When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

by Dalton Narine


I listened mostly on radio after losing the CTV feed, which returned in the middle of the Large Bands competition.

So I missed the Phase Pan Groove’s visuals, but was entranced by Desperadoes’ roses shining in Picardy, in the hush of the silver dew — yes, those waves upon waves of beautiful sounds washing over the audience down there and even back here in a cascading sweep of wonderment.

It is the best the band has played in more than a decade. Fact is, not a single piece of music rivaled Zanda's orchestration.

Beverly Griffith proved (and rightly so), that the arranger is largely responsible for the Despers sound, not necessarily the galaxy of tuners that the late Rudolph Charles inveigled to come up Laventille Hill to keep him company. So it is befitting that, 30 years after his death, Desperadoes has won its eleventh title, having been stuck on No. 10 for sixteen years.

Many a Panorama final had left me in full understanding of, and appreciation for (Carlton Alexander) Zanda’s creativity during his tenure with Siparia Deltones. I found this phenomenon on the Drag as his music poured out slow and smooth like water-carved flat stones in a stream. When he won with Radica. When he drew raves for I’m Not Drunk. When . . .

On a different front, I remember well the final night nine-year-old Arddin Herbert responded to a question I posed to him about his future, a TTT camera locking in on his face, which beamed with sweat beads and illustrious joy following his performance with Invaders.

“I want to be an arranger and leader of a steel band,” he rhapsodized.

And that’s who he’s become, now punctuating his vision back then with his animated composition and arrangement of, what else but “Take Dat.”

Reminds of these Shakespeare lines:
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.

Way to go Arddin. Exceptional music. Set the course and eat it up.

Laugh last, brother.

As the night wore out, I thought I may have been dreaming, but I’m all right now. For I distinctly recall being enamored of Trinidad All Stars’ presentation, considering, as the band’s songwriter/player Clive Telemaque said afterward, that doctors diagnosed arranger Leon Smooth Edwards with stress and insisted that he walk away from the music for a couple of days.

We’re talking final week. Telemaque allowed as how the band was on a low note until Smooth ambled back into the panyard Friday night. Some players cried, hugged him, so happy that the gifted one was healthy again...

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There was a mistake on our part when we originally posted this article. The link and omission has been corrected -- When Steel Talks

Thanks for the insights Dalton.

Panorama 2016  -the night that PAN won - again.

But the question remains what's next?

Sidelined from 'de road' by sound volume, technology, and societal changes, the music continues to grow, new composers, and composer/arrangers and players are bringing new talents and genius to the game, but only the players are dancing, and we the audience are listening, approving and even raving. You think PANORAMA ready to take its place in world music, outside of the limitations of the carnival that spawned it?

Kelvin, change starts from the top, but why is the top spinning so wildly every time we speak of ineptitude, as if we the people bringing revolution. This cabal is beholden to no one. They're the pan lords of the empire. They feel they are the Force. Well, they're not with me and I'm not with them.
What I think is necessary is to get together a delegation of the people, including players, and raise holy hell with the Prime Minister about the $10 Mil that was parceled out supposedly to build anew a steel band headquarters.
Good luck with that. Ain't happening. All that you said in your note, Kelvin, cannot be addressed until the body representing pan, players and by extension we the people, have received a redress of our grievances. Redress in the strictest terms is setting right of what is morally wrong. A whole slew of them may have reached their ears over the years or may still be languishing on their desks, but the power of any movement is through the people, and the people elected a prime minister. Nobody in his right mind wants to see the Minister of Culture. I don't know, they could be part and parcel of the cabal. But the PM, the boss man of T&T, should have authority to bless this cursed culture by organizing a task force to ferret out old grievances and begin from there. He is King and should delegate responsibly. The matter is not beyond the purview of the PM. It is not a diplomatic matter, but one of cultural conscience that would in effect ripple around the world. As you noted, players are dancing and the audience is listening. So, no, Panorama -- flaunting old currency -- certainly hasn't enough of the requisite cache to call shots in world music. I mean, Pan has misplaced the Bomb, for Christ's sake. How low can you go to simply dismiss the opening day's festival of the people and their invention? We need to get high on incentives for the jouvert. Roll from there. Dalton Narine

As usual, insightful and on point. Thank you Mr. Narine I too was blown away by Despers' amazing performance. Respect due. 

Dalton: I would like you to expand on your line below.

"On the other hand, Silver Stars' Liam Teague, I find, overdid it a tad with his progressive slant of Panoramic.".

I will take the LONG ANSWER!!!

