When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music


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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Sune Borregaard - WerNer

There is always a 'best.' A best plumber, a best mechanic, a best carpenter, best electrician, a best tuner, etc. And as with all 'greats', it or whom is recognized as 'great' is so anointed, by the very people who benefit from their services, creation, or appreciate their works or art.

There are Martians playing great Martian music right now ,and I will be able to easily identify them because the Martians would have identified them as Great.

Saying Beethoven was great, does not prevent the next 'great' aspirant from evolving. In fact, it give them inspiration to meet and surpass. So how does knowledge of who is Great, or who was great, stop creativity and/or progress?

I agree there is always a "best" carpenter, a "best" mechanic", etc, since their work can be measured in exact terms: how long does the building stand, how well does the car run, etc, but the same exact measure cannot be found in music, since different listeners like different things.

As you say Beethoven was great, but we don't label him as "the best" or "the greatest", since the parameters for that kind of judgement varies from person to person, when it comes to more non-measurable fields such as music and art.

Of course we should recognize the great influences in music, but defining what's best is not very fruitful in my opinion.
Making music is not a race - let's just keep that in mind:-)
you gotta to hand it to the Desperadoes, they have won titles in all fields of endeavour and in every decade of their existence, whenever they go through a dry spell they allways come back with a bang, one time they stopped touring and when they resumed they were giving comand performances in the best of places with the best of groups,even though all stars won in a lot of categories they won panaroma, festivals and other contests with with more arrangers than any other bands, they have used more innovations than any othr bands that beacme part of the pan family, the Radoes is very consistent, North stars is my second choice, and please my Phase II collegues hard as it is to say All stars deserve the 3rd spot because they right behind Radoes with consistency,4th is a toss up so I will add the Phase and believe it or not it's a three way tie with Exodus and Renegades, Exodus is also consistent with various titles below their belts and it is the only band in which over 60% of its members were there in the first decade, Renegades have the most wins in Panorama, has gone where no pan has gone before. Phase is the most determined band, with poor equiptment and one of the worlds worst engine room, the Phase won the hearts of fans world over in 1984 with "I music" and never looked back, it is the band every body wants to be a part of in whatever area whether it is as a member or a supporter, I refuse to continue Grading bands really Synco was no big champion but the were a nusery for many bands , and there were others worth mentioning Savoys, southern marines, Ebonites, Fascinators, etc outside Trini Ebony, Grenada Angel harps, St thomas rising stars, Northern Illonis University, etcworthy of mention is bands that spawned other bands , liks Invaders, Casablanca, Bar 20, Red Army, Southern Symphony,gotta stop, there are the unknown bands who has done wonders all the early pioneer bands need to be on this list, their fortitude kept us together, the bands in new york, london Japan wherever are all great

how about this: perhaps we might consider 'moments of greatness', of which almost anyone is capable, given the opportunity, the inspiration, the conjoining of stars. so a mediocre poet could one day write a masterpiece, before going back to his mediocre station. just as an unknown band might have a chance to upset 'de whole show', as kitch would say. pan lovers, we like who we like. often, great depends on who we were jumping up with, where the band come from, and so on. and let me say, folks, how much i enjoyed reading these exchanges...


I dont want to be bias, but the record speaks for itself, Desperadoes won a panorama in every decade since they competition began. Dont get me wrong, every band have a history of greatness, that is y it is kind of hard to pick out one band, but again i say look at the record. Desperadoes was two steps ahead of all bands, Rudolph went around trinidad to find the best of players and created different exotic pans that was ahead of time, and after he was gone they still kept the greatness in order. They had a legend in Bradley in his prime, and in his final days. Desperadoes inspired alot of bands and produced a generation of very good pan players. I was not around in the good old days to know much about the bands that are not around now, but if u had to write a book on the history of all the bands in this topic, u would never find a down time or a lack of greatness.
my view on who is the best in world is that all the bands are good and are masters in their own rite, caused each band have done over the years and have produce quite a number of very good outstanding players, and as anything in life each band have their own ups and downs to deal with so to say any particular band is the best in world i think it would lower the value of the other bands and not because a band might win more panorama than other mean that they are the best ! because the judging of panorama ain't fear and is time we remove those judges cause each judge have their favorite band and as we all know their at least 5 or 6 six bands that have to be in the panorama finals( we know who they are) else there might be riot no money for the organization, so all in all All the bands are GOOD!
uhhh judgen from what i have heard.... North stars is the best in the world to me... being that they have some runs and phrasen that no one can do now up to this day.. even arrangers
Wow... I usually stand clear of discussions of greatness - since I've never been a Panorama judge & I'm certainly not a self-professed pan historian, my opinions would offer very little weight either way. But if we are measuring "greatness", what yard stick are we using? What criteria?

For instance, Sunne brings up the point... "in which category should the 'best in the world' band be? Within traditional calypso, large steelbands, jazz, small steelbands, classical, or other genres?" This is a valid point. Obviously this article is talking about "greatness" in terms of impact on community and dominance in the Trinidad & Tobago Panorama Competition - which focuses traditionally on arrangements of popular Calypso. But we seem to be getting caught up in a "now vs. then" discussion.

You can measure "greatness" by the band which has won the most Panorama competitions of all time. And that would give you "the greatest of all time"... OR... the greatest of "THAT TIME"... Qualifying the statement in this way does not make the band or the achievement any less great. For example (sports fans)... could the Jordan/Pippen BULLS beat the Shaq/Kobe LAKERS?

In almost EVERY other genre of music... greats are carefully and respectfully referred to using qualifying statements such as "... greatest of his/her time" or "... of his/her generation"... People that transcend those qualifying statements are those that not only made an indelible impact on musical society, while paying homage to historical greats, but that also make artistic advances beyond the realm of "now". Can somebody tell me which is the greatest Symphony Orchestra of all time? Who is the greatest Jazz trumpeter of all time? The greatest composer of all time? The greatest Big Band arranger? Not only is it impossible to measure finitely, it is artistically irrelevant... if you want to improve: study "ALL THE GREATS", those of yesterday and today... then you can become the greatest of "NOW".
Highlanders has been re-created and now resides at the old gas station on eastern main road just as you enter laventille east
They were forerunners in the 1960's a Great Steelband then!
Only one band is the best,

it goes something like this

in competition, man playing sweet pan,
but in my opinion, you can't touch my band..

just to answer Victor's question, Jordan's Bulls would have found a way to beat anyone's team
All steelbands are the best, but I will give that to Desperadoes. They have an excellent history in and out of competitions


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