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What is a Pan Tune?

When Steel Talks was recently contacted by a well-known steelpan music academic who expressed some concern over certain tunes which have been listed in the 2011 Pan Tunes lineup.

The heading "Panorama Tunes for 2011" simply means the composer of the tune sent us written confirmation, with the submission of their music work(s), that they wanted their tune to be considered by steel orchestras for the global panorama seasons of said year.

As to what constitutes a panorama tune, that is still up for debate. Is it musical content and/or layout? Is it lyrical content? Is it historical content that relates to pan? Is it a tune written by the band's arranger? Or is a "pan tune" simply a tune that a band has chosen to play at panorama - no matter what the reason?
If Desperadoes had chosen "Discount" instead of Benjai's "Trini" would it (Discount) now be considered a legitimate panorama tune? In 2006 Exodus Steel Orchestra chose the popular soca jam "Max It Up" by Destra Garcia, and by all accounts were severely punished, because "Max It Up" was considered to not be a 'legitimate' tune for panorama. However, Zanda took Siparia Deltones with the very unconventional, "I'm Not Drunk" to the panorama finals.
The late Clive Bradley, made a name for himself particularly in New York by choosing tunes no one would dare to use or think about using - for panorama.  The result was some of the greatest music arrangements ever done for the steelpan family of instruments. On the short list, those that come to mind are - Shadow's "Dingolay""Horn" and "Stranger",  Andre Tanker's "Ben Lion",  Carl Jacob's & David Rudder's "Trini to D Bone", Destra's "Celebrate", Johnny King's "Darling".  And just one panorama season ago, Yohan Popwell took New York by storm with the globally popular arrangement of Miguel Reyes' "Bandoleros."  None of these songs can be considered traditional "pan tunes". 
Incidentally, Clive Bradley expressed to When Steel Talks on numerous occasions, how much he appreciated the 'openness' and 'freeness' of New York which did not limit him, but instead allowed him to arrange music he knew was not considered "pan tunes" in Trinidad, but - however brought out the passion of the New York pan players, the true potential of the steel orchestra phenomenon, and the beauty and majesty of music played by PAN.
One of Trinidad & Tobago's young soca stars who is herself passionate about the steelpan art form, L'il Bitts, submitted to When Steel Talks for the 2011 panorama season  "We Own the Night" offering is probably considered not a traditional pan tune -but it is firmly written solely about the Panorama competition itself!
Having said all this, until - or if ever - there are some definitive rules or criteria agreed upon by all the major "parties" concerned - When Steel Talks will not eliminate any person's submission, within reason.  To do so, could artificially hinder the natural evolution of the Pan Tune Genre.

What do you think?

When Steel Talks

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Please, let me trow in my two cents worth in this tra la la. I'm no Steel pan music academic, just a plain old road bump, who grew-up in and around Calypso and Steel pan. I fully endorse your position at When Steel Talks, relating to what is or is not a Pan Tune. All music was written for vocalist or Instruments. Be it Steel Pan, Brass, Strings, Wind or whatever.

In Trinbago, most of our writers and singers target the national festival called Carnival. The biggest shows coming out of the Carnival is the Steel band show called Panorama. So, off cause most writers and singers target the Panorama Bands, hoping that their tune get a play. In this highly competitive business, is the best vehicle through which they may get some recognition. There is nothing like, and never will be a Pan Tune. Remember, Pan is an Instrument on like no other, and it could play anything.

Keep-up the good work at When Steel Talks.

Michael L Joseph


As a person who has been involved in writing lyrics for "Pan Tunes" since 1972, I have always maintained that "pan could play anything". I also suggest that what the composers have done is to pen songs with pan in mind. That means that we do not have to use the word "pan" and the theme does not have to be about pan. Kitchener is a good example. Songs like "The Wrecker", Bee's Melody", "Mas in Madison" etc were just good tunes for the pan. What makes for a good Panorama selection is an interesting melodic line, chord structure and an original theme that offers the arranger something to develop his arrangement. A song like "Sailing" fits this bill but says nothing about pan. I think it is unfortunate that these songs have been labelled as "Pan Tunes" making the Deejays cast them aside as being not fit for a fete, despite the fact that they have the petrons wailing on Panorama Day. Maybe if Benjai had put "Trini" on my compilation and it had been branded as a Pan Tune (9 bands are playing it), it would never have made the fetes.

