How many times has he heard the same review? He overarranges. He plays too many notes. He’s too jazzy. This is calypso—our music, they remind. And who are “they” but a bunch of amateurs strutting in his panyard a few nights before the 1987 North Zone steel band finals, running off at the mouth about his musical style. “Ay, Boogsie, you know what?,” they’d crow. “Maybe you could take this part out, put this one in and,... blah, blah, blah.” Such brass! Small wonder he escapes the din by hanging out his pride in the shadows of Phase II Pan Groove, his own big band of 100 players now rehearsing on gleaming chrome pans with steely tones. Here, amid the cacophony, he is secure. In the belly of the beast, Boogsie Sharpe, the world’s best panist-composer-arranger is home.
The beast would roar all night, dancing with itself in a mad narcissistic embrace and feeding the ego with bits of raw culture and large helpings of its creator’s “fast-food” orchestration. And a cult of believers would drift in and out of this musical consciousness well into the dawn.
This is the night life of Phase II Pan Groove after finishing in seventh place in the steel band preliminaries. The festival, aptly called Panorama, is the parent beast that annually burdens each of the nation’s 40-odd steelbands with a single 10-minute performance of a calypso. (Few arrangers offer their own original compositions.)
None of the other finalists is undergoing such rite of madness. But then, no other band is quite like Phase II. The Phase is Boogsie, and Boogsie composes his own calypso music. The nerve of him. Well, his music is overarranged, say the judges of this marathon event. And they aren’t amateurs.
Now he listens. He’s never won this thing, and he needs a victory so bad the security of the Western Hemisphere depends on it. Ay, Carnival 1986 was in a funk when the Phase missed the darn thing by a solitary point. What to expect in ’87? Especially on the heels of the judges’ commentary? Nine long hours (we’re talking the graveyard shift here) of rebuilding a fresh arrangement of Feelin’ Nice, that’s what. And what do you know! Tonight, in the wake of the finals, the whole country will party en masse. Feelin’ nice. And a victorious Boogsie Sharpe would grow to be a big fish in this small West Indian pond. What more can they demand of him?