When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

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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No, no Sandra, it was not a bad thing that Renegades jumped in front of us! "Jumped" meaning you guys came out of no where and got in place really fast! Like I said, I thought it was really cool to have Renegades on the road with us!

I'll look forward to your writing!

Eric

Thank you , my young friend. May your book be a best seller, I'd certainly buy it!
Hey Soldier, Welcome to the land of oil and music. You should visit the industreal capital before you head out

Hello again everyone,

I left off at the end of J'Ouvert morning. Like I said before, there was a brief costume change (20 minutes of sleep) and then it was on to Act II: Carnival Monday! People kept telling me Starlift had one of the largest mas bands on the road Monday. We had five different steelbands that joined our band! With our truck leading the charge, there was also Powerboat Scorpions (a single pan group from Carenage), World Wide Steelband, one that I didn't catch the name of, and finally Woodbrook Playboyz in the back! Taking a similar route as J'Ouvert, I noticed a totally different kind of energy and feel for Carnival Monday. J'Ouvert was more chaotic, mischievous and all about the music for Starlift, while Carnival Monday was organized and became this showcase performance of pan and mas. With the flagman opening the way, the pans up front and a giant entourage of bands and mas players behind us, it felt like the band was proudly strutting through the street as if to say "Yeah, that's right, this is STARLIFT coming through!"

The crowd was more separated from the bands than J'Ouvert, so it wasn't as intimate a relationship, but people were still dancing and singing along when we passed. There was still the same love and respect for the steelband that was shown on the night/morning before. Soundtrucks stopped their music, people looked up at us and smiled, danced along, and made me feel like we were their favorite band!

I have to admit, I loved the reactions people were giving me as a white Yankee playing on the road! Of course I knew I would stick out, but I didn't know how common that was and how people would react. During J'Ouvert I thought I was noticing people smiling, dancing and positively reacting a little more to me specifically as my rack passed. I told myself it was mostly my imagination... Carnival Monday though, it was a lot more obvious, and I have to admit, I kind of made me feel a bit famous (down, ego, down!) People grabbed their cameras as I passed, people smiled and pointed me out to their friends, reached up for high fives and fist bumps, and yes, a number of ladies blew kisses at me... I about died laughing as we passed through Independence Square, when a little boy looked up at me tugged on his dad's sleeve and said "he's white!" His dad and I shared a smile. I never saw anyone react negatively to me, and the responses were honestly what gave me the energy to play all day without much food or sleep!

Another nice thing about Monday was seeing people that I knew in the crowd. I also took a short break to walk back to Playboyz racks and see my friends playing. I was also blown away when I saw the enormous structures of the Carnival King and Queen costumes! Many of them almost took up the entire street! It's hard to believe these huge, awesome and fantastical creations, with their welded and wheeled frames, are costumes worn by one person! Some are also surprisingly articulate and animated!

I will say, once we got to the Savannah on Fredrick Street, traffic was a mess! The bands were bottle-necked in the street by vendors, and the mas competition on stage was everybody's destination... We had to stop, and I had a friend come with me as I attempted to walk up to see the costumes ahead of us. I have never been so crowded in my life: people were pushed up against me on all sides, and once the crowd started moving, you had no choice but to follow. (Word of warning, in these situations it's best to watch your pockets: my friend was watching and saved me from getting picked...) Eventually the traffic began flowing again, and we finally made it to the stage. The truck went along side of the stage, and I was on the North Stand side, so the only thing I saw was practically empty seats.

Once our mas band crossed the stage, we were heading home for the night, and the band was definitely wearing down a bit. Most of us went almost straight through the day, and as we looped songs over and over, my brain was turning mushy... Some of the tunes really only had a verse and chorus, but I would forget which part I had just played and which was coming up. The last stretch home was really tough, as seemingly half the players were trying to end the piece by not playing and the rest of us would be trying to keep it going. We ended up playing our masqueraders all the way back to Ariapita, and one of the coolest feelings was seeing kids rush to the doors, windows and gates to watch us pass by. Families gather to see us, and I could see the amazement in the kids' faces. I imagined those kids remembering that moment as they grow up and hoped the memory would inspire them to play pan later in life...