Alvin C. Daniell

Well said Mr Daniel,I have been making that point for many years
On the button Alvin...now is the time, as in now is the time, the international fundraiser collaboration, mimicing we are the world from Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones......filmed in TnT the rock gardens etc....BUT.....for re branding...Pan, Panorama, its Music etc..the first world is ahead of us.......we, not them.... we is...sic...., the Christopher Columbus/pan pioneers of the world, we Trinis.
I would also like to add that ...Own Tune........writing and producing music specifically for Panorama, has had its advantages and disadvantages, and further to that, before the DJ's, the big trucks of musicians, and the manipulation of the road march, pan had a significant say in Carnival...the transition from Kaiso to Soca also created that void which the so called Pan Song attempted to fit, the Soca songs were and are still geared towards the party and radio DJ...however, more recently, the artistes are reducing the speed, the Groovy Soca as they call it is advancing, this year there are more groovy songs at the top than ever before, hence the Benjai popularity with the steelbands
Well said. Let's stop this thing about pan tune and give the arrangers the freedom of choice. There are no specific Piano tunes, Trombone, Trumpet, Sax tunes etc. What is all the fuss about Pan tunes. Every song  is a pan song.

I have always maintained that the the 'pan tune' is an anomaly caused by an unfortunate and untimely combination of circumstances that gave birth to this pseudo-genre of local music.


Recall that around the late 90s, a few things happened simultaneously:


  1. Pan arrangers were rewarded by the judges for discarding a more 'people friendly' approach to arranging in favour of a more musically complex approach
  2. The result of point 1 above is that less crowd pleasing, but more musically 'sophisticated' arrangements, calling for more complicated melodies gave rise to the increase of 'own tunes' by arrangers
  3. Soca music took a more rhythmic and less melodic turn, best expressed by Sprangalang in the calypso circa 1999 'Two chord'
  4. Unless an arranger composed their own melody, there was little left in the soca/kaiso music of the time for panorama, so Pan Trinbago initiated the 'Pan Tune' competition, nobly intending to encourage composers to write more music for bands to play at panorama - this opened pandora's box
  5. Note that crowd participation in panorama naturally waned, as evidenced by dramatically reduced attendance (except for the semis which will have large attendance whether steelbands show up or not - sad), lack of non-partisan interest, and a subsequent reduction in the competition itself (elimination of zonal finals, carnival Thursday semi final etc)
  6. Every Tom, Dick, and Harrilalal began stringing together hasty melodies, including sometimes questionable lyrics about 'pan', and entering the pan tune contest for the $$
  7. Fast forward to the present, even though the pan tune contest is no more, some composers have gotten into composing music they hope bands will play, so they do so, and the tunes are unfortunately called 'pan songs'.

Thank God, Benjai's music this years represents the beginning of a swing back to melody as the base of carnival music instead of just rhythm. Long before this whole pan tune anomaly began, we had Smooth doing fantastic and lasting arrangements of songs like 'Rebecca', 'Doh Back Back', 'Suck Meh Soucouyant', and 'Curry Tabanca' and Bradley doing 'Sailing' and 'She want me to Sing' and Boogsie with 'Nani Wine' most of which were crowd pleasers, but shunned by the judges (who influence the direction of panorama music), so it is more or less true that pan can 'play anything'.


It will be interesting, especially since the last 2 panorama winners were heavy crowd favourites, how the judging will go this year, and whether we will see more soca music in panorama in years to come or whether it will continue to be an arranger's competition. I for one, hope that we can close this 'pan tune' era and return to playing 'good calypsoes' where panorama is concerned.

Excellent analysis DJ.  I think you hit the nail on the head.

The only thing I would add is that, the inability of the composers of the tunes the bands have been playing in recent years to get air play, has contributed immensely to the to this so call category called the "pan tune."  However, through the efforts of WST and internet - I think this period of isolation is coming to an end.

This year, more people will come to the panorama knowing the tunes the bands are playing than we've seen in recent years.


I thinkt he "judges" aspect is a big one. You get classically trained musician (nothing wrong with that) to judge and then give them classical guidelines (somethign VERY wrong with that) to judge by. Panorama is a competition, yes...a musical competition, yes... but it is an ENTERTAINING musical competition. In other words, the people need to enjoy the music... the current method of judging doesn't allow for that...

I totally agree with these comments, they need to do away with the so called "Pan Tunes" and go back to the tunes like Rebecca and Unknown Band etc.  Those were the days of great composers (i.e. Super Blue etc.) and great music.



I totally agree with some of the comments how come some of these composers dont write more than one song because if you listen to some of the tunes and the lyrs some of them dont mesh its good to try your luck but you have to do your home work.peace

I await the day when the so-called category "pan tune" is no longer with us and arrangers have the freedom to do as they FEEL with whatever graps their IMAGINATION. Neville Jules, the master, use to say he choose a tune because it is the MOST OPEN TUNE. Anyway, according to Orville Wright, 95% of these 'Pan tunes" over the years have proven to be very, very FLAT and brought nothing to the People's Carnival that is PANORAMA.


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