2017 Trinidad & Tobago Panorama Review - the Good, Bad and Ugly
Show them how we does jump up
Show them how we does free up
Tobago good morning....
Show them how we does jump up
Show them how we does free up
The 2017 Trinidad and Tobago Panorama season—and by extension the Carnival season—was a tumultuous one that was overflowing with enough drama, intrigue, passion and controversy to field a season of Scandal, Empire or Game of Thrones. But in the end there was the music. An abundance of great music created by the finest arrangers, and outstanding performances delivered by the best steel orchestras in the world.
Two songs captured the imagination of Trinidad and Tobago for this 2017 Panorama and Carnival season - “Full Extreme” by Ultimate Rejects and “Good Morning” by Peter Ram. In fact, “Good Morning” became sort of the de-facto “test piece” as no other tune of choice has endeared itself to the steel orchestras as much in recent times. However, on closer inspection Bunji Garlin & Machel Montano’s “Buss Head” or Crazy’s “Gee Gee Ree” would be apropos to telling the complete Panorama season’s story.
And in the midst of this turmoil there was a push for a higher level of understanding and harmony among many in the steelband community as the slogan “Pan before Band” was ushered in. However, in the heat of the ultra-competitive Panorama aftermath, this movement—which, contradictory at best given the highly competitive nature of the competition—took some serious blows and developed some deep dents as would be expected within the tradition of Panorama.
Pan Trinbago, the producer of the national Panorama
competition found itself embroiled in an internal struggle - an insurrection from
the players, conflict with its members and at odds with Trinidad & Tobago’s
Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts.
Pan Trinbago came under
a cloud of controversy and faced accusations of a lack of
transparency that threatened to cancel the Panorama. A temporary detente was
reached among all parties involved that allowed the Panorama to take place.
How this will all ultimately play out going forward is laced with uncertainty,
confusion and rancor.
Many of the internet audio broadcasts were in mono and low-quality streams. Not really acceptable by today’s internet broadcast standards. When a ten-year-old with a smartphone can deliver a better quality live feed on facebook live, we have a problem. Plain and simple: throw that junk out and get some new equipment. Clearly the commitment to presenting their best (putting their best foot forward) for an international audience is not of high interest to the broadcasters. However, the owners of Carnival, the producers of the show, Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts, and the orchestras themselves - should all have a vested interest in how their product looks and perceived by others.
Some of the announcers and color commentators really should not be part of any Panorama broadcast. And then, on the other hand, viewers could have the full experience of practical commentator, analyst, and sometimes ‘surprise fan’ - in a well-rounded package in such a person as announcer Gerelle Forbes. Also on hand was veteran Ruskin Mark who provided a steady rapport between audience and performances. Regarding other presenters, an unprepared disposition and wrong information are really not cool when the whole world has access to the correct info right in front of them - on their mobi device as they watch the show from the Grand Stands, North Stands, TV, or online. What was broadcasted to the world was at times between amateurish and criminal. Forget unprofessional. Color commentators have to get better.
Local station WACK Radio 90.1 FM did
provide a 720 HD internet stream through YouTube Live that from reports did not
fare well in real-time for long. This backwards movement
in broadcasting the Panorama is an unfortunate development. There is a serious
lack in quality control. It was only a few
years ago that Advance Dynamics
did their inaugural broadcast of the Trinidad & Tobago Panorama in full 1080 HD.
Marketing and Promotion
2017 was the year that, in spite of the shortened season, many of
the orchestras - particularly the large ones - made strides in taking
responsibility for marketing their brands within the social media world, attracting a
wider audience beyond the ‘local’ confines (i.e. not merely providing the
customary press releases). Instead they implemented media content, coupled with
historical data and news dedicated to accentuating their organizational activities,
during Panorama, but beyond. PROs became marketing directors, with original content
to be distributed to a world audience. It can be called “The awakening, and full
awareness of a global audience” -- recognizing that there is much more at stake than local bragging
The performances were impeccable. Panorama 2017 will be remembered not only for its high musical content, but also its excellent stage adaptation and storytelling through sometimes lavish props and skits with matching wardrobe, that gave the audience full presentations without distracting from the steel orchestras’ musical delivery. The entertainment value was high and deserving of a prime time international audience. Unfortunately, the first of the large steel orchestras did not take the stage until after 10:00 p.m. local time (9:00 p.m. EST (Eastern Standard Time)) - well beyond the prime time window. This was a sore point that respected champion arranger Ray Holman spoke about and brought attention to in his article Large Band First at the Pan Finals. Ironically, it was only a few years ago a Panorama show was completed just around the midnight hour.
