Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music
Very few knew who they were or where they came from, but that J'Ouvert morning they claimed their place in Carnival history. The year was 1960 and the carnival music flavor, Pan, was ripe from diversity and discovery as the genius of the pannist blossomed. The gladiators in this arena were Trinidad All Stars, Invaders, Desperadoes, Hilanders, Starlift, Guinness Cavaliers, Casablanca and Tokyo. As far as John Public was concerned, out of the aforementioned the champion of the J'Ouvert Bomb contest will emerge. Among those the Pan Science innovators resided, their egos fermenting, adorned as they were with accolades from their respective clans and envied by their competitors.
There was a time previously when our music at it's budding stage was ripe with rivalry, tribal warfare and bloodshed, a time when the onus was on the Badjohns, it was "popular to be bad" like Mastafe at the Q'Dorsay and Cutouta at Green Corner," but not today, we no longer challenge for blood but for music, Pan Music, our weapons no longer the bull pistle, the machete or the long handle razor, no it was now Pan, sweet Pan.
In this cultured battlefield Ebonites occupied no statistical significance among the exalted, they were in limited circles, considered a stage act, revered for their dance hall music, they would be teamed up with the likes of Dutchy Brothers from south Trinidad or Carlos Malcolm and Byron Lee from Jamaica, known for music with Latin flavor. (Incidentally may I suggest a reality that needs mentioning, is the influential contribution that the mainland of Venezuela and the island of Cuba had on the musicians of Trinidad and Tobago in our budding beginning). Venezuela situated only seven miles south of Trinidad was close enough for an influx of immigrants from the mainland bringing with them their culture of music, but also their music bombarded our airways because of the close proximity of our island. In our musical evolution we encompassed whatever was available and audibly pleasing to our naked ear. Our souls though maintained the memory of the drum from a distant past, the rhythm so dominant in Latin music, the Cow Bell, the Chac Chac, the Bongos and the Congas all percussion instruments the essence of our heartbeat. Ebonites harnessed that flavor more than any other before or since.
St Paul Street Community Center, East Dry River, Perseverance Club of Maraval, Hotel Normandie of St. Anns, if their dance floors could speak what stories would be told about the musical frenzy that occurred within their walls. But Carnival Monday morning J'Ouvert was different, this was not the ballroom dance crowd, this was the grassroots of society, the carnival revellers, the jump up crowd, the mass exodus from Sunday night Dimanche Gras on to the feteing and the anticipation of the dawn, J'Ouvert morning.
Morvant was then a little remote community on the east of the city proper, nothing consequential happened in this sleepy out of the way village, there was one movie theatre, one grocery, one night spot, (Spinks Club), one community center for recreational activities, a playground for soccer and cricket. But there was a love for song and dance in the air, we boys learned new dance steps, the bolero, the rumba, the foxtrot, the spins, the dips, and we danced and sang to the music of our times at record sessions, and ballroom dances at the community center. And then.....Somebody pong a pan across the playground up Ramier Street and down Park Lane, and Ebonites happened. As though their musical destiny was preordained, they almost immediately dominated the dance hall circuit, the go-to-band for the marriage of steel and brass orchestration.
In 1956 there was a steelband contest sponsored by the Trinidad Music Festival, a contest for the classical interpretation of music, the judge was an English musical professor, Dr. Sydney Northcote, he chose as the winner, Katzanjammers with "The Breeze and I" by Ernesto Lecouna, however he expressed dissatisfaction at our ability to properly interpret the intended flavor of classical music because our instruments were percussion based, inadequate because of tone and pronunciation to convey the romantic and delicate mood intended by the composer. we Trinbagonians did not take kindly to this criticism, however inspired as we were in part, and so the Bomb competition was a rebellious desire to explore more vigorously this untouchable classical frontier. Neville Jules from Trinidad All Stars was one of the first pioneers in this endeavor. And so we ventured into the realm of classical music, challenging the geniuses. Chopin, Strauss, Beethoven, Liszt, etc. Neville Jules may have been one of the first to smash the proverbial glass ceiling with Minuet in G by Bach, and then it was open season, thence forth classical music flooded the arena, challenging, competing, aspiring to excellence.
A new phase a new stance was realized, we the people would determine and judge what is acceptable as our music by what is appealing to our ear, and so this classical music that was created in the coldest regions on the planet by the soul of it's environment we took and implanted our rhythm, our percussion, our souls, we put fire on ice, we inserted our hot blood into the cold veins of the music, and we danced the calypso dance to classical music, and our world was on fire J'Ouvert morning.
There were bands that John Public (The Judges) considered out of which the Monarch would be proclaimed, but this year there was a rumor of a stranger in the mix, Ebonites!
In the remote recesses of Morvant, Ebonites musical minds conferred, Captain Merlin Joseph; Pan Tuner, Wallace Austin; Musical Arranger, Knolly (Tom) Bob; Lead Cellist, Bassist, Lincoln (Hog) Hunt; co-arranger, Lead Tenor and Percussionist Wills (Beans) Austin. And so the sound of music that materialized out of the hearts of these anointed men manifested itself on the streets of Port if Spain on that J'Ouvert morning. The rendition of Johann Strauss' "Roses from the South" rained like honey on the streets of the city, although I had heard it rehearsed over and over numerous nights before in their secretive pan sessions, it never sounded as great as it did now, this moment in time was at the threshold of perfection and then the door opened and we stepped on sacred ground, we must have been possessed by the mythical Greek God PAN (See Greek mythology; PAN is the God of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature, mountain wilds and RUSTIC MUSIC).
Supporter, onlooker, competitors all seemed joined in an elastic grip of frenzy that extended throughout the city on this J'Ouvert morn. Happy tears welled up in my heart and flowed from my eyes, and all around within and without as the music ricocheted off the buildings of the city so did the frenzy take us on a flight of ecstasy, and there all the proclaimed geniuses of Pan stood in suspended animation, in awe of this creative splendor that was Ebonites, "pom, pom, pe pin, pe pin, pe pom" echoed and called the world to bear witness to the revelation as Morvant Ebonites' Roses From the South spewed it's sweet petals all over the city of Port-of-Spain.
Winston Andrews (c) 2/4/16