Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music
This question is more for the seasoned veterans out there, but of course any suggestions would be appreciated. Last weekend I was at Miami of Ohio University's steelband festival with Michael Spiro and some of Indiana pan folks, and after Spiro's clinic on Afro-Cuban instruments Liam Teague asked him a question that I had never considered... The rhythm used as the typical count-off for Panorama tunes sounds like a Cuban rhythm, isn't normally heard anywhere else in steelband music besides the starting count, and isn't used in any other Trinidadian music (that any of us could think of).
First of all, if I am mistaken with anything above please let me know. Otherwise, do any of you have any thoughts on where this call-in came from, how long it's been used in steelband, etc? I guess I've just taken that rhythm for granted, and I don't think I've ever heard anyone speak of it's history. I understand that Latin music of all sorts have influenced and become part of the steelband musical palette, and have done so since pan's early history. It seems unexpected for that specific rhythm to be singled out and put in such a prominent place in steelband music, isolated from any sort of "Latin" section but instead counting off the band to start the piece.
I've asked a few people about this, and they have only theorized that the rhythm may have come from the 50's, when mambos were especially popular with steelbands. I would love to know the history of this rhythm... How far back has it been used (pre-Panorama?) Did the count-off actually come from mambos, rumbas or some other type of Cuban music; did it come from Venezuelan or other Latin American source; or whether it came from a Trinidadian source? How, when, where and by whom did this phrase become introduced and adopted into steelband music?
If any of you have thoughts on this, I would love to hear them! If there is anyone who can tell me if bands used that rhythm in the first Panorama, that would at least be a start. We've all heard this rhythm used to count off tunes, and I imagine it is understood by pannists across the globe. Until Liam raised this question, I had never considered where the pattern comes from and why and how it has become such an important part of steelband's musical identity. I'm not sure if anyone can give me an exact answer, but I would love to hear any suggestions people may have. Thanks everyone!
Life for Pan,
Thank you all for responding! I know not every steelband uses this count-off, but overall I think this is still the most common pattern (I'm considering reasonably close variations as "close enough to count"). Because I've only experienced one full Panorama season in person, most other years I only know the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, from the videos and recordings of the more memorable finalists. I have been doing tons of research since the first post, and here are my findings - along with what I experienced in Trinidad:
This year I heard this count used more frequently than any other single count. Five of the ten bands in the large category finals used this call in: Starlift, Phase II, Silver Stars, Invaders and Fonclaire. In Semis: Starlift, Invaders, Desperadoes, Silver Stars, Phase II, Fonclaire, Birdsong, definitely used it. Starlift, Silver Stars, Exodus and Our Boys used it in prelims. In the medium category finals, 8 of the 10 used it: Sound Specialists, Power Stars, Buccooneers, Cordettes, Steel Xplosion, Arima Angel Harps, Valley Harps and Katzenjammers. I am not sure about Pan Elders. I know Melodians also used it in semis. I don't have proof either way for most of the small band category, but I know Express 21 used it in prelims. In single pan: I know Woodbrook Playboyz and Powerboat Scorpions used it in prelims and semis, Couva Joylanders used it in prelims, Curepe Polyphonics used it in semis, and Hope Pan Groovers used it in Finals. I'm positive more bands than these used this count-off during the Panorama season, but I am only including bands that I played in, have video and/or first hand accounts of performances.
Five large bands used this count last year during finals (Skiffle, Fonclaire, Depseradoes, Phase II and Invaders). In addition, Shannon Duddley included this count in his book, "Music from Behind the Bridge" as the count Clive Bradley used with Pandemonium in '89. I've heard Beverly Griffith with Tokyo multiple years, Robert Greenidge with Solo Pan Knights '04, Pelham Goddard with Exodus '02... That being said, the videos and recordings I've been able to find of Panorama in the 60's and 70's haven't included this count off...I've found one of Boogsie I believe using it in '84 for Phase II's semi-final performance of "I Music"(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfnLN5J4C_s&feature=related). I can only definitely date the count to 1986 with Pan Rising. I know Starlift didn't use the countoff in their '78 "Du Du Yemi" (which obviously wasn't Ray Holman), but all of the recordings and video I can find of Starlift from before then don't include count-offs. I have found a video of North Stars retrospectively performing their 64' "Mama Dis is Mas", which used this count-off, but I have no idea what year it is from.
The pattern itself is almost identical to a Cuban rhythm called "cascara" which is played on the shell of timbales, most commonly in salsa music. When cascara is played in 2-3 clave the pattern differs from this Panorama count-off by only two notes. I'm currently trying to research the cascara rhythm, and hopefully will form some theories for how this rhythm could have come into the steelband palette. I have tried emailing and facebook-messaging Ray Holman, but have not gotten a response as yet. I have also posed this question to some of my friends from Starlift, and I am waiting to hear back from them as well. Michael Spiro agreed that the rhythm seems to be Cuban, and added that he had asked a similar question to various pannists he'd worked with before, but to no avail.
I will update this post with information as I find it, but in the meantime I would like to still ask for more clarification, specification, or ANYTHING on this subject that might help. Please understand, I am not arguing or questioning anyone's expertise, but this does seem like the most common count-off in Panorama (and frankly is the most common count-off for bands playing Panorama tunes in my neck of the woods...) I've seen many responses saying this was Ray's invention with Starlift, and more than one response has indicated late 60's or early 70's. Otherwise there are many others who are saying its Boogsie's doing, and have suggested mid 80s (which I have video evidence of). Can anyone think of exact years or tunes that may have been the first time this was used? Was '86 Pan Rising the first with Phase II? Did Holman use it with "The Bull"? I appreciate any help anyone can offer on this matter! I would love to ask Ray or Boogsie themselves, but I don't have any good way to do that... In any case, I'll keep this post updated with my findings. Thanks everyone!