This Is Not Your Ordinary Culture
From the profit he's made on your dreams
But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn't make any noise
But it wasn't the bullet that laid him to rest
Was the low spark of high-heeled boys
The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys Traffic (1971)
[Note: Low Spark by the British psychedelic, progressive rock-jazz fusion band is not difficult to translate. Street corner brothers and fashionista sistas meld into a new generation of professional panists as attested by the societal change in all bands that participated in this year’s Pan festival. Panorama is determined to stay high and dry come hell or high water.]
There was no need for the lamb to lie down with the wolf after all. It was close, though. Who’s to say the low spark of steel band boys and girls wouldn’t have come into play, helping to render the Rama less a matter of entitlement and more so a festival that joyed us all a few weeks after the sky almost fell on the Savannah’s big do.
I noticed bands streaming festival colors. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Beauty is nice but never touching. So I listened rather than watch.
Trinidad All Stars on the ‘Drag’ about to hit the stage - photo by VIDOPS
TRINIDAD ALL STARS
A decent church-going fella, this arranger named Leon Smooth Edwards. Also a tough guy in the panyard. Tough guys don’t dance. But you bet Trinis and pan lovers around the world can’t hold their excitement until Trinidad All Stars (TAS) trots out a slo jam a la Woman on the Bass, the band’s folksy masterpiece. The republic seems to have cornered the future of the confectionary market in a piece of music that lasts eight minutes but, like Woman on the Bass and Curry Tabanca, it could be years before the latest treat turns mouldy. If ever.
Deep in party lore, wherever a lime gathers for a sweet time they still dance their ass off as if celebrating Annie Lopez, the first female Desperadoes bassist and heroine of Scrunter’s funky story, Woman on the Bass.
Smooth, of course, doesn’t language like that. In another lifestyle he’s Cool Hand Smooth.
For years, Smooth has been walking around with this thing he calls “idioms,” which shadow him around like Bass Man. The only time we all get to see his idioms — and hear their Song of the Sirens — is on Carnival Saturday night.
If you hear the neighbor, likewise Town, erupt in a new old phrase like, well, “Boy, de band played out of its skin, yes,” they may not be aware that Smooth’s idioms are akin to Duke Ellington’s saxophonist, Paul Gonzalves, having a lark in the middle of Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, during a performance at the 1956 Newport Jazz festival. It was such an electrifying suite the vinyl LP continues to make a name for itself.
“Full Extreme” was pan’s Diminuendo & Crescendo. And that’s no hyperbole. I’m not straying on the edge of arrogance here. At all.
In a culture where a radio host once titled his show “Bring yuh music and come,” Smooth traveled to the Rama with a slice of bendy kaiso riddums and a mouthful of road march vibes.
Girl, the people come together over the melody, and Smooth took the beat to the usual extreme movements of the hips. Everybody get it. It was hot, yuh hear.
If you didn’t catch it you can see yourself doing the waylay waylay long after the mas. And as long as Woman on the Bass drop een a fete or a lime with her half sister, ha lord, is doubles we feastin’ on.
But we still at the Panorama. And Smooth is building a rapturous gig, trill by trill; weaving refreshing counterpoint passages of temperament and passion.
Whoa! He's laying down an ornate red carpet for us to wine and jam.
Oooh, didja hear that? The rhythm slipped off to the side and then came back in.
Not to worry. It was a device to bring in the Carnival flavor. A jam improvisation.
In the end, the arranger left us with an unusual use of the chromatic to serve the song’s coda.
It busted its own groove, the rhythms welling up, then relaxing like Las Cuevas waves. A final spasm of belly to belly violence rubbing up amid the thunderous roar like at Maracas.
No cymbals had was to crash. Not even that lickrish showboat line, "Tah-da!"
Ay, man. To paraphrase LL Cool J, “Mama said, 'knock you out.’ "
Well now, no arguing. It sure was a classic joint.
Cut the lights.
Back to Smooth. Hear him speak pan and panists.
“There’re a few guys out there on the cutting edge,” Smooth acknowledged. “I expected anything from them. I never take them for granted.”
Smooth doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Why wait for the results when he could be in his bed fast asleep.