Carnival Monday came to an end, and all of us had the opportunity for a somewhat reasonable night of sleep. This was the intermission before Act III: Carnival Tuesday! Again, I don't want to write too much in one post, so I will end here and pick up Tuesday in the next post. Thanks for reading, and until next time,

Life for Pan

This is what we live and breathe, every carnival.  Its refreshing hearing it from another perspective.  Great writing Eric, i've read all your posts.  Sorry I did not meet you this time around, as I along with my son and daughter are now with Invaders.

Alright folks, I will try to keep this post short because I really have a lot I want to say in my final entry, but I have to do Carnival Tuesday justice as well.

If there is one word to describe Carnival Tuesday, it is INTENSE! Everything seemed to be taken to the extreme: the colors were brighter, the music was louder, the bands were larger, the costumes (generally) smaller, and the energy that pulsed though the streets seemed almost frenzied at times. Mas bands moved like they were on a war-path of wining and jumping up. Yet everyone was trying to free up and have fun, so everything seemed to have this relaxed freedom to it. (I can't explain how you can be both frenzied and relaxed, but that's how it seemed...)

Though most of the attention is given to the bikini mas and DJ trucks on Tuesday, there were actually tons of traditional mas groups with costumes more incredible than the previous days. There were sailor bands with ornate admiral coats, medals, some had boats they were towing. I saw unbelievable Indian mas groups with beautiful head dresses and seriously convincing costumes and face paint. Some of the best dragon and Bookman costumes were out Tuesday, and I even saw a Papa Bois masquerader! Even some of the bikini mas bands had sections that captured their theme surprisingly well!

Starlift had very few mas players, so the focus was again on the music, like it had been on J'Ouvert. The crowd showed the same love and respect for the band, and again I was energized and motivated to perform by the people's responses. It struck me how pumped I got when I looked out in front of the band and saw our flag waving around. I don't know if it's because I've never been in a band with a flagman (or a flag, for that matter), but something about that side wells up pride in me! There were some places where our thunder was stolen a bit by the DJ trucks and mas bands. Where as before the DJ would stop their music to let us play, on Tuesday they had to keep it going for their mas players. Most of the time we kept enough distance, but every once in a while we had to either stop playing or push on until we were separated again. Even when we were right behind one of those groups and obviously were not the main attraction, the crowd still seemed appreciative to have the steelband playing, especially the more animated we were and the more we made the racks move. Whenever we took breaks, we had people asking us to play something for them, regardless of the music that was happening around us.

I saw tons of people with different steelbands throughout the day, especially in the afternoon. I saw some mas players from Renegades' French themed section, sailors with Exodus, Sailors from All Stars, I saw Invaders players, and there were a number of smaller steelbands on the Avenue before Starlift left. One of which had two P.H.I. among their acoustic pans, though I unfortunately didn't get to hear them play. I heard that Harmonites were on the road, and of course Desperadoes was playing for D' People's Band, neither of which I heard. I did get a chance to hear the tassa group connected with that mas band, which was the only tassa I saw during Carnival. I heard Renegades as they passed us on their way to Independence Square, and there were some other bands that I couldn't identify at various times that day. Steelbands seemed to be well represented on the road though, which I was proud of.

Because we only had a few masqueraders, we opted to head back for home instead of going further into town and by the Savannah. As the evening turned into night and we made our way back to the panyard, it seemed like Carnival trickled off and ended abruptly- very similar to how it began on J'Ouvert morning. When I look back on Carnival, I found it funny to think how someone would react if they had no idea about Carnival and was simply dropped in Trinidad... The same can be said for the aftermath of Carnival: feathers, fake jewels and costume parts littered the streets and nearly every flat surface had splatters and hand prints of paint. It was really incredible to see such a huge and diverse crowd of people in the streets at the same time and having this joyous and raucous celebration instead of fighting!

I see why people call it the greatest show on Earth, and for those that have not been, believe me when I say you must experience it for yourself! Carnival was beautiful, exciting, and unlike anything I had every seen before. Starlift was a fantastic band to share the experience with, and I have to say a huge thank you to all of my band members who played with me! I will leave off for here, but I have one last post to give, so please stick with me for my concluding entry - I think many of you will enjoy it!

