When Steel Talks

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Hello to everyone in When Steel Talks,

I posted a discussion on the forum a couple months ago, asking for help with finding people to meet during my first trip to Trinidad and Tobago. I have studied the history and culture of Trinidad, and specifically the steelband movement, for around six years now. I fell in love with the pan my first year at Indiana University, where I played in the steelband for five years. Since graduating, I co-founded the Indiana Steel Pan Association to represent and serve the pan community in my state. I am really driven to keep the history and culture intact in the pan scene in America, and I want to do everything I can to make sure pan "grows up" right in my state.

Finally, after all my research and studying, I'm making my first pilgrimage to the Mecca of Pan, Trinidad and Tobago. I'm going to be playing with Starlift in this year's Panorama, but I'll also be meeting people to learn first hand about history and cultural things. When Steel Talks has asked me to do daily reports on my experiences while I'm down here. I feel this is a major step in my pan life, and while I'm here I will be working very hard to be able to learn and grow as much as I can. After all, there is an entire pan community that will benefit from any lessons, knowledge, or networking I can bring home with me! Hopefully some of this proves helpful or interesting, and I welcome any suggestions for topics and or things to include in my trip.

Thanks for the people who are supporting me down here and at home, and for everyone who follows this discussion!

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Well folks, I finally got a trip to Maracas in this afternoon. All the hype you may have noticed Bake and Shark getting? IT'S ALL TRUE! Hats off to Richard's Bake and Shark, for what is perhaps one of the best things I've had this trip! For those of you who don't know what Bake and Shark is, picture this: a piece of fried bake is cut open to make a sandwhich, in which two pieces of lightly fried or breaded shark meat is put inside. Then you go and pile on toppings like pepper sauce, mango, pineapple, and all sorts of sauces. Delicious! Maracas is also a beautiful place, with an incredibly beautiful drive to get there.

I mentioned the other day that I had been invited to play with Woodbrook Playboyz and I was not sure if I would play with them or not. Well their arranger, Karon Valentine (spelling?) asked that I at least play for the preliminaries this weekend. Even though I am still worried about having time to do my research and to get around and experience the country, I have to be honest and say I really want to play with them. Not only do I really like the single pan category, but this band has a lot of really nice things going for it. Their yard always has people liming, playing cards, watching football (or soccer for us Yankees), etc. Everyone there seems really nice and welcoming, and there seems to be no issues between people. Then musically... WOW. Mr. Valentine is incredible to watch as an arranger. He has all of the music in his head, so when he's going over new parts, he's creating them in his head. The man will be counting the band off to play, looking off into space, when all of a sudden the counting turns to a bunch of phrases. Then he'll grab whatever pan he's thinking of, doesn't get behind it, but plays the part from the front of the pan. The arrangement he has created is a really good one as well! The players in the band are gifted to suit. Passages that I have to focus on to play in time, some of the other leads are playing with doubled octaves, and are already gallerying in all sorts of ways. I'm not sure if I'll play past this weekend, but to be honest I would really like to. (I also really want to do the research and experience things that playing with them might inhibit...)

Today I am going to sit in on a steelband history and development course at UWI, in which the class will be on skype with Ellie Mannette. I've never met Ellie, and I have been meaning to meet the instructor for a while, so this should be good. Tomorrow I plan on seeing the National Steel Symphony rehearse, and on Friday I plan on spending the day up on the North Coast, followed hopefully by panyard visits. Saturday is the single pan prelims, and the Sunday I will be making a trip to Tobago! I'll have lots to update you all on, but with the added work to do, it may be every few days or so.

Thank you all for following!

Life for Pan,

PS. It was brought to my attention that I spelled Trinidad's cricket record holder, Brian Lara's name incorrectly. It is Lara, not Laura, as I apparently wrote it.

Ok so I have some awesome experiences to share. On Wednesday I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Jeannine Remy and sit in on her "Steel Pan History and Development" course at UWI.The students were all young, around their 20s. It was really encouraging to see people investing in the history of steelband, and considering it's future. Dr. Remy has so much information and was very welcoming, so I hope to be able to talk to her more. (I also plan to buy her book on Invaders, which I encourage all of you to do once if comes out.) UWI has such an awesome pan program, which I must admit I am jealous of. They not only have the history and development course, but a Steelband Literature course, a Steelband Technology course, plus all of the ensembles.. wow, I wish there were programs like that in Indiana.