(And about the anomaly of delivering the results. World-class competitors at meets receive theirs right away. What happens in the lengthy time between the final band’s performance and the announcement. What’s going on backstage? That’s too much time for error. Deliberate errors. The judges leave the Savannah soon after they submit their ballots. Tell me, does Wells Fargo impound them for safekeeping? A squad of police officers? A churchy granny?)
It was a stern opening to the Rama, the smooth sound of Desperadoes.
“Good Morning” salutes the night with a whiff of curry. You know Trinis. We curry anything, wild or not. Hummingbirds, nah.
A few days earlier, Smooth believed that Zanda was feeling his way through.
“He has a good band with him,” he said. “But in the ring, I could tussle out with him.”
Zanda: “I’m a composer. The creator draws me to greatness. What drew me to Desperadoes was the totality, the warmness of the music and the rhythm.
“Here’s how I relate to “Good Morning,” he said about the band’s winning song in the preliminaries and the semifinals.
“I’m dealing with giving account to the slave master on how his plantations are doing. It’s called the chantwell, the account given in calypso style. They used to sing it.”
Zanda’s life and lifestyle is a story founded on music and architecture. He joined Siparia Deltones in 1967 and wound up as the band’s arranger. In time he would start Third World in 1969, host Kool and The Gang during their stay in Trinidad, perform at Queen’s Hall, study music in Canada, become a member of the QRC Jazz Workshop and work gigs with Desperadoes in the 1970s and 1990s as well as back up Lord Kitchener and the Roaring Lion.
That Zanda would arrange a popular song and win Panorama for Desperadoes in 2016 was not at all beyond the pale.
And now that the belly of the beast has found its growl again, as Poet Mervyn Taylor would versify, talk of the town was whether or not Zanda could make it two in a row. But he came up against Smooth Edwards in the finals, though he didn’t consider the luck of the draw. Desperadoes would open the festival’s final night and All Stars, a point or two away would pick a sweet spot as the tenth of eleven large bands.
Despite Taylor’s belief that the masses showed appreciation for, and felt overall joy from all the bands in the festival, Zanda was having none of that and hell if he probably thought he was back in the Hollows with Despers.
How to fix this contretemps?
The Radoes should take it up with To Whom It May Concern. Fat chance, Z. They need to address my (and I’m pretty certain about some bands) beef with the score sheet floating around the ether waiting for a badjohn play by a pissed-off arranger. Had he brought along the Regiment band it woulda been nine bands Smooth could care less about.
Speaking of Zanda, has anyone who watched or listened to the telecast other than the poet and me noticed that drums are back in business in the engine room. Tumbas, African drums, the usual drums and traps sets. I remember a few years ago Zanda making a point of buttressing Siparia Deltones' nerve center with a rack of assorted Cuban drums. They looked out on us on the drag as if they were monoliths, or monuments to boom-bam rhythms.
Not Glenroy Joseph, a southern pan player back in the day who speaks in steel pan notes and Smooth’s fave, those idioms.
“Is Zanda on Bradley’s wavelength?” Joseph asks. “Didn’t sound like Bradley but sure sounded like Desperadoes. This band is always an element of danger. Because they represent the Desperadoes people.”
“I would say the pioneers of the art form, the longevity of Desperadoes — and factor in the music before they were Coca Cola Desperadoes. Plus Silver Stars, TAS, Invaders — speaking about what I heard in my formative years. They made us aware of their ability and possibility of the instrument regarding music and culture. That’s where the greatness of pan lies,” Joseph insists.
“Today, it’s a hustle, a racket. It’s a kind of socialism going on. Steel bands must organize themselves.” His voice trailed off and so I expected an “or else.”
“Steel band is a drum, yet Panorama music is so artistic,’’ Joseph admits. “Hardcore crack shots they’ll get their money. But the youths not necessarily playing for money. Just like how the older guys started.”
Was the Panorama brouhaha a misguided sense of entitlement? Is pan the only culture to make up to the society?
I don’t think so, Glenroy. DIMANCHE Gras, Jouvert, Monday mas and Tuesday m(ass). None is holier than thou.
CURTIS EDWARDS MGR. DESPERADOES
“What we’re going up in the Savannah to do is what we do best, and we’re almost unstoppable when we put down a performance of a lifetime.”
Well, they did.
“I respect all steel bands,” Edwards said.
