Members of the steelband community again were
part of the Carifesta IX celebrations when an event featuring both the voices of pan and its Elders,
simultaneously hosted visiting members of the Jamaican Carifesta IX contingent. The
venue was the panyard of Renegades Steel Orchestra in Port-of-Spain.
The community fest was slated to begin at 5:00 PM,
people were milling around beforehand; the stageside steel
orchestras who would be playing during the evening were putting
things in place for their respective performances. Veteran pan
musicians, there in the beginning when Renegades
steel orchestra decided on its name, were now considered 'Elders'
(pictured right) and they too were present for the upcoming mini-dialogue on the
band's history, which was a key item on the event's agenda. In
the meantime though, they roamed around the
panyard, renewing acquaintances with others who they had not seen in
some time. It proved the perfect time for When Steel Talks
(WST) to have a quick one-on-one with
Renwick 'Rico' Alexander, one of the founding members of Renegades.
Rico (below left, in red) told
WST he had been all of fourteen
years old at the time. He added that though the band's name
was officially acquired around 1947 or 1948, he emphasized that they
'used to play pan before that, since 1945' - just not as Renegades.
Now in his seventies, Rico remained a tenor player with the band
until a few years ago, and later enjoyed taking a picture beside one
the band's current tenor players as they performed. Another
founding member, Newton James (below center), also took time out for a few moments
the formal start of the event, Harlem Syncopators Steel Orchestra
one of the featured bands for the evening, and with several young
pannists in its line-up along with the adults, had already been in
the spotlight. Led by Daisy McClean they performed several
selections, including Roberta Flack's classic The First Time Ever
I Saw Your Face. Now they officially opened the program
with the national anthem. Hostess for the
evening and Desperadoes Public Relations Officer, Folade Mutota, welcomed all to the
event. As part of her address, Ms. Mutota
(right) shared with the
audience the concept and details behind the evening's program.
"...Within Carifesta IX
activities, there have been several community festivals held throughout the country; if you're talking Laventille, you're talking East Port-of-Spain,
and then you're
definitely talking pan. Members of the organizing committee
for the Laventille community Festival thought that it
would be a fitting tribute to the contribution that Laventille has
made to the panworld, if they were to have a major steelband body
[presence] [at the Laventille edition of the community festivals]
for Carifesta IX. And to go a little
bit further, we thought it would be very, very useful to all of us,
to ensure and use this perfect opportunity to document some aspects
of the evolution of pan in the East Dry River area."
"...Later on - there
will be a discussion among pan elders who will talk about how the steelband
evolved in the East Port-of-Spain area, chronicling the journey since the
1940s, and how it has influenced the movement since then, up to
present day, and its enduring legacy, and how it continues to move
today's steelbands and pannists to higher and higher levels."
Before she closed, Ms. Mutota again welcomed and thanked everyone
present, including the communities of Laventille and East Dry River,
and then singled out for special mention, the visiting members of the Jamaican contingent in Trinidad for Carifesta.
Host band Renegades
Steel Orchestra (below left)
was called upon to perform for the benefit of the
Jamaicans before they were to take their leave. The band's musicians
obliged, and delivered a music set that had the visitors
point taking their place in front of the band and dancing away. Then
the contingent took it one step further: the ladies and
gentlemen became 'Stars' or more specifically 'Jamaican All Stars'
(below center) for a few minutes, as they took up positions behind the instruments
of Trinidad All Stars (below right)
which had been set up in readiness for the
band's performance later that evening. The Jamaicans playfully
emulated pan players for a few moments, before taking their leave.
featuring the Pan Elders included Newton James, Joseph Reid, Rudy
Marshall, Kelvin Brown and Renwick 'Rico' Alexander among
others. Some of those present took the opportunity to
individually share with the audience, the band history as they had
experienced and remembered it. Also present was Tokyo pan elder Herbert Sam
de Suze, who was well equipped with pictures and newspaper clippings
to support the information he documented.