Thursday I had a number of really great experiences. I sat in on the National Steel Symphony rehearsal. First of all, the G-Pans sounded great together, particularly the basses. Secondly, it was wonderful to see such a professional, young, and talented orchestra. They were amazing! Thirdly, Ms. De Coteau came in to view the rehearsal. I am really disappointed that I didn't get to talk to her, because what a pleasure it would be to talk to her about pan history! Hopefully I will get another opportunity. After that I walked from POS to Woodbrook, which was not at all as long of a walk as I thought it would be. It was also nice because I got to see some things and solidify my grasp of where things are downtown.

The coolest thing though, was when I got to Woodbrook Playboyz yard, Butch Kellman was in the midst of blending! I spent the entire afternoon talking with him and watching him work. He really has made me consider learning to tune! I was interested before, but he really encouraged me to pursue it. Maybe I've found a calling...?

Friday I met up with two other foreigners from Starlift and we went to see Lord Relator give a workshop on composing classic calypsos for the music students at St. Anthony's College in Carenage. Though I made us miss a lot of the workshop (getting maxis from Santa Cruz is not easy,) we got to talk to the students about our musical careers, our studies, etc. It was really really rewarding to see their interest, to inspire a little bit, and to answer questions and spark conversation. The music program there is really impressive, and in fact the entire facility there seemed like it offered a lot to the kids.

I had my first tastes of Buss Up Shut two days ago, and had more yesterday. I have to admit though, I'm making it a rule that I will not eat from food courts anymore. I also had my first taste of Starch Mango and Soursop this week. Wonderful, though the Soursop I had as a punch, so it wasn't actually the fruit itself. The Starch Mango is this yellow and black leopard spotted Mango with crazy stringy insides. It's super sweet, but the fibers can get a little painful on the gums.

I am proud to say I will be earning my second pan jersey today by playing with Woodbrook Playboyz in their prelims today! This will be my first participation in a Panorama competition round, and I'm very excited!

With that being said, I'm going to get ready to go practice. I'm spending Sunday and part of Monday in Tobago, so I won't be able to update until sometime next week.

Life for Pan,

Hello everyone,

I had my first performance in a Panorama competition stage, playing with Woodbrook Playboyz in the single pan prelims on Saturday. It was incredible!!! The streets were packed with people, the band had a constant crowd dancing and looking like we were the best band they'd heard. We set up and played all the way down the steet towards the stage. I felt like I was a new soldier in an army that was going off to fight a war they knew they could win. Even pushing the percussion rack from the panyard to the Avenue felt like I was pushing the artillery into battle. The players had so much confidence though, I felt really good about what we were doing. When we were waiting to take the stage, once they started playing our tune "I Coming Again", the band erupted in cheers, jumping and dancing. Completely unrehearsed, the bend chipped perfectly into place from the road, and was just, for lack of a better word, CLOWNIN. Once the knocks came to start the tune, everyone was animated and gallerying like they had no concerns about the piece. I must admit there were more parts that escaped me than I really hoped there would be, but all in all I felt good about it. For those of you planning on playing with a band like this, don't practice too hard in rehearsals before you perform! I wanted to play out in the yard so the director would know I could handle it (and therefore be selected to play.) So after drilling in the yard, carrying the pan through the streets and practice runs leading up to the stage, I was tired before we actually gave our performance! The band ended up in 5th place in the Northern Region prelim round.

