When Steel Talks

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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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There can never be a GREATEST Steelband, everything has an Era, Remember Pele was once the Greatest Footballer?
Gospel...you and Victor P are the only people making sense on this one...whoever had the bright idea to start this thread just like confusion...we are now even trying to decide who is or was the best pan player of all time too...why don't we try to figure which band has or had the ugliest people over the years eh?...
What is the harm of havin these conversations, it is just talk amongst pan people, it seem like the ones who run from the topic, band is not on the list, so i understand!
WHo is the GREATEST Piano Player?
As David Rudder said in his calypso entitled Praise song for the Panman..."not one name...one will I call...because to praise one alone will make the others look small"...
I think folks are missing the point or importance of the article. This is an historical document. It was published twenty years ago. It talks about bands that are no more but made significant contributions to their era.


I'm sure it's a great historical document but there are many such documents in the world that contain either incorrect statements or statements that we disagree with. The front cover reads, "Best-Ever Steel Bands", which is a statement that makes no kind of sense to me. Best ever? What does that say about future bands?

I also believe that that statement was most likely the inspiration for the title of this thread, "Which is the Greatest Steel Band in the World?"
How does one define "greatest"? Is it by the number of tours made? by the amount of success enjoyed in the pan world? by the tonal quality of the band's pans in addition to its successes? or is it a combination of all of the above added to the band's inventions, if any?
If any of the above is anything to go by, I can give you as greatest: Desperadoes, North Stars, Solo Harmonites,T"dad All Stars, Cavaliers, Starlift, Phase ii, Invaders, Dixieland and others.

The fact is that steelband has evolved over time and pan technologists, that is to say tuners and performers, have worked diligently to have the various orchestras listed in the hall of fame in one way or the other. If one understands what it has taken, and is still taking to put pan on the world's stage, then one would easily see how great pan is. In my humble opinion, there is no greatest. There are, indeed, some that have been more successful than others, and others that have had more opportunity for success than some, but not necessarily "greatest" as such. The evolution, in itself, has made for birthing. One band birthing another, bands of the fifties joining together to make one solid aggregate, and the like. If my dad was a salesman and I grew to become the owner and CEO of the company for which he worked, should I be considered as "greater" than my dad because of my success? I don't think so.

Therefore, I would refrain from naming a " greatest' steelband out of respect for the trials and tribulations that those who have gone before have had to face. "Which steelband has been, in your opinion, most appreciated over the years?" might have been a more applicable question, don't you think?

I shudder to wonder at the answer if one were to ask whether the great musician and singer Michael Jackson is greater than Smokey Robinson. Nuff respect!!
Further, I need to suggest that it might be just as good to ask about great steelbands of different eras, say , of the 40's, 50's etc. Also, I have made it a point in my life never to discuss pan or religion. At this time, I am breaking that vow, and I must say I agree with "panta", great desperadoes panman, that the discussion is not meant to upset or annoy. It's a pan discussion and we should all be happy to chat about it whether yuh band is given pride of place or not. Personally, I am enthused by some of the comments made and the chat ent done yet. But, when we talking about how great the band was, what about how great the pan technologist was, or how great the arranger was, or the band's manager's marketable skills. I can tell you for sure that marketability was a Rudolph Charles strongpoint. That is why Desperadoes has remained a force to be reckoned with to this day.
To me, the greatest steel band in the world "as of this very moment" has to be, without a doubt.

Blenman Steel Sounds Steel Orchestra

"The band, Blenman Steel Sounds, is especially unique because it is the only Senior Female Steel Pan Band in existence..."

These women play on gigs more often than most bands and they are living proof that you're as young as you feel...check them out at: http://www.aarp.org/community/sinbady

To me, they are the greatest!!


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