When one person made
mention of a key fact, the others would join in, adding quick
words to further emphasize the point. One of the more colorful characters taking
part in the discussion was Rupert 'Little Axe' Mader
(pictured standing, left). One of
his declarations that stood out in the discussion was "when yuh
cut one ah we, yuh cut ALL ah we!" Ms. Folade Mutota
would agree later on, and further
develop that theme while chatting with
She said that if you spoke to Desperadoes, they
told you the very same thing, and had "this 'one for all, all for one'"
which came from the African people. Joining the Elders briefly
toward the end of the discussion was Stephanie Simon, niece of the
late Winston 'Spree' Simon.
There was valuable
information imparted by the Elders; unfortunately a two-fold factor
made the majority of what they said inaudible to even those in very
close proximity. They were seated near the refreshment area,
and subsequently the people present in that locale were not
interested in the presentation, being there rather for the 'lime'
and the actual pan music. The discussion was broadcast live on
local radio, and it is hoped that since the Elders were directly
miced, that the radio audience fared better than those in the pan
yard who tried in vain to hear what was being said.
caught up with Ms. Mutota sometime afterward to get her thoughts on
the panel discussion. The Desperadoes PRO found
that one of the first things that struck her, was the
similarity of the sagas of how the steel orchestras came by their
names - such as Desperadoes and Renegades. She recounted what
had a short while before, been said by the Elders of Renegades.
"They [pan players] went to a cinema show that included 'Renegades'
in the film's name; 'when they came out of the cinema, they said on
that day, 'this [Renegades] is going to be our name.'
The story was very similar to that of Desperadoes, but Ms. Mutota
went on to state that it was not only that they [the bands] got
their names from a movie, but that in both cases they said as
they came out of the movie house, the decision was made.
In Desperadoes' case, the players 'went back up on the hill, sat
down on the steps', and said 'from this day on...,'" explained Ms. Mutota who went on to say that the band has been planning to
documenting its history.
But there was another
aspect that stood out in
her mind from the discussion that evening - the names. "One
of them [the Renegades Elders] said the first captain was Yankee
Boy; but somehow Yankee Boy did not seem to have what they were
looking for [in a captain] in a band like that, so he was replaced,
with a man named Cecil Dead! And I think that the names
gave a sense of the character of the band(s) at that time." Ms. Mutota also noted that once Elders get together and begin talking,
one realizes the connections between the bands. When Herbert
Sam de Suze (right), the only Elder present hailing
from Tokyo Steel Orchestra, pulled out a
picture from the set he had brought with him to illustrate his
points in the discussion, but relative to Tokyo, Ms. Mutota said she
realized then that the picture was one of two Desperadoes men!
"There were always those connections between the bands, and you can
see [that] from the time they begin talking about their history when
For this community
festival, everyone in Renegades' pan yard enjoyed mega doses of pan
music from all the bands present including Harlem Syncopators (who
played earlier in the evening), and Trinidad All Stars who included
in their set such favorites as Footprints, Tequila, Imagine
and Craw Fish. When it was the turn of the Tokyo Youths
(left), they kicked off with a great rendition of Toto's
Africa, and later on in their set also played When Somebody
Loves You Back and To Sir With Love. One of the
senior members of
Harlem Syncopators introduced their leader, Daisy McClean to
He said he was very pleased with the performance of the band's young
pannists, and added that they were continually urged to play at any
chance that presented itself. "We've got a repertoire that
rivals that of any of the big bands," he proudly declared in ending.
WST departed Renegades' pan yard, it
was to the sounds of
Trinidad All Stars as they played on into the
night with a crowd of music lovers around them, lapping up one
selection after another. It was an event with a difference,
the Laventille edition in the round of Carifesta IX Community
Festivals hosted at Renegades pan yard. With the historic
timeline laid down by the pan elders, and the performances
from the steel orchestras, it had been 'edutainment' to the max.
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-From The Opinion Desk of When Steel Talks
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