I also just got back from a two day trip to Tobago with the foreigners from Starlift, which I must admit was an extremely good time. The island is beautiful, with tons of hills, forests, incredible beaches, reefs, and colorfully painted houses. We spent most of the first day touring the island. We stopped to take a hike up to a waterfall, where were all had our first experience actually getting in a waterfall. After that we ate at a place called Jemna's which was a treehouse restaurant on the beach, with pretty good food to match! We then headed up to the highest point we could find to catch the sun setting on a bay (the name of which has escaped me). We then stopped in to see Bucconeers Steelband rehearse, because two people in the group knew their arranger, Seon Gomes (spelling?). WOW that band sounded great, and Seon's arranging is incredible!! His background parts are fantastic, his frontline was exciting... it was a really professional and moving band. We then headed to check out "Sunday School", a kind of street festival, which we had heard about. Perhaps we were there too early, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed. It was very touristy, the food selection was not great, and we didn't really hear much music. The second day we spent at Store Bay beach, which was beautiful though saturated with people trying to sell or rent us things.  Two of us went on a glass bottom boat out to the Bucco Reef, which had beautiful fish and varied kinds of coral. Word of warning, no matter that I applied 55spf sunscreen three times that day, I still got burned pretty badly... After the tour, we all tried out Crab and Dumplings, which we had been told was a Tobagan delicacy. I have to be honest, I loved the taste but was very frustrated with the crab shelling process. We had these tiny crabs, so to get any meat out, particularly with the legs, required a lot of cracking and scrounging. Concerning the boat trip to Tobago, going there was a REALLY rough ride (which two of the group barely made it through). Coming back was a little better, but still bumpy at times.

That's all I have for now, but as soon as I feel like I can go out in the sun again, I'll have more to report to you!

Life for Pan,

PS the calypsonian we saw was Lord Superior, not Relator. Sorry about that!

That white boy was yours truly! Thanks for watching the band and for giving us kudos as well.

Well, last night was my second go at Panorama prelims, as I played with Express 21. My involvement with this band was a sobering experience on many levels. First and foremost, I experienced first hand the affects conditions in Laventille had on the band, and how some bands really have an uphill battle during Panorama. Last week's panyard shooting (which happened not too far from Express 21) left many of the band's players afraid to attend rehearsals. The arranger was left with mere days to find enough players to qualify, finish the tune, teach it to us, and try to get the group ready to compete. While some bands have pretty developed panyards, this band was cramped under tents in front of a house on a busy street, and with plenty of things to distract them. It was clear the band was fighting through a lot to get the job done. Despite all that that had going against them, the came together and really pushed to get the job done. Regular players stepped up to drill the band on the Avenue yesterday when the arranger had to leave the band to deal with things. Though it was a stressful process, and many of us were frustrated before we played, when it came time to take the stage the band came together and enjoyed themselves. Though we may not have given a perfect performance, the band came out and as much energy as we could. Knowing what the band went through, I couldn't help but be troubled about the crackshots that wanted to take the tune on the road yesterday, though they may not have intended any disrespect.

I haven't had any new Trini food to speak of, but I have tried two new Roti places. Patraj in Woodbrook was good, Sherry's on 5th Street in San Juan was better. I went to Sherry's twice, the first time I had goat, which had a couple small pieces of bone, but was otherwise the best Roti I've had thus far. The second time I had chicken, which I quickly realized they don't offer a boneless option. I'm not sure I understand the idea of putting chicken wings in a sandwhich... In anycase, Sherry's is so far the reigning champion, but I'm told Sylvia's (also in San Juan) is the best Roti around. The battle for the best Roti continues, and I'm loving every minute!

As we get closer to Panorama, I'm getting busier and busier, and as I run out of time I will be trying to get out and experience as much as possible. I may not be updating as regularly as I used to, but I'll do my best! Until next time

Life for Pan,

saw you playing at xpress 21... and nobody beats patraj on backchain in san juan. sylvie's is the 2nd choice when patraj's line is too long.

Ok, I have some awesome things to talk about! I'm not sure what order to discuss them in, so bear with me if I am less than organized and coherent with this one...Yesterday I had my first Alloo Pie and Peanut Punch, from a place in Woodbrook which had a bunch of pan pictures on the wall. I'm told the person making the pies was once or is currently a captain of Phase II... I want to go back just to talk pan (well, ok the pies and punch were great too!) 

