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When Steel Talks extends birthday greetings to Andy Narell.

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Birthday greetings Andy

Happy Birthday Andy wishing you all the best and a great day.

Andy Narrell: Caribbean Man

Michael Goodwin profiles American pan virtuoso Andy Narrell, and his debut as an arranger at the 1999 Steelband Panorama competition in Trinidad

For some Trinidadians, Andy Narell represents something of a dilemma.

The slim, sad-eyed musician is the most widely recorded steelpan player in the world, with 11 CDs to his credit, as well as numerous movie, TV and commercial soundtracks. He’s made music with Taj Mahal, Chucho Valdes, Marcus Miller, Aretha Franklin, Pete Escovedo, the Pointer Sisters and Patti LaBelle, among many others. And for nearly 15 years he’s been a close friend and collaborator of Trinidad’s calypso idol David Rudder; indeed, he (together with local pan ace Robbie Greenidge) performed on the Savannah stage with Rudder in 1987, the year after the young calypsonian electrified the nation by winning all three major calypso titles — Young King, Calypso Monarch and Road March.

In short, Narell can beat pan with the very best of them. And therein (for some, at least) lies the dilemma: Narell is not just white, he is American. Not a local boy, by any stretch of the imagination. Trinis, it must be said, can be very possessive of their national instrument, and anything that pertains to it.

Which is why a letter on Andy Narell’s desk, one sunny Friday last September, seemed almost to be radiating an urgent, orange aura. It’s not exactly illegal for a non-Trinidadian to compose and arrange a Panorama tune; but it had never happened yet. The letter on Narell’s desk was proposing to change all that.

Panorama, for the uninitiated, is the zenith of steelband music in Trinidad, the land where this music was born. In the years since the steel pan was invented (circa 1940), it has become politics, religion, class-struggle, and a sweet fire in the soul, all rolled into one. Every year, just before Carnival, the entire country locks into a wildly popular national pan competition: Panorama. The top steel bands swell to 100 or more players beating close to 300 pans, and talented composer-arrangers like Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Jit Samaroo and Ray Holman create ten-minute musical extravaganzas for the occasion. Only one band wins.

The thundering, percussive, polyrhythmic roar of these huge bands, with their pounding bass pans and jazzy melodies moving from section to section, is so exciting it can make you weak in the knees. This is competition at its very fiercest.

No steelband has ever placed its fate in the hands of a foreign arranger; but Narell’s radioactive letter was from Junior Regrello, leader of a top band called the Hydro Agri Skiffle Bunch. It was an invitation for the American to come to Trinidad and compose/arrange an original tune for the band to play in Panorama 1999.

It was an unbelievable honour. It was an unprecedented opportunity. It was an irresistible challenge. So why was Narell dragging his feet?

“Some of the factors are . . . well, for one thing, the whole culture of . . . winning,” explains Narell. “Panorama is so tied to Carnival that you don’t dare come in with a tempo that’s a few shades under someone else’s tempo or you’re gonna get knocked out of the Savannah.

“Also,” he adds, “it’s become almost the antithesis of uniqueness and diversity. In the old days, bands like Desperadoes and Invaders and North Stars and Cavaliers and All Stars wanted to sound as different as possible. It would show in the arrangements and the sounds of the pans, and everything. The obsession with winning Panorama has caused everyone to sound more and more alike.”

So Narell was working on a letter to Regrello. It read, in part: “If you don’t think that most of the bands play too fast and too loud, you shouldn’t hire me, because I do — I would rather come in tenth and hear that everybody’s arguing over whether it was the most beautiful tune in the Panorama or a bunch of s–––, than come in third and hear everybody say that Andy Narell finally came down here to do a tune and he had nothing to say.”


Andy Narell His Music & Steelband Panorama

Andy Narell - Speaks on the Steeldrum Artform

I never quite understood why this was ever considered a dilemma when every instrument in the world is played by Trinidadians.     Piano, guitars trombones, drums on and on.    This is utterly stupid. Just saying.


Kathleen: If you follow this forum, you will realize that I post comments on MOST TOPICS. However, I deliberately stayed out of wishing ANDY NARELL a HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

I think you have an issue with understanding RACISM and SMALL MINDEDNESS and PROTECTIONISM in the TRINIDAD pan culture!!!

And the irony of it all!!! Actually, I disagree with WST with even posting his BIRTHDAY!!!

Andy Narell - Chocolate Fog

Happy Birthday Andy.

blessings on the anniversary of your birth date- all positives- keep on keeping the music alive

Happy birthday Andy from all at Mangrove Steelband


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