There was a seismic shift in terms of the tunes of choice selected by the majority of large orchestras this year. Eight out of the eleven orchestras that made the finals performed new popular tunes written in time for Trinidad & Tobago’s 2017 Carnival calendar year. This change in attitude and utilization of popular tunes were obviously made acceptable by Desperadoes Steel Orchestra when it blew the lid off the can with its 2016 victory last year with the enormously popular 5 Star Akil’s “Different Me.” Needless to say this was a welcome change, as the music of the populace and that of the Pan community have seemingly come back together in sync. There is absolutely no reason to think that this trend will change anytime soon. And this is no doubt welcome news for the fans and longevity of the steelband art form. The days of pan enthusiasts coming to Panorama without having the vantage point of previously hearing or knowing the tunes the competitors were playing are a thing of the past. In addition, it bodes well for increasing the market share for people potentially interested in the Panorama music worldwide.
Trinidad All Stars
2016 represented only the second time in the last fifteen years that Trinidad All Stars had not placed in the top three of the Trinidad and Tobago National Panorama Finals. The other year was 2005. With a history like that behind you, the analytics or math said Trinidad All Stars would be bouncing back hard this year. And if you are a spiritual person and just believed in a feeling or your good old-fashioned gut, the gods indeed favored those sentiments.
When the confirmation came that the mighty Trinidad All Stars was going with Ultimate Rejects’ Full Extreme (the eventual 2017 T&T Road March winner by a landslide), there was an immediate universal understanding among the pan community what that meant. Trinidad All Stars, the ultimate ‘show’ band, known worldwide for bringing a special brand of showmanship, impeccable musicianship and fierceness on finals night would be coming to this annual competition with a popular, young people-style, hip, “today” tune that fit them like a glove. Full Extreme was already one of the most popular tunes in Trinidad and Tobago’s recent Carnival history. All the ingredients for a special season for Trinidad All Stars were aligned.
As we know from Dalton Narine’s 2017 piece Panorama Karma, arranger Smooth’s (Leon “Smooth” Edwards) competitive nature was already peaking and needed no motivation. Don’t let Smooth’s quiet persona fool yah. He is as competitive as anyone who as ever stepped into the Panorama arena. The man comes to win every time out. Coming in sixth place in 2016 definitely did not sit well with “Smooth” or anyone in the organization, for that matter.
The performance of Trinidad All Stars did not disappoint. With the fans, orchestra, arranger and country on the same page (via “Full Extreme”), it was locked. “Smooth” successfully took on the challenge of turning a rather simple ‘jam’ tune into an eight-minute Panorama piece with the classic signature Trinidad All Stars trademark and style. With the salient refrains of the song as a guideline, and neatly tucked into the arrangement - the “Smooth” and All Stars combination hit all the right moves - to the point that by semi-finals guitar pan racks were rocking so much, it looked like this was finally the year they were going to jump off the stage. The band gave its peak performance as expected in the Finals. The result is that they caught and replaced Desperadoes as Panorama champions.
The light-show coordination with All Stars’ performance was off the top, enflaming the passions of pan lovers to a feverish pitch as the band hurtled toward its musical finale. That was big time! Can we say “Ready for Prime Time?!”