It seems like time is going warp speed! Finals are almost here and I feel like I've only been here 3 weeks!! I actually found myself brainstorming how I'll get back here next year (and after that). There is still so much more I want to see and do... I am making it official right here and now: I'm coming back soon. I don't know if I'll be able to make next year happen, but I have to come back to Trinidad and pick up where I'll be leaving off in March.

Liam came back, the band got a bunch of new players, and the architecture of the racks has taken shape, and it's really exciting to watch the band shape up!

Also last night Liam called me aside during practice when he was talking to a man who looked vaguely familiar. I met Rudy Two Left Smith last night, and will be hopefully meeting up with him to talk soon! Definitely looking forward to talking history and whatnot with the man...

I met with Joe Lendore this morning, who is living right by me... Talked pan history and about the future of pan all morning! I also played my first Invader style lead pan this morning... I am proud to say it made more sense to me than I expected it would. It always looked so daunting in the layout outlines. Looking forward to going back soon.

My pan teacher and one of my fellow co-founders of the Indiana Steel Pan Association are flying in tonight, and I can't wait to share this experience with them!

I'm sure there is something I am forgetting, but as prelims are this afternoon, I have to leave it at this for now, and get myself to the panyard!

Life for Pan,

Hello everyone,

I just want to give a short update about my prelims experience. I was in the yard most of the afternoon, and despite my desire to practice until we had to perform, I had to limit myself due to tired muscles from the previous nights long rehearsal. I am realizing I need to be paying attention to staying hydrated and making sure I eat right so that I can keep up with all this hard work! The yard had a nice buzz to it, and I for one could feel the anticipation build as more people showed up. It seemed like the crowd basically came all at once, and before I knew it we were lined up in front of the judges! I won't discuss the sound of the band, but I know there were some good and bad things about our performance. There is some definite work to be done before Sunday... After we performed, the drill master made it clear that we were having a normal night of rehearsal, which not everyone was happy about but was necessary. Afterwords the band fed all of the players, and a nice lime was had by all. Of course, the majority of us couldn't deny the itch and made the trip to see the other bands. I was only able to catch the last couple of minutes of Desperadoes, and only heard them from the side, so I couldn't get the full sound of the band. It was cool to see that rocket dancing on top of the engine room rack! I don't want to get into critiquing the bands, but I have always loved Renegades, and though I couldn't hear them well from the street, their sound struck a chord in me (no pun in tended... kind of.) Lastly of course was All Stars, and of course I enjoyed the energy that band always has.

One of the coolest things about that night was seeing this mass migration of people heading from yard to yard to yard. Also, each band had their staunch supporters, their community, their fanatics out to support them. I saw so many people basking in their band's moment, and you could see each yard's community saying "this is the greatest band in the world!" I will never forget the community that surrounds steelband in Trinidad, and I hope to not only see more of it while I'm here, but I hope pan develops enough back home that I can see similar things back home!

I will stop there for now, but you all know I will have things to talk about by next week...

Life for Pan,

Eric is sturring up a fever inside of me.

I hope Trinidad and Tobago Tourist Board uses Eric's Blog (with his permission of course).

It's just the sort of publicity the country can do with.


Eric boy I envy you.


Pan is de ting! 

Hello again everyone,

I meant to post this a couple of days ago, but didn't have time, so I'm going to update twice, the first one is leading up to Semis and the second is reflecting on semis.

I have officially had the weirdest looking fruit I can imagine: a Kymet. These small pear/apple looking fruits have a skin that will give you instant dry-mouth, are filled with a pinkish creamy, paste like filling and seeds covered in a large sheath of clear jelly. Try them if you find them, but try to eat them when you have a camera to take pictures!

Also I have tried Sylvie's Roti in San Juan, which I've been told is the best... I had to get the beef, which was a first for me. I have to say this round of the Roti challenge has to be thrown out. I don't think I am a fan of beef Roti, so until I can try the chicken, I'm not sure I can judge the place fairly. I have to say though, Sylvie's makes the most enormous Dhal Pouri I've seen thus far! I was full from 4pm until 10:30 or so!

My girlfriend has come down to support me on this big step in my pan life and I am thrilled to have her share this experience! She only planned to come watch me, but is now going to hold the banner for Starlift!!

