San Fernando, Trinidad
& Tobago, W.I. - The Chinese
community in Trinidad and Tobago celebrate the two hundredth
anniversary of their arrival on the shores of Trinidad and
Tobago this year on October 12. It is the first time
that the community has had an official holiday to commemorate
their arrival, and they have made much use of the opportunity
in the weeks and months prior to the great day, proudly
showcasing the talent of their people, their
by, and in turn impact on, Trinbagonian life and culture.
The twin-island country is made up of diverse peoples, and
the Chinese are a significant part of Trinbago life and
the business community. To this end, they organized
many events designed to bring to the fore - the expression,
sights and sounds of their Trinbagonian-Chinese culture.
have been designed to include concerts, lectures, art and
culinary displays, theater, Carifesta IX participation,
a Food and Trade fair, and a performance by a troupe
of artists from the People's Republic of China. The
Chinese community celebration will culminate with a Dragon
Boat Racing Festival involving thirty-six teams, originating
from Chaguaramas in north west Trinidad. But it is
the first component - the concerts, which they have
taken to various parts of the country, including the sister
isle of Tobago, entitled The Dragon Can Dance which
are the focus here, because of the presence
of a unique component - The Chinese Bicentennial Steel
had been another historic first when the bicentennial steel
ensemble came into being on March 26, 2006. The first-ever
Chinese steelband (pictured left)
was assembled in Trinidad and
Tobago as another celebratory factor of their anniversary.
For years, people of Chinese heritage have played with other
Trinbagonians in the country's many steel orchestras.
But this ensemble invited all such players, as well as those
who had an interest, but had never played pan before, to
be part of the country's first steelband comprised solely
of those in the country of Chinese heritage. The players
are a very diverse lot in terms of background and age, with
the youngest member at present being nine years old, while
boasting adults as mature as fifty.
the concept of an all-Chinese steel orchestra was parlayed,
Larry Lai (pictured right)
would eventually be the individual
given the mandate for pulling it all together; he is now
the leader. And the result was the Chinese Bicentennial
Steel Ensemble. The band has support from and utilizes
the surplus instruments of, three of Trinidad's steel orchestras:
Starlift, Harvard Harps, and Silver Stars. The primary
arrangers for the band are Roy Edwards and Douglas 'Dougie'
Redon, with Jeremy “Skies” Abraham coming on board later
his address delivered earlier on this year in July, Kenneth
Chang On (pictured left),
from the Secretariat of the Chinese Bicentennial Ltd. said
"...this will be the first time that traditional Chinese
musical instruments such as the Er-Hu, Yer Woo, Toon Kam
and Mook Kam, all string instruments, will be fused with
the Steelpan our [Trinidad and Tobago's] National Instrument,
as well as providing accompaniment for vocalists performing
authentic Chinese songs." Chang credited arranger
Dougie Redon with the vision for this fusion. For
their performances, the band is not afraid of the marriage
of the national instrument of their present country and
its various rhythms, and the instruments and culture unique
to their own heritage. As a result, the Chinese Bicentennial
Steel Ensemble is very comfortable when they join forces
with traditional Chinese vocalists, instrumentalists and
rhythms. They are equally at home with and enjoy,
other ethnic influences which have become part of their
experience as Trinbagonians. This is clearly apparent
in their repertoire, which features a variety of music including
calypsonian Bally's African-tinged Shaka Shaka, arranged
by Dougie Redon, and another 2006 soca hit of East Indian
Talks (WST) caught up with
the orchestra as the Chinese community unveiled one in their
series of The Dragon Can Dance concerts, held at
the Oasis Garden Terrace in south Trinidad. They opened
the evening's cultural display with both the national anthems
of the People's Republic of China, and of the Republic of
Trinidad and Tobago. Their first selection would be
Colours Again, written by a Trinidad and Tobago national
of Chinese heritage and well known in steelpan circles -
Mark Loquan. He has made
a name for himself in the area of composing and Colours
Again, vocalized by Destra Garcia, proved a very popular
selection of choice for the 2006 panorama season in Trinidad
was able to chat briefly with
Candace Chow (pictured right),
mistress of ceremonies, and daughter of Johnny Chow, leader
of the Pacific Lion Dance Troupe which also performed.