Claude, I believe that Liam Teague is a big, big player in all things pan and percussion. I wrote a post-Panorama piece bigging him up as one of the few progressives that would break the logjam of conformists who hog the top of the Panorama money chain year after year. Teague, Amrit Samaroo and Duvone Stewart, the trinity of the new wave of arrangers, are certainly ready to carry out their mission. Reminds me of a jazz session that Wynton Marsalis had with Boogie Sharpe the night before a Pan is Beautiful event that drew high-powered judges, including David Del Tredici, John Corigliano, Martin Bookspan and Marsalis. I picked them up from the airport and took three of them on a whirlwind tour of panyards before settling them in at the Hilton. They were so befuddled by Pamberi's rehearsal at a little panyard up a slight hill in San Juan, weed smoking out the atmosphere, a full moon coming up, that when Corigliano unpacked the smallest Sony tape recorder that I'd seen, and placed it atop a car in the yard to record Billy the Kid by Aaron Copland, I thought Pan had hit pay dirt.

No, this was not happening, they said. Copland on pan in corner of San Juan awash with Tampi?.
That experience for sure set the tone of the festival.

The New World Encyclopedia addressed Copland as "the dean of American composers." Copland's music achieved a difficult balance between modern music and American folk styles. The open, slowly changing harmonies of many of his works are said to evoke the vast American landscape. He incorporated percussive orchestration, changing meters, polyrhythms, polychords, and tone rows.

On the other hand, according to Marsalis, “Genius always manifests itself through attention to fine detail. Works of great genius sound so natural they appear simple, but this is the simplicity of elimination, not the simplicity of ignorance.”

In a sense, that's the message he handed Boogie at the Hilton. but he couched it in the word "control." Boogie needed to be reminded of control - the simplicity of elimination. And he listened.

So now, three purveyors of the Panorama art (Liam Teague, Amrit Samaroo and Duvone Stewart) are jockeying to be themselves as musicians in their own right. And I strongly believe that their time has come. Last year's work by Teague pushed the music to a more artistic level. His chord progressions titillated. I was hearing the stuff of genius. In one corner of the music I imagined Copland. But in 2016, Teague's music didn't sound as painterly. I though it was somewhat overcooked. Some of the simplicity had strayed into the ether. Of course, I'm not a judge, but the same Panorama judges that placed Silver Stars seventh pegged Trinidad All Stars at No. 6. Besides, Teague shouldn't feel ahow about what I think or write. He should look in the mirror and listen to his own work, even as a professional who is beloved worldwide. Look at how "control" moved Boogie to the left. And he never complained. Indeed, his music is a measure of growth and experience and experiment. I still think Teague will win a Panorama title. Soon. Maybe the first of the trilogy of progressives who I touted in this note. Thanks for your curiosity, Claude. Hope it made a difference. Dalton Narine

Thoughtful and interesting comments as usual , Dalton.

Two comments :

I still believe that panorama music is way to complex to introduce steelbband music to a general world audience unfamiliar with the art-form,


My first impression on listening to Liam'Teague's arrangement ( Liam happens to be a musical phenom for whom I have the utmost respect) was  "good thing he's a Trini else he'd be lambasted on this forum for what he was trying to do to "we ting""

Get real here panorama will only attract an audience within the borders of trinidad and tobago the way this artform has been exploited and mistreated from it's creation it's going to be difficult not for the instrument but the music that is being played at panorama.To me pan is being treated as cultural welfare.Tuners,arrangers and composers get theirs maybe not in full,but the people who suffer the most are the players of which i was one for many years as a member of starlift from the late sixties to the seventies before becoming a member of phase2 pan groove untill the mid eighties when i travelled to the united states on tour as a member of phase2 i will be phase2 till the day i leave this earth and i will be forever gratefull to boogsie for the   opportunity to get out of trinidad and leave behind the difficult life i was leading it happens to many panmen and pan women.When i listen to the music of the great Tony Williams and panam north stars it lets me see that the standard of music at panorama has not been given a fair chance to grow because it seem like politics determines the destiny of pan.Ray Holman Clive bradley and Len boogsie sharpe tried their best to send the music in the right direction but these socalled judges who are nothing but biased politically motivated imps are destroying the future of pan.

Merchant said pan in danger right now pan on DEATH ROW.

Cedric,my brother,all due respect,but Pan ,will live on forever,,,it's humans who will go. Pan will be around after the third world war,,,,as Pan does not need any form of energy to exist,be it electric,nuclear etc. Pan is the instrument of the future. Calypso is the rhythm and vibration,of the inventors of Pan,,,,that will always be the main rhythm that Pan plays,,,,among any other rhythms that exists ,as Pan can play anything,,,just like a piano can play from classics to Calypso,,so can pan.ALL THE BEST TO PAN AND PANIST from NOW TO ETERNITY.BLESSINGS.


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