Desperadoes Steel Orchestra
As fate would have it, the legendary Desperadoes Steel Orchestra took the stage in the unenviable position of number one. It is of course the most unwelcome performing position of the competition. Still, the defending champions took the stage as confident as ever with one mission - lay down a performance that would set the bar so high, that none of the other orchestras would be able to match or catch them on this night. Desperadoes’ tune of choice was “Good Morning” by Peter Ram. They took their musical direction again from arranger Carlton “Zanda” Alexander, who (as Dalton Narine pointed in his Panorama Karma) has also fallen into perfect alignment with the cadre of other exceptional Desperadoes champion Panorama arrangers—Beverly Griffith, Robert Greenidge and Clive Bradley—who were proficient in maxing out the Desperadoes sound and attitude. Undaunted by the task at hand, Desperadoes gave a magnanimous performance that thrilled “Zanda” to no end as he pranced, danced and garnered the full attention of the judges and audience to the salient points of the arrangement.
And fittingly, when “Zanda” did his slow version of the “Zanda-walk” (actually a reverse moon-walk while pointing forward), followed by a Dab left and a Dab right that would have made Cam Newton jealous, one had to start to wonder. After “Zanda” pointed to the sky and the musicians in the orchestra sang “Trinidad, Good Morning” the crowd roared - and that rocket- looking Despers rhythm float started to rock and jump around. Big Drum and ancient rhythms of the people of ‘The Hill’ opened up and started to reverberate out of the band. No one had to ask “What time is it?” as the guitar pans and four pans started to sing what sounded like a slow “hm-um...hm um.”
“Zanda,” if not anything else, is unorthodox - with his spreads and voicing across the family of instruments in Desperadoes Steel Orchestra. His melodic and harmonic content are brilliant as he challenges your sensibilities and expectations. But it is his play with rhythm and silence that is exceptional - constantly forcing the listener and dancer for that matter, to fill in the gaps. He is a master at mixing the familiar, the forgotten, new and the “Yo, that was straight up nasty!” passages. Clearly a mischievous man who is very young at heart. Another great storyteller within the Trinidad and Tobago music tradition.
As we now know Desperadoes almost successfully completed the mission. It would not be until the penultimate band - 10th out of eleven orchestras - would Desperadoes be caught from behind and passed on this night by three points.
The alarm goes off. The Cock crows. The large clock on top the front rack proclaimed the 5 o’clock hour. The band awoke and stretched, getting up in place right behind their pans. Arranger Duvone Stewart and a female “actress” clambered off the bed set up directly in front the band. With everyone dressed in pajamas, ready to ‘jam,’ the count went down like a ticking clock with a special rhythm. The tubular bells chimed as the pans swelled. The audience roared. Bang!! “You hear big band!” Bang!!
Duvone and Renegades came out swinging. “Trinidad GOOD MORNING!” They let it be known early and often that they was going to put a hurting on someone that night. Floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, the “former big guy” danced across the big stage with malicious musical intent aimed at doing maximum musical damage. It was like: take this - “uppercut” oou - then take that - “jab” oww - and take this, too - “hook” ouch. And just in case you didn’t hear that - more for yah. Buss-head soon come. The players look up to the heavens and screamed “Good Morning” to the gods. And as Duvone began to execute the ‘Duvone Shuffle’ as part of his dance moves, Renegades already had the audience punch-drunk, fully intoxicated and in love with the music.
The seconds and guitars entered a call-and-response, again with the players singing “Good Morning.” Now with the listeners, judges, fans - and foes - in tow, the orchestra leaves the feel-good flow and prayer session while ascending - Rah tah - ta ta ta! - a sixteenth note quintuplet that sounded like a Gatling Gun going off. Whoa, whoa, whoa. And Basses now taking the lead. They too must be fed. What just happened here? Duvone reminds us “Don’t let the smile fool yah. Under this good churchy exterior and good looks “I am ah bad man” and this is Renegades - not mommy nice child.” Well not all the time. Leveling off into a classic Renegades Zouk movement with a Latin tinge. All is well as we happily prance around in time. Then with one fell swoop it is a meringue mix with a full mood change in a minor movement, while the ancient rhythms rocking underneath are dropping serious science to boot, opening a temporal riff and transference to another place and time. The drums of war, discord, and fighting rhythms make their presence felt. The ‘Jab Jab’ appears with whip in hand, and entering stage right and left are the Orisha dancers, seemingly appearing out of that temporal window to dance, chant and encourage the ‘Jab Jab’ to leave and go back to hell. Duvone is massively successful in demonstrating how life’s moments are constantly in flux. No doubt this is “big people” conversation. And you know what old people said about getting involved in that...