"Chinese people have been overlooked in Trinidad and Tobago...All
the other cultures - the East Indians, the Africans - all
have their holidays, celebrations, and a lot of attention
focused on them. The Chinese have contributed a lot
to Trinidad and Tobago. The [Chinese] holiday [October
12] is one of the best things this year." As Ms. Chow
laughingly but wryly put it "We had to wait two hundred
years for it [holiday]."
"We welcome the
opportunity to share the Chinese culture, to educate and
entertain Trinidad and Tobago, because it has been more
or less hidden for so many years, and also...we share our
joy at celebrating the anniversary of two hundred years
of our presence in the country, with the rest of its citizens.
It's a big deal for us." Commenting directly on the
cultural aspect of the show, the mistress of ceremonies
said it was 'very diverse.' "We have many different
forms of talent." In fact the entire Dragon Can
Dance concert took many forms: music, dance, martial
arts, and the calypso artform - negating the stereotypes
of the Chinese - held by some - as 'business only,'
for example. Ms. Chow further highlighted the performance
by the Chinese Christian group as an example of the complete
diversity of their community.
The Chinese steelpan
musicians performed throughout the show, in tandem with
talented representatives from their community, including
but not limited to: the Chinese Traditional Instrumentalists,
Lori Lee Lum and The Chinese Art Dancers, the Fan
Dancers (pictured below left)
and the Shaolin Temple Martial
Arts. The audience was also treated to calypso, including
an up tempo and catchy number - 'What You Want From Me'
- by one their two calypsonians, Ming Lao Chee Tung,
and ribbon dancers (pictured below
right), from Rhythmica, the
School of Rhythmic Gymnastics, the only school of its type
in Trinidad and Tobago. Johnny Chow's dragon also
wound its way through the crowd to their delight, especially
the younger attendees.
A few of the steelpan
musicians chatted with
during and after their performances,
and also took time out for some memorable shots of the evening.
Double tenor player Megan Charles
(pictured below left),
is a veteran in the steelpan art form, and plays with one
of Trinbago's powerhouse steel orchestras, Phase II Pan
Groove, who are 2005 and 2006 national panorama champions.
Megan articulated many of the sentiments expressed by Candace
Chow, and viewed the Chinese cultural initiative as an event
that was long in coming and now proudly welcomed.
Odelia Garcia (pictured below
right),is a percussionist with
the steel ensemble, and has also played with other bands
including Harvard Harps.
Later on in the
programme, nine-year old Elijah Lee
(pictured above, middle)
stole the show for a few minutes;
he has been described as a prodigy. Involved with
music for a number of years, the young pannist showed his
mettle when, in addition to being a member of the steel
ensemble, he excelled on his own as he undauntedly executed
the Minute Waltz and was rewarded with loud applause.
Apparently acclimatized to the limelight, Elijah took it
all in stride.
old Romero Edwards (pictured
left), has been playing pan
for a few years, and was unarguably the pannist who most
enjoyed himself as he performed, coming alive behind his
instrument. Besides being taught to play by his dad
- Roy Edwards, one of the ensemble's arrangers and noted
performer in his own right - Romero has also been around
Merrytones Steel Orchestra based in Diego Martin, Trinidad.
The teenager is competent on other instruments as well,
including the guitar and piano. For pan, he has played
tenor, double seconds, tenor bass, and six bass.
Loquan (pictured right),
is another member of the Chinese steel ensemble. If
the name sounds familiar, it is because his dad who has
also been a pan player and heads a company called Yara Trinidad
Ltd., is Mark Loquan, already highlighted
above. Evan himself has been playing pan for abut
three years, and with a father who has made his mark on
the steelpan scene in the country, this young pannist has
a good background should he choose to make the national
instrument a significant part of his life. Both Evan
and his mother, Patricia were part of the
members of the ensemble.
The Chinese Bicentennial
Steel Ensemble plans to continue as a group, and to perform.
Their 'pan yard' is located at the Chinese Association in
St. Ann's, Port-of-Spain.
Kenneth Chang On, Chinese Arrival Secretariat:
1 (868) 365-6222
The Dragon Can Dance in
Basement Press Corp.
©2006 When Steel Talks - All Rights
2006 - Basement Recordings, Inc. All Rights
REPRINTING OR COPYING OF THE CONTENTS OF THIS, OR ANY OTHER
MATERIAL - AUDIO, VISUAL OR TEXT - FROM THE
WEBSITES, IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED, WITHOUT THE EXPRESS WRITTEN
PERMISSION OF THE MANAGEMENT OF WHEN STEEL TALKS.