When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

by Dr. Kenyon Williams

Reprinted at the request of Dr. Williams


Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - In the spring of 2012, Andy was invited by the band to come down and play in their June benefit concert at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA), which raises funds for both the Academy and for music scholarships for Academy graduates. After working with the students and performing in the benefit, Dennis Phillip asked Andy if he would be interested in serving as the band’s arranger for Panorama 2013. “I jumped at it!” Narell recalls.


But the vision of the board was much more than just bringing a new arranger to the panyard. “One of the reasons we talked to Andy was because of his network [of pan players],” states Dennis. “That wasn’t an accident, it was a strategy.”


birdsong invited Andy to bring international pan players with him. “They told me to go ahead, tell everybody, and not just tell everybody, but try to bring the Paris band,” said Andy. For over ten years, Narell has been working with a band of 25 to 30 players, which are a part of the Calypsociation School of Steelpan in Paris. Using this core group as his test vehicle, Andy began to write the music for birdsong’s Panorama composition in August and then began to teach it to the members of the band. Almost everyone who learned the piece wanted to come, and 22 soon made the commitment to travel to Trinidad.

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What was the cost of this experiment in dollars and cents?   Was there followup?   How do you measure success besides the 14th place at Panorama?   Did any of the T&T players receive sponsorship in Paris to continue their music studies or was this one-sided?   How do you measure success for the T&T pannists?

Yvette these experiments always seem very one-sided. The visitors fill their resumes with 10 pages of nauseating stuff and will end up teaching one or two Trinidad panist at an American University. But that's not the fault of the foreigners. This is the fault of the bands management.


Ms. Johnson, GREAT questions!!! (Does ANYONE know the answers? Or, are they shrouded in secrecy, like everything that's "pan-related"?)


Miss Brenda, this comment is so SPOT ON!!! I am very impressed with both your understanding and articulation of Mr. Narell's position, as they relate to the threats against our traditions. I agree; he has the money, fame, and power...why not launch his own competition, like Simon Cowell did and define the rules there. To choose Panorama and Birdsong to further his objectives, is not only disrespectful, but insulting to our country's mores and traditions as well. I pray that "God" touches his heart, so that he will come to realize EXACTLY what he is proposing to do with OUR culture. Again, he is accepted at the dinner table; I just do not appreciate his wanting to sit at the head of that table. Especially before Othello Molineaux, Robert Greenidge, Ken "Professor" Philmore, and Mr. Len "Boogsie" Sharpe. What gives him the right to define us, is what I am not getting, and hopefully someone can articulate that entitled position, as well as you have articulated your opposition to his approach in attempting to have his way with our culture. Again, Mr. Andy Narell; pan and Panorama is OURS to continue to define, and yours to continue to embrace, and NOT redefine! (NO disrespect, sir.)


In my opinion, Panorama is MORE than just a musical event; it is an INSTITUTION, embedded in the mores and rituals of a people. When I compare it to Jonkanoo and New Orleans' Mardi Gras, I see a HUGE difference between how they honor TRADITION and how we move away from it. I am sure that there are numerous talented and visionary professional musicians that take part in those events, however, they do not attempt to refine them. Those musicians use other avenues of opportunity to advance their arts, while leaving old rituals they way they were. That way, their rituals and mores are passed on to future generations. In Trinidad and Tobago, we see the effects of not handing down our mores, as we see the choices that many of our young people make, because they have NOTHING connecting them with their past or their ancestors.

I think that, rather than mess with tradition, we need to think outside the proverbial box, and create and develop other avenues that can be more content-focused, while keeping the steelbands and Panorama in their traditional contexts. Again, in my opinion, what Mr. Andy Narell does not understand, is that Panorama and pan, are much more complex than the musical terms in which he views them.

Panorama, traditionally, afforded "non-musicians" to become "musicians", even if for one season, lasting a few months. They are not music professionals; they are the citizens of a twin-island nation, who rightfully feel that they should be able to continue participating in their rituals. I would think that, in Mr. Narell's position of power, he would consider creating his own steel orchestra music competition; one that focuses on what is important to him: the MUSIC. I also think that he should consider the complex nature of our rituals, including those where music is a part of those rituals, especially Panorama.