You don’t have to tell Renegades what time it is. The goal was to “Rep Their Band” by capturing their tenth Panorama Championship.
Renegades came out spitting fire. Duvone Stewart had them biting at the bit and taking prisoners was obviously not part of the battle plan. The Renegades/Stewart marriage has produced beautiful music with some really outstanding passages over the last few years. Their tune “Good Morning” served them well. In addition, they told and dramatized an important part of the Trinidad and Tobago experience. From Orisha’s big drums, to Christian church bells, to Pan and the images & sounds of Carnival and J’Ouvert (stick fighters, jab jab, fancy sailors) - it was seamlessly interwoven in the presentation.
Now Duvone is a big dude whose mild-mannered, laid-back persona is in direct contrast to his size and the fire that burns within him, as it relates to his music. There are two things among others that Duvone takes very, very seriously. His music and his beloved Miami Heat. This world-class arranger let it be known clearly in Panorama 2017 that he may have lost some size, but he is still a heavyweight contender - no pretender here. At the end of it all there were contenders sprawled out all over the Savannah. Only two—Trinidad All Stars and Desperadoes—got away.
The Rest of the Field in No Particular Order
Eight other orchestras took the stage, to bring the complement to eleven of the greatest steel orchestras in the world creating a prime time production that was one of the best Panoramas, in terms of musical output and entertainment value. It will be remembered for its competitive spirit, high-value musical content, stunning performances and extraordinary visuals that contributed mightily to the storytelling aspect of their presentations.
Uncharacteristically, seven-time Panorama champions Phase II Pan Groove did not find favor from the judges this year with their tune of choice Red, White & Black. With the orchestra trailing significantly (7th place) coming out of semi finals Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, the legendary arranger and musical director of the orchestra strategized to refit Phase II with a total brand new arrangement for the finals. As we all know now that strategy did not work out as “Boogsie” intended. But one can wonder and imagine what fascinating lore would have come out of this had Phase II been successful. In any regard, the players got to participate and watch the genius of “Boogsie” twice in one season.
When “Boogsie” completely re-arranged that semi-final piece giving rise to a new version for final-night, historians, musicologists, PhD candidates, performance art connoisseurs et al, should have been sitting in the panyard observing this musical master, for it was indeed a rare opportunity to watch genius at work. And as the legendary Max Roach said about “Boogsie,” “You never know when he’s going to do something magical.”
Looking like fierce warriors and dressed like the army of the Mongol leader Genghis Khan, indeed Silver Stars left little to the imagination about what their immediate mission and intentions were. With authentic-looking shields to boot for the frontline players, the only thing left was for their arranger Liam Teague to put together a piece that married both the presentation and theme of their tune of choice “We Are Conquerors” musically, within the confines of the arena and live experience called Trinidad & Tobago Panorama. The musical brilliance and talent of Liam have never been in question, but his capacity to embrace the competition with a killer instinct and approach with the clear intention of winning, has.
Professor Teague did not show up to Panorama 2017; however Genghis Khan with Liam Teague’s musical abilities did - bent on repositioning the walls of Panorama, re-writing the script and taking the judging out of the judges’ hands - while respecting the tradition, arena and ability of his opponents. And all the while letting it be known that resistance to what Silver Stars was dropping on that night was futile.
Genghis Khan is considered to be one of the greatest military geniuses ever. Genghis Khan conquered more than twice as much land as any other person in history, bringing Eastern and Western civilizations into contact in the process. He was feared, ruthless and brilliant. He was also a great unifier that assimilated people, technology, craft, techniques, skills and culture into the greater empire.
