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Bandoleros invade Brooklyn and Capture New York Championship - Sonatas Steel Orchestra style

Congrats to the 2009 New York Steelband Music Panorama Champions
Sonatas Steel Orchestra


New York, USA - This one will be talked about for ages.  Years from now children will ask their grandparents with great intrigue - “Were you there when dem Bandoleros called Sonatas Steel Orchestra from Brooklyn, Crown Heights, descended on the Brooklyn Museum grounds and captured New York?”  And thousands will respond “yes, I was there, I saw and heard it all, it is a night I will never forget.”


Sonatas as captured by Basement Recordings for Pan in New York  2009 CD
as they prepare for panorama

With a blinding flurry of 32 second-notes (demisemiquavers), perfectly synced musical jabs that would make Muhammad Ali blush, mixed in with an overhand crushing right cross, followed by a wicked volley of musical chromatic triplets to the head - plus the dynamic delivery of a visual and choreographed set of body dips, twists and turns, finished off with solid blows to the midsection -- 1-2-3- it was over!  Down and out for the count.  ’Dem “Bandoleros” took over the town.  A well-balanced attack indeed.  The Big Apple once again belongs to Sonatas Steel Orchestra.  And as the “Borgs” do in “Star Trek” - Sonatas’ Bandoleros broadcast well in advance that “resistance is futile.”  With strategy laid down by their arranger/music director Yohan Popwell, field officer duties handled by band captain Sherwin “Pin” Edwards, legendary tuner Birch Kelman in charge of supplying and maintaining the musical arsenal (steelpans), providing the best sounding sonic instruments (ammunition) in the country and their highly-respected, unflappable general Mack Scott leading the charge - Sonatas let it be known that they are back in the driver’s seat - and they are planning to stick around town for a while!

But there was much resistance, although all through the season Sonatas had been dropping hints that all foes should leave town by the appointed showdown time of 7:30 p.m. Saturday, September 5 if you did not want to get your feelings hurt, or worse - have to be rolled out after the dust had settled at the Brooklyn Museum. 

The other groups in response let it be known that they were not going down peacefully, and definitely not without a fight.  They came to the showdown to meet the challenge armed in total with four cases of Magic Drum, two cases of Pan Redemption, and another even dared to come, too, as heavily armed Bandoleros themselves - from Bed-Stuy (Bedford Stuyvesant).  One even employed Rocket Man (a song about world-record sprinter Usain Bolt), with which they believed they could outrun any type of attack.  And one felt that simply doing it the Trini Way would be enough to take charge.

In the end, not even the defending champions, ADLIB Steel Orchestra, could stave off the inevitable.  One hundred Sonatas’ bandoleros rode up or, should we say, rolled in.  They were dressed to the nines, and wielding pan sticks in  place of pistols. With them were their deceptively beautiful women in Spanish style skirts, alluring flowers in their hair, but who were just as committed to the cause - clinching the Panorama title - as their male counterparts.  They had no problem exhibiting their deft musical skills on this night.

But for the crowd there to urge on the musicians as they dueled for the championship and ownership of the Big Apple - the city that never sleeps - it was nothing but pan and more pan.  From Boston Metro, who opened the show just before 8:30 p.m. - returning to the New York panorama after many years - to Harmony who brought the curtains down on what has been termed by many as one of the more competitive panoramas in some time, this showdown was one for the ages.

With Sonatas’ final score of 464 points (after the dropping of the highest and lowest scores, retaining those of three of the judges), the next closest competitor - ADLIB - came in ten points behind with a score of 454.  The score would indicate that no one after Sonatas - who played in third position - impressed the judges enough to mount a serious challenge to the musical onslaught presented by the Sterling Place-based orchestra.  Of course, depending on who you spoke to, there were wide and varying opinions from the steelpan enthusiasts, fans and players about the results.

  • Boston Metro came in with thoughts of filling a very, very tall order as they were literally coming from another state to capture New York.  They paired ‘magic players’ to the Magic Drum.

  • Despers USA, young and revamped, were definitely up for the challenge and they themselves came as Bandoleros - but from Bedford Stuyvesant. They raised the bar, and pores, with their performance, with many in the audience rising to their feet in homage.

  • Sonatas rolled in with their signature black and gold basses; as usual those instruments went well with their attire - fitted black vests, black sombreros and all.  When the lights hit them, these Bandoleros were stunning.

  • Crossfire called on Pan Redemption - in an effort to pull off a September surprise for all time.  Arranger Khuent Rose employed thought-provoking and, at times, complex harmonic themes and structures in his interpretation of the song.

  • With their version of Pan Redemption, past champions Pantonic steel orchestra hoped to present a performance  that would stave off any challenges or talk from Bandoleros or Magic Drums taking home the coveted first prize.  Musical director and arranger Keith Roberts laid down a competent musical war plan.  This was not to be their day, or year.

  • CASYM, clearly, was confident and ready for a fight.  There was no doubt in their body language that in their minds, at the end of the night, this was going to be another CASYM victory.  The orchestra delivered Magic Drum, a tune that seemed ideally suited to CASYM’s musical temperament.

  • Musically led by the distinguished and capable Pelham Goddard, Sesame Flyers also performed Magic Drum.  This year the orchestra also returned with the traditional canopy covering, a reversal from the last year when they ventured on stage with without them.

  • ADLIB came in as the defending champions, one-hundred players strong and a favorite of many present.  If anybody could send Sonatas packing, everyone expected it would have been them. André White provided more than ample evidence that his 2008 triumph with ADLIB was no ‘flash-in-the-pan.’

  • If D’Radoes had been capable of following in the footsteps of world-record holder Usain Bolt, they would have been able to out-run their competition with their chosen panorama tune penned in his honor, Rocket Man.  But this was not the case.  What musical ammunition they were armed with, came with the assistance of veteran arranger Earl Rodney.

  • Harmony performed in the always highly desirable ‘last playing position’ for the evening, and therefore had the opportunity to both steal the show, and leave the judges with a lasting musical impression.  Arranger Anthony “Pra” Trebuse, assisted by Duvone Stewart decided to go the Trini Way, but ultimately at the end of the night the orchestra was not on the road to victory.

It was a very entertaining panorama, because there were a lot of high expectations for all the groups. Very few were simply counted out.  From that perspective, they delivered.  The crowd remained literally to the end.  They took it all in with keen and critical interest.  For the most part, people appeared at ease with the results.

Perhaps perched atop the roof of the Brooklyn Museum and looking down on the panorama, the late New York panorama titan Clive Bradley had to be watching and be happy with Sonatas and all the participating bands.  On this night, also in Bradley’s company would have definitely been Winston “Mouthabee” Phillips and Kenneth Moore, both who were posthumously honored at this year’s Panorama.  In addition, it is safe to assume that Scipio “Sarge” Sargeant who passed away earlier this year, and who, like the others, had a tremendous impact on New York pan -  was also looking down with approval.

Brads himself very clearly understood panorama and all that it brought: the joy, the fun, the drama, the passion, the story lines, and of course the music.  Brads had a special connection with the young people who played for him.  One can see a comparable phenomenon unfold with Yohan Popwell and his troops in Sonatas.

Panorama 2009 has come and gone but dem Bandoleros from Crown Heights known as Sonatas Steel Orchestras own New York for one full year.  To all Panorama towns: be afraid... be very afraid - dem Bandoleros comin’ to a town near you!

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Coming next - the 2009 Report card - Panorama and Beyond: Grades A - Z.


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