Until the next and last time,

Life for Pan
Hello everyone,
My last day in Trinidad, I met up with Salah Wilson in the afternoon and we decided to check out Fort George, which neither of us had visited yet. The fort, for those who don't know, was an old defense outpost built high on a hill above St. James. People told me that you can see everything from up there, but yet again I was not prepared for just what that meant...
The hill was so high and steep, the vegetation hid any signs its slopes below - as far as I could tell it was a straight drop. But that seemed to work like a picture frame for the gorgeous panoramic masterpiece in front of me... The golden afternoon sun poured down sweeping green slopes of the surrounding hills and spread over the roof tops of the metropolis nestled below. Beyond that was the full shoreline of the Gulf of Paria, the Bocas to the right, the ships disappearing into the horizon in front, and to the left it seemed like you could see almost the whole rest of the country... This view was a visual summary of my two months in Trinidad. There was the Northern Range, whose Santa Cruz valley was my home for the majority of my stay, and whose peaks seemed to constantly watch over me. I found Starlift's yard in Murcurapo, Playboyz yard off Tragarete Road (ok it was an approximation...), the Savannah, NAPA, Park Street (which was my route between Woodbrook and downtown), Frederick Street, Independence Square, City Gate, the boat I took to San Fernando, the boat I took to Tobago, Laventille (Express 21's yard is in there somewhere), San Juan, the Caroni Swamp, the Caroni Plains, St. Joseph and Curepe.
Up on top of that hill, the only sounds we heard were the parrots flying below and the families sharing the view with us. This unbelievably refreshing wind swept in from the sea, and with the quiet, created a really peaceful atmosphere. As I ran through the memories of each place in front of me, I eventually began to piece it all together and appreciate everything as a whole... Trinidad- what a beautiful country! What beautiful people!! What a beautiful culture, with the most beautiful instrument, the steel pan!!! Though of course you have to be careful and know who to trust, the hospitality and kindness of most Trinis is something that is not talked about enough! So many people have been unbelievably nice to me, despite me being a total stranger! I've met people at maxi stands that not only had great conversations with me, but paid my fare and, in one case, set up a meeting with a early steelband leader and tuner! My friend's mother, whom I stayed with in Santa Cruz, not only didn't charge me rent, but refused to let me do any serious work around the house, AND cooked me meals almost every day! Carnival Tuesday night, I was talking with my friend's sister (whose Belmont house we stayed in during Carnival) about how I had wanted to get the ingredients and instructions to make Trini food for my family back home. That night she gave me two bags of curry, a bag of geera, a bag of cloves, a bag of sorrel, and a container of pepper sauce. She also told me her husband would carry me to get a cookbook in the morning, which was already waiting for me when I woke up... That family only knew me through my friend in Starlift, but they gave me a place to stay, food, and then all of that! I could go on and on about how kind Trini people have been to me...
My thoughts then turned to pan, and the view turned to a historical road map... Seeing the areas where the innovations and inventions took place, where the historic panyards were/are, where the historic bands used to parade, where the big riots happened... The roads and avenues became like historical trails, cleared and set down by pan's pioneers and left to us to maintain and extend... Then I thought about Carnival and the energy that I felt through it all: the buzz of building anticipation leading up to Carnival week, the spring-board of adrenaline and excitement of Panorama finals, and then the energy and positive vibes that pulsed through the streets from J'Ouvert to Carnival Tuesday. I remembered all the love and respect people showed for pan in the streets, I remembered all of the passion that I saw during Panorama, and suddenly I came to realize some of the significance and meaning of the term "Mecca of Pan". In my eyes, it was PAN, the national instrument of this country, that was the heartbeat pumping Carnival's energy through the streets. It was the flow of blood, sweat and tears flowing from generation to generation of pan players that fired the flames of passion during Panorama. Pan has been taken all over the world, and is flourishing everywhere it has been planted. But only in Trinidad is pan alive like I saw it during Carnival! People of all ages, classes, skin colors, nationalities, people that don't even speak the same languages, all of them play side by side in Trinidad's steelbands. The exchange of skills, ideas, perspectives and stories that occurs in the panyards of Trinidad is incredible. Also, nowhere else is pan as big a part of the culture than in Trinidad (think of the Spree Simon billboard on the East Side, the Woodbrook graffiti sign, the use of pan in advertising, etc...)
While we took in the view, Salah and I talked about the various things we've been trying to do in our respective pan communities, we talked pan history, pan future, and some of the issues facing the steelband movement in Trinidad and elsewhere. Although pan in Trinidad is on a whole different level than it is back home, the movement should always be about progress. I hope that this year's theme of "Do Something For Pan" will result in some serious and realistic goals being set, a clear direction established and actions taken to create progress. Because Trinidad is the Mecca, pan should never be taken for granted there (though pan should never be taken for granted anywhere!) Who knows, with enough work and support, we might be able to have a second "Golden Era of Pan" during my lifetime! (A guy can dream...)
Later that night, the members of Starlift threw the foreigners a going-away party in the yard. We all took pictures, reminisced about our time together, talked about our hopes for the future, ate, drank and had a wonderful time. They told us the night was to show us appreciation for coming down and working hard for the group, but it really was about solidifying our bonds and making it official that we were part of the Starlift family. The feeling of being adopted into that kind of community, THAT is the greatest experience I've had in Trinidad! Before we left, my friend Marshal gave each of us a necklace which on one side had a pan, and on the other were the words "The beauty of Trinidad and Tobago" written above an outline of the country. Though Trinidad is full of beauty, the most beautiful thing is pan and the people involved in it...
I have had a truly life-changing experience on this trip to Trinidad. I had studied the history and culture of this place for years before making this pilgrimage, but just like people's descriptions didn't prepare me for Fort George, I was not at all prepared for the sights, the sounds, the food, the vibes, and the people of Trinidad and Tobago. With everything that I got to see and experience in this first trip, I still left with such a hunger to experience more! The longer I stayed in Trinidad, the more I loved it and appreciated it, and it was extremely difficult to leave such an awesome place. I hope this discussion has proved helpful for those planning to come for the first time. I am THRILLED, humbled and completely blown away, however, to know that these posts have appealed to people emotionally and sentimentally. I was afraid people would think these posts were a waste of time, but I can't tell you how rewarding it has been to hear that people were actually touched and entertained by them! For all of you who have been reading my updates, THANK YOU SO MUCH! I really have appreciated the comments and feedback many of you have left, and I will be responding to many of them soon! I have to thank When Steel Talks for giving me this opportunity to share with everyone, and especially for the incredible service they do for the steelband movement and pan across the globe! I am going to attempt to pass on the things I have learned in pan's homeland, and hopefully the educational and musical tools I brought home with me will help me take the Indiana Steel Pan Association to the next level! I wrote earlier that I've never missed a place so much before I even left it, now imagine what it's like being back home! Thanks for reading, thank you to those who have helped me out on this trip, and I hope to see you all in Trinidad next year!
Until then,
Life for Pan!
Eric Mannweiler
Now that you are a Trini your journey has just begun, Trinidad is the mecca of pan, but Carnivals and panorama continue after the Greatest Carnival on earth. I encourage you to experience some of the other Carnivals and Panoramas although none compares to Trinidad's. I will miss your postings. You made me home sick and even more appreciative of having the pleasure of calling sweet TnT home.

