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Republished from PAN Summer 1988 - Vol.3 No.1
Provided by, and republished with the expressed permission of, PAN Magazine

by Dalton Narine

The best you can say about anything is that it is the greatest in the world. Greatness is an absolute distinction that shouldn’t be measured or taken lightly. And it is in such regard that this writer must take issue with a New York daily which, several months ago, touted Desperadoes as the greatest steel band in the world. Now, hype is hype, but “pan talk” is a serious preoccupation in down-to-earth Trinidad and ‘Tobago, the land of, well, the greatest steel bands in the world. And, there’s the rub.


The names of several bands rush to memory when superior quality and character are considerations in the best-steel band debate. In alphabetical order, the list includes Casablanca, City Symphony, City Syncopators, Crossfire, Desperadoes, Ebonites, Guinness (actually, Cavaliers), Highlanders, Invaders, Pan Am North Stars, Phase II, Renegades, Silver Stars, Solo (or Harmonites), Southern All Stars, Starlift, ‘Tokyo, and Trinidad All Stars. Here is a rundown, as well as the lowdown, on how these bands stack up against each other:


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I am sure there will be as many opinions on this as there people who reply. If you are going to judge by Panorama victories then you have to remember that those placings are only the judges opinion, not necessarily the opinion of the audience or players. I also agree that the great bands of the past may have faded in modern times, but that should not detract from their greatness. For example one of my favourite bands is Pan Am North Stars. Their amazing recordings of both classics and calypsos are unmatched, but where are they now? Renegades do some fantastic work in both those fields, but now I personally prefer Despers or Phase II. This makes a good discussion , although it is impossible for there to be one definitive answer!
We really got to stop this foolish T&T mentality that we are the "IT" when the subject is Steel Pan.Yes it was invented in T&T,but it evolved,migrated and had offsprings.Dalton only listed bands based on the twin island,but what about others located in different parts of the world.For instance Switzerland,which has adopted the steelpan and leads the world in it's research and development,and churns out bands by the Day.You also have the UK,USA,France,Japan,South Africa and Canada.I know I'll get some hate mail for saying this,but hey,this a new age....We can't hold the Pan back...we have to let it go and grow,....just let the steel notes sing and stop all this big up ting.
This is just my opinion.
Can you name the greatest philharmonic in the world since they started that movement. And what is the significance of that.
Each band in Trinidad and Tobago has earned that right to be th greatest on earth.
Bands in Port-of-Spain has the advantage of being heard more than bands in the South, because of the location of the media and other advantages, so that we have not even heard all the bands in Trinbago, how do you rate the Tobago bands.The competitions are not a pointer to that as an amount of cheating and favouritism is in that as well.
Think of Fonclaire playing Pan by Storm, the greatest travesty in a Panorama.
And certainly it is not fair to ask that question in this forum as it will be too biased as far as answers are concerned.
We would have to get a world view on that.

I think this article would have generated much less discussion had the author concluded any other band than the one he identified as being the greatest. Somehow that band always seems to get under people's skin for some reason *tongue in cheek*, especially on this board for some strange reason. Maybe that should be a topic on the board one day, 'Why we hate THAT band'

I rate the greatness of a  steelband  by their overal accomplishment of music festival, panorama and Bomb competition.

Therefore I will say Pan am North Stars then Despers.   

Why was Esso Tripoli left out of the greatest steel bands?  1965 festival winners,1967 third place Panorama and the only Trinidad & Tobago Steel Band to be nominated for a Grammy Award 1972 and there are many more acheivements.

Tripoli did not win 1965 festival, that was westside symphony, but Tripoli was a great band

Tripoli won the 1965 Independence Festival West Side won the 1964 festival Tripoli was 3rd. 

Music Festival as it was called was held every two years North Stars 1962, West Side 1964, Pan Am North Stars 1966.

 Independence festivals were held on the odd years.

Michael, I stand corrected, westside did win in 1964  not 1965, my mistake 

In my opinion, i respectfully say" Pan Am Northstars" were the best in terms of superb leadership under the direction of the esteemed Sir Anthony Williams, combined with the excellent tonal quality of Spider Web design tuning, and his masterful ability in forming the minds of each of his players to play as one... Anthony Williams, out of any other band leader seemed to have imbued into his players a unique sense of discipline that every note, every chord that was played was so precise that it boggled the mind! Anthony Williams in my estimation was not only a pioneer in every sense of the word, but a pan-man way ahead of his time...Thank You so very much in allowing me to pay homage, to a man that i honor and respect, in what he has accomplished.

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