What is your vision for pan in the UK?”

Amenti F. - “For Pan in the UK to survive, there must be more investment. Investment in developing a pathway of progress for Pan as an instrument, and for musicians and teachers.

“Children can learn pan from a very early age, and then it is offered in some schools as a music class, but if they want to pursue it past primary or secondary school, it can get tricky. Once you reach a certain level the options are not as clear and this can be a detriment.

“Young people want to play PAN and use it to develop themselves as musicians, but there must be support for this. The young people are the future so we must invest our money, skills, time, and energy. Create an appetite for learning, and create ways for the elders and veterans to pass on skills and support.

“I have loads of ideas. I trained to be a music teacher just so I could develop a course for pan that is accredited. But we need more support for these things. We require financial investment and infrastructure that will be active in taking the vision further. The current system and organisations, have to be actively investing in those that are willing to facilitate initiatives that support the growth of Pan.

“I am also happy to say that there are young people in the UK, who are taking the instrument to higher academic arenas and beyond (Jodie Humphries, Marcus Cumberbatch-King and Taya Ming), so I hope they and others like them, get the backing and support they need.”

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

Amenti F. - “Pan education is integral to ensure that this skill and instrument are accessed through mainstream education. We have to create the infrastructure for this. Music is healing. Pan is Musical Medicine; we must develop innovative ways to bring its healing power to the world. Pan is a symbol of revolution and innovation. I want to see Pan being given the investment it deserves so that it can be appreciated on a greater level than it is now. Pan 2 De World!”

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

Amenti F. - “The organisational structure and strategy for the future development of Pan and pan industries. I think that we need more support for Pan and for the legacy of Pan production, and playing. We need to invest in the young and create opportunities for them. We need to bridge the gap between the elderly and the up-and-coming by creating intergenerational training and workshops, to share skills such as arranging, or making and tuning pans, and continue to support elders in the industry.

“We need to protect our patents and inventions and make Pan a viable career on all levels. We need organizations that not only take up space, but are active in empowering and supporting the community to move forward. We need those who want to make a change - to be the change!”

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

Amenti F. - “Performing at the International Panorama where we placed 9th. That was a great honor. World Steelband Festival where we placed 4th. Topping the Semifinals at the Trinidad World Steelband Festival was amazing! Winning the European Festival in France was amazing for me as a young player. I am so grateful for the opportunities. There are too many to count!”

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

Amenti F. - “The lack of infrastructure for the global community. Pan can be much bigger globally and there are many steelbands all across the world. But we still do not have a global network or governing body, that effectively supports and pushes forward the development of a plan to support and empower the global pan community at home and abroad.”

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

Amenti F. - “Not at all! I heard of women playing pan being frowned upon, but for me, I come from a family of powerful female pan women! And Ebony has ‘nuff women in de band :-)”

WST - “What is it about the four pan (quad pan) that is so special to you?”

Amenti F. - “Four Pan is powerful. I love the way that the notes blend, the resonance of the notes, and how they sing out. I was first inspired to play four pan after watching Darren Francis play. The way he moves around the pan and the energy and precision made me want to play! However, it wasn’t the first pan I played.

“I first started on tenor at school, then tenor bass in the band (because I thought it was a four pan and was not allowed to change!). Then after seven years of tenor bass, I was allowed to graduate to double tenor, four pan, and then quads! Carlene Etienne also inspired me to play quads! That woman is a ‘boss’ and she is my sister in Pan. She encourages me to see my greatness and for that, I love her and the pan even more. Quads is like my dream come true. It stretches me as a player, and I love the combination and variation of sound that can be expressed through the pan.”

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

Amenti F. - “I mean, pan has to be versatile and work with the trends, so this is a necessary part. But I hope that we inspire creativity with popular songs to demonstrate the versatility of Pan music, not just playing watered-down songs for gimmick. I hate this and think it is a huge disservice to pan. We are worthy of so much more, so it’s up to us to celebrate Pan, create the music we want the world to hear, and let its light shine through the commercial noise.”

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

Amenti F. - “Be yourself and lead from love. You are a part of the sacred legacy of Pan! You are in good company. Women in the pan-industry have been making waves for some time. We are the silent backbone.

“When I look at bands such as Renegades and I see a strong powerful woman leading the vision and being supported by her collective, I rejoice, because we need to work together for the betterment of the pan for all. Women are the best supporters and we will go to the end for the things and the people we love. So young women of pan, don’t be afraid to follow your dreams in the industry. You don’t have to blend in, just be yourself. Be humble, yet use your voice with intention, purpose, and heart. The woman is Boss!”

Ebony Steelband rehearsing Trouble In The Morning

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Amenti F. - “Panorama is the Pan Olympics. It is like being at the Roman gladiators! Panorama is a celebration of hard work and dedication to Pan, and the ‘Pan Jumbies’ celebrate in full! Panorama is the blood of Pan globally and I have always been excited by Panorama.

“My happiest memories were at Panorama and I can remember being on the float in 1988 and 1989 and wearing the Ebony uniform! I thought I was a star! There is nothing like being on the stage and playing for gold, or the months of hard work and sweat to prepare for the competition. Panorama is a celebration of Pan, Panorama is Life!”

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

Amenti F. - “A Blessing! It is a gift. It is the symbol of our freedom, of change, of growth and resistance. How can it be a curse? Only if we make it so. We must always remember WHY we do this and who we do it for. We do it for our ancestors who fought so that we could dance and sing and enjoy. We do it for our love of Pan and for those who love and enjoy it too! Pan is a Legacy!”

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

Amenti F. - “I think I have expressed enough; however my most important matter that needs to be addressed and heavily invested in, is the legacy and future development of Pan and its community. What are we leaving for the children and young people who want to take this to the next level? How are we supporting them? We have too many old heads holding on to power without sharing insights and investing in the young. This must change so that the pan vision can grow!”

WST - “Even more about you: who is Amenti Anita Francis (Amenti The Awakener)? How has this role impacted on your steelpan playing? Is there a synergy?”

Amenti Quashie Francis
Amenti Quashie Francis

Amenti F. - “Wow, another big question! ‘Amenti the Awakener’ is who I am in my work; it is my purpose to heal, empower, and awaken others to the greatness they have within them. To help them find their voice, heal their Trauma, and step into their Destiny.

“There is great synergy in this and Pan because I am also a Sound Healer or Alchemist and I use sound to help people transform energy and trauma. To help them to feel and move through challenging issues. Music is so powerful and we are vibratory beings. Our whole body and organs produce sounds, and the word ‘Universe’ actually means ‘One Song.’ So music is still a very important part of my life as I help people to attune to the divine sound of truth and purpose within them.

“I am an Executive Life Coach to Creative Leaders and a Community Wellness Consultant. I also sing message music and am in the process of curating a Soundscape (musical event) showcasing my message music!”

WST - “What is next for Amenti?”

Amenti F. - “More Music, More Pan, More Traveling and living life to the fullest, because life is too short and is to be enjoyed.”

all photos provided by Amenti Quashie Francis


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