Hell’s Gate reps with trophy, and at center - Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Winston Baldwin Spencer, himself a ‘panman’
St. John’s, Antigua & Barbuda, W.I. - It was a sea of “cricket white” - topped off with red caps, and several cricket bats thrusting skyward in victory - as Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra musicians literally bounded on stage to celebrate their 2013 steelband Panorama championship, when their win was officially announced shortly after 1:00 a.m. on August 2. The reigning steelband panorama champs retained their title, trophy and bragging rights for a third consecutive year, trouncing five challengers. Yes, indeed the orchestra had hit a “6” - straight out of the [musical] ball park, when they rendered ace arranger Khan Cordice’s arrangement of King Short Shirt’s classic Vivian Richards, penned in tribute to the Antigua/Barbuda cricket legend.
Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra perform during the 2013 Antigua & Barbuda Panorama
Patriotic fervor ignited the crowd at Carnival City (Antigua’s Recreation Grounds) as they connected with the performance on steel honoring favored son of the soil Viv Richards, signs with the number “6” waving throughout. Hell’s Gate soared, the musicians at times singing lustily along as they played and swayed.
Winning performance of “Vivian Richards” by Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra for Panorama 2013 on August 1
The night’s shocker was the apparent non-placing of Halcyon Steel Orchestra - the country’s second, all-time winningest band with twelve titles in their coffers. From the chatter around, even Hell’s Gate members were incredulous at the outcome. Halcyon, along with the four other challengers exerted considerable musical efforts to dethrone the defending Panorama champs. But once again the mighty Hell’s Gate, led in musical battle by noted musician and Pan arranger Khan Cordice, held sway over the title, trophy and prize purse for yet another year. Playing in position five out of the evening’s six competitors, Hell’s Gate captivated not only the crowd, but obviously gained the judges’ collective nod for 2013.
As a historical note, Hell’s Gate is one of the oldest steel orchestras in the world, having been founded in 1945. Winning their first title back in 1949 - the year of Antigua & Barbuda’s first national Panorama, this is the band’s seventeenth panorama championship within the sixty-four year time span.
The entire steelband showcase unfolded on a brightly-lit elevated platform with two large screens positioned above at stage left and right, both in tandem with an eye-catching backdrop. Oddly enough, at the beginning of the show, guest artists Panache Steel Orchestra led by Robin “Schwarp” Margetson were set up on stage and ready to perform, but instead had to un-mount their instruments and depart because organizers were reportedly concerned about time constraints. Definitely not a pleasant experience for those players who would have put in some serious preparation time for this engagement.
Halcyon Steel Orchestra perform during the 2013 Antigua & Barbuda Panorama
Opening the competition segment and with new business associate Digicel on board, Halcyon was first on stage with ninety players, striking up and setting the pace around 9:00 p.m. with a vibrant delivery of King Short Shirt’s Jammin’. The piece was arranged by champion veteran arranger Victor “Babu” Samuel who “worked the stage” out front along the full length of the band, whose members were attired in brilliant yellow outfits trimmed with red piping.
East Vibes Steel Orchestra perform at the 2013 Antigua & Barbuda Panorama
Just after 9:30 p.m. East Vibes Steel Orchestra - launched in 2006 - featuring a complement made up mainly of teens and pre-teens, performed Burning Flames’ classic Sweet Little Island Girl as arranged by Curtis “CC” Cochrane. One of Burning Flames’ core members was on stage with the band in a show of support and encouragement for the youngsters.
Harmonites Steel Orchestra perform during the 2013 Antigua & Barbuda Panorama
Arranger Aubrey “Lacu” Samuel’s vision of St. John’s Town Mash Down by the Mighty Swallow, came to life in a vigorous interpretation by eight-time panorama champs Harmonites who made their musical presence felt just before 10:15 p.m., with about seventy-five players in their ranks. Several in attendance appreciated the tiered, and “canopy-less” appearance of the orchestra. In fact, utilizing that afore-mentioned styling—which Trinidad’s Exodus Steel Orchestra pioneered a few years ago for Panorama—Harmonites took the stage a bit reminiscent of Exodus themselves previously at one past Trinidad/Tobago semi-final competition phase - complete with black t-shirts and white slacks.
Up next was Gemonites Steel Orchestra, who last triumphed in the national Panorama in 2005. Celebrating their 35th anniversary in 2013, the band was looking for title number four even as they competed in fourth position. Seventy-two musicians-strong, Gemonites made their run at the championship with Steel Band Bonanza, written by Patrick “Stone” Johnson, also the band’s resident arranger. With spacious racks which permitted a clear visual of the players, Gemonites finished just before 11:00 p.m.
Gemonites Steel Orchestra perform during the 2013 Antigua & Barbuda Panorama
Hell’s Gate followed Gemonites, with such a large contingent that some instruments were reportedly positioned just off stage. Appearing in sixth position and rounding off the 2013 Panorama competition was Ebonites Steel Orchestra who were in quest of their second title in their history - the first being won back in 1977.
Ebonites Steel Orchestra perform during the 2013 Antigua & Barbuda Panorama
Though they did not win, still - of particular significance were the fortunes of Ebonites - as they went on to secure an unexpected second place in this competition. Led for the second year by arranger Dayne “Wadeka” Gomes, Ebonites has opened the door to a whole new way of arrangers using available technology to work and interact with orchestras overseas. Gomes is a long-time Ebonites member, but is now US-based, and worked with the band while using Skype to communicate his arrangements of the band’s tune of choice—Claudette Peters’ Something Got A Hold On Me—to the players. Innovative indeed!
Finally, and of significance - the official Facebook page of the government of Antigua & Barbuda delivered live and descriptive updates regarding the steel orchestras as they took to the stage. Vivid photos depicting triumphant winners with trophies, and also additional extensive photo albums with scores of images from the competition itself were published and accessible within minutes of the event, results - not to mention video performances of the bands being uploaded not long thereafter - all capped off with an à propos timeline cover shot of the Panorama champs onstage with trophy! Talk about a serious and ongoing commitment to the steelband art form and overall culture of Antigua & Barbuda displayed by the current government!
Screenshot of Antigua & Barbuda Government's Facebook page after 2013 Panorama
Another year, another Panorama season has come and gone. Congratulations to all participants and their strong showings. Without a doubt, some probably have 2014 already on their mind.
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