I question if Mr. Narell has the proper historical and sociopolitical frame of reference, when he criticizes the music, for, again, the music is but a part of that ritual that has come to be known as Panorama. In any event, I do not think that ignoring existing rules of the game, or trying to change those rules while the game is in progress, is a respectable way to go about whatever he intends, whether bona fide, or not. Can you imagine if Michael Jordan, because he disagreed with some of the rules of the NBA, decided to play by his own set of rules. If a baller thinks that a layup should be more than two steps, should he walk on the court, and layup the basketball taking as many steps as he sees fit? No. What that person should do, is form a lobby and challenge the rules in the off-season, or off the court.

Andy Narell wants to change the rules while the game is in progress under a specific set of rules. Has he ever approached the ones responsible for setting the rules, or does he feel that he does not need to? Again, without any attempt to disrespect Mr. Narell, I think that his approach is one that's embedded in a "superiority" mindset, where his position of entitlement crosses borders. He does not need us to tell him how our rituals should be, for he knows how they should be, better than us. I am sorry, but I do not accept that position of entitlement, regardless of how great a pan player Mr. Andy Narell is. I sincerely hope that he comes to understand the opposition to the changes he intends to make to our Panorama, for after all, it is OURS, and not his. We welcomed him into our house, not to replace the head of the family, and position himself at the head of the table, but to sit with us as a guest, in the place where guests sit. That is my take on this issue.

Finally, unless we understand the role that UWI played in the demise of the "Steelband Movement", we will not understand the attempt to sanitize the steelbands, or as they prefer to call them, the steel orchestras. Bands are made up of the "uneducated" lumpen on the streets; the orchestra is the "educated" elite who gets to play inside the Massa's house. The former cannot read music, nor cares to. The latter reads music, and adheres to musical standards that are "Western" (Eurocentric).I see it as an insult to the former, to tell them that they are no longer needed, as they are being replaced with the refined panman and panwoman, who reject the rustic traditions of their forefathers, in favour of the refined approach of the elite and snobbish. They were able to remove the Bomb competition, and their next target is Panorama. And if they have their way, in a few years NOTHING about Panorama will remind our youth of the struggles and sacrifices that the steelband pioneers, like my dad, made in fighting to have the steelbands and their instrument of choice, be accepted by society. I think that it is wrong, that now the instrument has "value" (in "Western" terms), the very branch of our society who wanted to see it destroyed, are now attempting to take it away from the branch of society that gave us the instrument in the first place. This changing of hands, is what I openly oppose, and has NOTHING to do with Mr. Andy Narell, his nationality or "race". I hope that one day, he comes to see the perception of entitlement that he continues to emit, as he continues to redefine a culture he claims to embrace. So, yes, I love embracing hugs, but please, do not squeeze the life out of me in doing so. 


Ghost, so eloquently stated.


You said a lot of things some of which I agree but I beg to differ with you on this, I don’t think Andy is trying to change the rules, he’s a musician and educator and to quote Ray Holman a great musician, he happens to see the steel pan/drum and steel orchestra potential a little different from us, if what you stated is true then Bradley would be accused of the same when he said…"My main concern is setting this thing forward as an example to what can be done with this kind of music, what changes can be made and what kind of music can be acceptable."

We have to be willing to outgrow what no longer fits, the present Panorama model no longer fits where pan and the music is going, tradition is understandable, the only thing permanent in the universe is change, change is necessary as we continue to educate the young musicians, they are our future.

If I follow your logic, I’ll say the descendants of the Caribs and Arawaks have the same rights and claims as the Native Americans here.

Here’s Andy comments on his music and Panorama...