With “We Are Conquerors” as his musical anchor, Liam created an epic music theme flying on flames of war -- the battle field, the fury, the calm, the celebration of victory, the discipline, the bravado - and ultimately the march from The Panyard through The Orient with the audience steadfastly in tow. In addition, he successfully introduced different modes and textures to the Panorama conversation to tell the story, while being true to the spirit of the competition. The musicianship and execution of the players was on point with even the most intense passages. Liam’s creativity and classical background allow him to masterfully move between eastern and western music concepts without any trepidation.
Working around a character like Genghis Khan and his army gave Liam the attitude, latitude and freedom to musically introduce other cultures in a cohesive manner into the arrangement. Moreover, clearly one cannot ‘make nice’ all the time if you’re going to be a Conqueror. Yes, Khan was flexible, adaptable and transformative - but he came out to win every time. Losing was not an option. Clearly outfitting music for the conflicts of war is a challenging one. We look for Liam to expand on his movements from this Panorama arrangement into a full steel orchestra suite the likes of a “Planets” by Gustav Holst.
Silver Stars kept their core principles - as their presentation was dramatic, entertaining and challenged the norms without betraying again the sensibilities of the competition.
Exodus, too, played “Good Morning” using an interesting variance on their arranging approach. For 2017 veteran Panorama champion arranger Pelham Goddard was partnered with Terrance “BJ” Marcelle in a collaborative effort to shake the orchestra from its recent Panorama doldrums. “BJ” has been dominating the New York Panorama scene with D’Radoes. The results were indeed promising, as Exodus came within striking distance of placing. Indeed as his moniker “Big Jumper” would suggest, “BJ” brought an element of unpredictability to XO’s theme. 2018 will be critical in judging the ultimate success of this musical pairing.
Pelham Goddard has a Panorama track record that few in the world can match. The multiple-time champion pretty much has had the Finals on a lock every time he steps out. His vast musical knowledge and innate feel for the steel orchestra has successfully defined the Exodus sound for decades.
So let the record show that the unflappable XO came roaring back in 2017, much to the delight of their fans from all over. They are without doubt one of the best steel orchestras in the world. Exodus dropped an awesome rendition that should not have to be heard at 3:00 o’clock in the morning when they took the stage. However, in the year of “Good Morning” and “Full Extreme” their version will be remembered. Big-up to the XO team on your successful comeback.
Without getting into the merits of ‘canopies’ versus ‘no canopies,’ there is a serious contradiction with the cultural impact of engineering that is working against Exodus during their Panorama stage performances these last few years. Simply put, while the humans are rocking it out, the supporting infrastructure/racks are bolted to the ground. The visuals are incongruent with the expectations with the real life experiences. In other words, the floats and rhythm racks are not dancing. The results is less energy is communicated to the viewers. Moreover, the producers of the show lack both the technological know-how and/or willingness to take advantage of the sacrifice XO is making, to make the proper investments to capture the event properly on that level.
There will be an issue until XO finds a way to replace the heat generated under the canopies and the amplification gained by sympathetic vibrations. But that is a discussion for another time and place.
Skiffle again went with the 3 Amigos from Brooklyn as arrangers. Their tune of choice was also Good Morning. The 3 Amigos-Skiffle arrangement is working. Skiffle’s presentation was a joyous, spiritual and dramatic one. In a nutshell Skiffle is in transition and they are getting better with each year with both fast-forward and upward-mobility. The transformation is steady and impressive. They came out of semi finals in 10th place - essentially bringing up the rear. With some self-introspection and work Skiffle moved significantly up the ladder blowing dus’ in the faces of many in the competition by the end of finals. Indeed a sign of future greatness that all orchestras with championship potential display at one time or another.
The 3 Amigos (Marc Brooks, Kendall Williams, Odie Franklin) possess an uncanny ability to drop elements of funk, rhythm & blues and jazz while riding on top of all the Trinidad folk music and traditions. We, the audience were afforded the opportunity to listen, see and feel Trinidad & Tobago through the senses of the young with this version of “Good Morning.” Youth must speak in their own voice to themselves. Skiffle is coming and they will not be denied. Can’t wait for next year’s production.