 

aaahhhhhhhhhh WONDERFUL Eric - !   you got it!!!


excellent writing, you really made us all feel right there with you.  I'm so glad you took it all in.... and i know just how you feel.


 

MR FRIEND I HAVE ENJOYED EVERY MINUTE OF YOUR WRITINGS FROM THE  BEGINING TO END.

I COMPLMENT YOU ON AN EXCELLENT JOB--WELL DONE. IT TOOK ME BACK ON A BEAUTIFUL JOURNEY OF MY HOMELAND THAT I LEFT IN 1955 WHEN I PLAYED MAS WITH SALDENA IN THE GLORY OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. I AM HAPPY YOU HAD SUCH A GREAT TIME IN MY COUNTRY.

DAVE DE CASTRO "THE BANDIT"

 

Hello Eric, thank you for sharing your experience of T&T's carnival. Pity the carnival is over because I was always looking  forward to read your pieces. I played with Starlift on Monday and made it my business to find you and say hello to you. I was one of the many and what a lovely smile you have. I would like to thank "When steel talk" for the opportunity and hope that this can be documented and a copy send to Pantrinbago for their Library. It was truly a joy to read. Best of Luck in your endeavours. 

Great job Eric,

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog. You have excellent skills of writing and expression.  The sincerity of your love for pan and for our people was recognised by all the Trinis you met, hence the good treatment you received.

I hope that this will not be the last we will hear from you on When Steel Talks - so as the Jamaicans say -

Walk Good and More Time.

 

I do hope that we will be able to Do Something for Pan in the near future.

RR

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