Thanks, ODW. I will check out the link. BTW - I do not like either the exalting of, or the singling out of Andy Narell. Again, ODW, I simply think that pan can adapt to a variety of  musical contexts, and during the Carnival season, the pan competition at that time should be kept traditional, which is essentially the music of Trinidad and Tobago during its annual ritual. This also helped seal partnerships and form relationships between calypsonains,and the steelbands. Of course, the mas bands also feature our seasonal music, namely calypso and soca. I am sure that the King or Queen of Carnival, would have a hard time chippin' and jumping across the stage on Dimache Gras.

Again, I think that playing non-seasonal music at Carnival is not going to work for the steelbands. I think that it would be better to look outside of the Carnival season to showcase music that does not come from us. And by that, I mean who we are as a "people"; for every nation moves to a different rhythm. Carnival is our international showcase, and what has failed the steelbands is the lack of proper and responsible management, and not the traditional facets of our culture. In Hawaii, they greet you with their culture, and create and move to their own rhythms.

I hope, one day, we see and really come to appreciate who we are, and our culture, as those of other nations like Hawaii and , yes, Jamaica. No one has to guess who is a Jamaican, for they hold on to their culture, and move to their own beat. When people visit Jamaica, they do not want to hear some reggae band playing classical music all night. You might get away with one, just to showcase your skills, but tourists go to Jamaica to listen to reggae, and maybe dancehall.

BTW - I do see your parallel with Bradley. Again, I say, walk that musical tightrope, and stay within the rules. And, if you lose, do not cry foul and be a sore loser. As for the Caribs and Arawaks; I say, "but, of course" And some reparations for chattel slavery, would be nice too. lol. (Not holding my breath for that one.) Have a blessed and safe evening, bro.


Oh, I saw that video already. Peace. Ghost.


No one liked wining like Bradley. That's just who he was. While yes there were other issues and musical agendas that he would have perfered to address, he was well aware that this was a competition within Trinidad and Tobago social norms. And as such he he used his stature as an advantage whenever possible.

In a WST interview, Bradley explains his responsibility to the panman, and the importance of wining panorama as he tells the story of panman who can for only once a year walk around proudly with his pan sticks showing from his pocket. He also relates to the ordinary pan player as he shares the details of his observation and responsibility to the panman who can only wear his bands jersey with respect once a year.

Bradley made a lot of memorable musical statements with two organizations where wining is everything and losing was simply not an opposition. They were Desperadoes where losing is not part of the equation ever and Pantonic, whose immensely talented young people had no concept of losing. In 2001, after an unexpected lost in 2000, Bradley explained to WST just how disappointed he was in not wining because of the hurt of the young people. Young people who have willingly invested their Summer vacation in a cause, at that moment are only interested in success. As we all well know, Bradley came out with a vengeance and the end result was the classic "Stranger" with Pantonic. In a similar circumstance in 2003, where wining was again paramount to the young people - Bradley took on their persona and crushed the competition.

Indeed while Bradley (like Ray Holman) was well aware of all the shortcomings of Panorama, it was the vehicle and platform for him to display his musical genius - and it never escaped him that this was ultimately about the players and that they wanted to win.

From a personal vantage point - As young players, we were always amazed that Bradley would bypass all the veterans in the band and ask us if we liked certain parts in his arrangements. If we didn't, he would change it. For Bradley the young players had to relate to and enjoy what they were playing. Bradley would continued this behavior years later with the young Pantonic crew.  Again, while we can now reflect and appreciate even more the musical value of what we performed - we the players at that time wanted to win first. Bradley knew this and wanted to win too.

Pan Times,

I am glad that you spoke about winning because this is what panorama is all about, bragging rites for a year, any arranger that says that winning don't matter is lying. Players that know their tune don't stand a chance play like that.  


Yuh better retract this statement:  "... New Orleans' Mardi Gras, I see a HUGE difference between how they honor TRADITION and how we move away from it.


Over the last 314 years, the New Orleans Mardi Gras has been the EPITOME of CHANGE and MODIFICATION and INNOVATION and ADAPTATION TO ENVIRONMENT like every other surviving festival in the world.




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