Invaders, Arddin Herbert and Full Extreme - Oh Boy, what a combination. What more could Invaders ask for? A song that allowed them to be as rambunctious as they wanted to be performing in public, while wrapped in a box of assorted musical chocolates under an artful Arddin Herbert-arrangement. Arddin gave you a little taste of everything through a cohesive “jammin’ still” montage that made the extremely difficult seem easy.
The orchestra clearly had a great time performing the piece, and the joyous nature of themes connected with the live audience as they actively participated in singing along. Never swaying away too far from the central theme and defining hooks of the tune, the audience participation was—for lack of a better way of putting it—in “Full Extreme” mode.
This year Supernovas went with again an Amrit Samaroo/Mark Loquan composition - Rumble In The Jungle. Last year this combination came within a point of winning Panorama. This year however, the judges did not register such a favorable review. In fact, from prelims, to semis and thru the finals - significant traction was never gained with the panels of judges.
Big time orchestration. Amrit Samaroo’s understanding of the steel orchestra goes far beyond writing beautiful passages for orchestra. His sound is unique and BIG. Amrit, hands down, is one of the best young steel orchestra arrangers in the world. This presentation was laced with movements that would could be a big-time score for an epic Cecil B. DeMille-Hollywood movie about a rumble in the jungle. The results were perplexing. We would love to see the judges’ score sheets and comments. From a purely entertainment production Supernovas brought it to the stage. Supernovas’ production excellently dramatized the concept of game hunters, armed, prepared for a fight in the jungle. Amrit is a deep and thoughtful arranger. From ragtime to soca - there were many level to this arrangement in terms of styles and musical variations on the main theme. We hope there is a true 5.1 surround sound recording of their Finals performance. To not have one is criminal.
Tropical Angel Harps
This year Tropical Angel Harps chose the very popular “Single” by “Orlando Octave” as their tune of choice. Their arranger was again the very capable and talented Clarence Morris. Clarence Morris has been flying under the radar for years now in terms of recognition of what he brings to the Trinidad and Tobago Panorama landscape every year.
Clarence Morris and Tropical Angel Harps showed their creativity in taking less and making it more by cleverly re-harmonizing and rephrasing the cognizant melodic passages of “Single” and delivering a full 8-minute Panorama piece without excessive repetitiveness or aimless wondering. Hey, there was not one video instance of Tropical Angel Harps’ semi-finals performance as local station CTV went to a break as they were performing. What’s up with that? Not cool. You (CTV) unnecessarily became part of a larger conspiracy theory on social media (i.e. “Is jus’ a South band” etc.). Folks at CTV need to upload Tropical Angel Harps’ performance. There were a lot of very disappointed, dedicated and hard-working young people we were told.
In addition to being one of the seven past champions taking part in this year’s competition, Starlift was one of three bands that participated in the inaugural Panorama of 1963. A lot of history. Charged with bringing the organization back into the winning circle is the veteran Panorama champion arranger Robert Greenidge. Historically, connected with the successes of Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, the crafty veteran showed that he is more than able to lead a new generation of panists along the path to Panorama victory. Again with Good Morning as their tune of choice, Robert Greenidge showed Starlift how to mix it up with the big boys. Now in his second season with Starlift, the investment in Robert is beginning to generate promising musical dividends. Natasha Joseph is the drill master and is surely a critical part of the orchestra’s immediate success.
With an understanding of the concept ‘You haven’t done it until you’ve done it’ - Joseph and Greenidge bring an immeasurable source of veteran leadership - in addition to musical talent - to the conversation and knowledge on how to become a champion. Robert Greenidge is one of the most fierce competitors to step onto the Panorama arena in addition to being a Trinidad and Tobago national treasure.
With steady gains each year up the Panorama ladder - the Starlift/Robert Greenidge combination produced one of the most endearing versions of “Good Morning for the season. Find a good stereo recording of the finals if you can. Put on your headphones, sit back and Just Listen! No description needed. Looking forward to the Starlift/Robert Greenidge marriage to continue with Robert completing the mission.