I'm really looking forward to semi's... I have been daydreaming all day about what it will be like. Until then,

Life for Pan

seriously patraj is the best roti in all of trinidad. longest line since soviet russia, which means it is the best


I can't describe in words how exciting, inspiring, and overwhelming it was to see nearly 50 steelbands in one place (all of which are way bigger than the biggest bands back home!) Also to see such support for steelband... it's unbelievable how many people showed up to hear the bands! The morning had a fairly orderly crowd with plenty of sitting space on the drag's bleachers, and enough room that bands could move on and off the drag without too much trouble. By the time Renegades formed up in the street, there was standing room only, and that wasn't even on the drag!

I was in heaven walking around all day hearing steelband after steelband. It was a great thing to be able to compare things between the bands: age and gender make-up of the bands, tunes of choice, tempos, stylistic choices, pan tone and especially instrumentation! It was great to see what different choices bands make in terms of bass instruments (6, 9, 12, or those that I've never seen before: 4,7, and 10 bass); lead layouts, front line instrumentation, and the wide variety of engine room instruments! My friends and I were talking about engine room back home being thought of as a fairly set instrumentation, but really it seems as though you can put just about any percussion instrument in the line up.

Now for the competition part: Starlift was second to last to play, and thus was seemingly miles from the Savannah when we started. Everything seemed to be pretty chaotic: it seemed like my rack was never close enough to hear the arranger calling out sections; we had to move racks for police and other cars that decided they needed to drive through our ranks; the process of pushing racks seemed more stressful than I had found with my prelims experiences. It started to come together as we took the stage, with a more orderly process of which racks move when. Once we made it to the stage, it seemed to all come together. People were in great spirits, everything was orderly... It was such a rush getting on stage and looking out at the Grand and North Stands (which were not as packed as they were before). I also have to say I was so excited to see my girlfriend holding the banner out ahead of the band! I loved that she could take part in the night, and I think she did a great job! The moment that I really was able to relax and get in the right mindset was when I stepped out of the moment and appreciated the fact that I could be sitting at home in Indiana right now, in the cold snow and ice, and hoping to catch the videos of prelims on the internet. Instead I was in Trinidad, on stage, with my girlfriend holding my band's banner and my teachers colleagues there to support me. I had a band full of new friends, a tune that I loved, and was about to play to make it to the big stage. I kept myself upbeat and ready to perform by reminding myself, "I could be back home..."

Everyone was taking in the moment, taking pictures and dancing to our song as it played for the crowd. All of a sudden the music stopped and the announcer began introducing us. I expected to have more jitters, but I felt surprisingly calm in retrospect! People told me I might not remember much from the performance: definitely the count off and the end, but who knows about the rest. I remember ever note of that song... I remember dancing with the cameras right over my pan and I remember the band jumping up together. I remember the look on my rack mate's faces when we had breaks in the part to jump up together and feeling that no matter what the judges decided, this was an awesome performance.

Once the tune was finished, it felt like we had really accomplished something. Once we got off stage and put our instruments down, someone told me they were about to announce the results. The significance of what we had just done really hit me in that moment. As the bands were called off from 15th place, I kept waiting to hear Starlift. They announced the 11th place and there was this huge rush of excitement with our players! The band made it to 9th place, and I have to say I am very proud of that. It's no secret that we were likely the smallest of the large bands that competed, and many people had already written Starlift off before we even had a chance to play. I knew that the band would really surprise people if we executed the piece correctly. We have lots of work to do, but I think we can be proud of what we accomplished last night!

Now I want to say that I was pretty shocked at some of the results of last night's large band category. I won't get into details, but I was a little upset that a certain band I support didn't make it. I wasn't able to hear their stage performance, but I thought they sounded fantastic on the drag (I might be biased, but still...) In any case, I want to give my condolences to the bands that didn't make it, and congratulate those that did!

I never thought I would see so much pan in one day in my entire life! Semis was such an incredible experience, I will definitely remember yesterday for the rest of my life! This week I will be very busy with Playboyz, Starlift, getting last minute excursions before my friends leave, and with a couple meetings and such in there. I will do my best to update everyone though!

Life for Pan


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