“We monitor everybody in the field. Pan is a blessing from God. So many great men. Hard to pin greatness down to one man.”
Curtis Edwards was “in the band” when he was 10 years old. He watched the legendary Rudolph Charles take command of the band, “the personal things,” he recalls — the way Charlo dealt with human resources, how he imbued perfection on each instrument, the sparkle and élan adding to the vaulted Desperadoes sound as much as arrangers Beverly Griffith, Robert Greenidge, Clive Bradley and Carlton “Zanda” Alexander had contributed to the mission.
Edwards made vice captain of Desperadoes in 1991, leader in 1994.
“We always had a vision for Desperadoes,” Edwards said. “Just how the band was set up with the instruments made us the finest steel orchestra on the face of the earth. So it’s left to me now to replicate the conventional orchestra by putting together a cadre of men, the way Rudolph did. The structure is still there, but I’m constantly modifying the band. Zanda falls right in sync. I’ve set up the band for the future.
“Remember, Laventille is lore. I understand the people. Funny how we express ourselves. They’d call Charlo AWOL because one minute he’s on the hill and then the next he’s on his way to Los Angeles. He was steel-band’s greatest leader. Nobody pelt at a tree that don’ have fruit. All that hate on him was not justified.
Edwards tells of a story born in a UWI classroom in 1995.
“The instructor wrote a piece of music on the board. Then he challenged us. ‘Anybody knows what I just wrote?’ Nobody knew. So I said, ‘Bradley’s last chords in Rebecca.”
The instructor: “Where did you learn that?”
Edwards: “In Desperadoes.”
Had Renegades performed with the verve and urgency required of the band in the semifinals, perhaps they could have tied either Desperadoes or TAS.
Don’t discount the jammies get-up the band opted to use as a prop. They looked like drunks. The focus was more on how we wake up than the song’s attributes. Speed doesn’t kill a Panorama performance, but overreaching can.
To put their plight in some measure of greatness, Mervyn Taylor surprised us when he opined that greatness evolved out of a pitch oil drum. And that the Savannah is a musical garden where bands claim their space.
To be frank, Renegades doesn’t need to worry about greatness.
They live it in the memory of Jit Samaroo and all those trophies they hauled down Charlotte Street as Panorama victors. Indeed they take their greatness around the world. Nice job. Superb indeed.
If you were great to me and gave me great years
I struggle being angry with panists who gave me happiness
If you gave me great times in my life I don’t have any venom toward you,
Renegades If you were great to me and you gave me great years I can’t hate you
You made me happy
We could have disagreements
You could make me upset
Why can’t we move on, one and all.
Arddin Herbert had his nox een. They made a Ruso about his music. Boss. He’s been playing around the ring and getting closer by the year. This year’s offering showed us that he had found the mark and you could tell he’d brought along a bag to stuff all those marbles, including the big tor, of course.
When he was eight or nine years old, this arranger, musician and steel band leader told the nation on television what he wanted out of life. Congrats Arddin, you made it happen.
Now, climb to the top of the ladder and make your nest. Invaders’ greats have been teeming with pride about their road music. Time to join them Arddin. Push yourself. Maybe you can lean on Ellie and Jack as mentors. This is bigger than CASYM, in my book. Life is about change.
I had Silver Stars as a dark horse this year, so fourth in the semifinals was a good spot. The band marched and danced through Conquerors with aplomb. It might have seemed a stretch, but the band that the Pouchet family left in Teague’s hands is in fine fettle, considering that the relatively new arranger and the band require more trust in each other as the relationship gels. The song, “We Are Conquerors,” was solid. The band has a tough driller in Marcus Ash and a world-class musician in Liam Teague.
The arrangement, Teague said, is a measure of five and six playing different tonalities — using the engine room also in a holistic manner, their moment to shine.
Teague’s father steered him to classical music, furthering his son’s dream of being a soloist with a symphony. Teague, however made his early name as a steelpan soloist. He played in a few Panoramas at age 15, and at the behest of Hillside Symphony Steel Band, Teague arranged for the stage side and Kitchener’s Iron Man for Panorama. Teague pursued his studies at Northern Illinois University (NIU), returned home three years later and arranged for Starlift two years.
Teague has a family to mind and concerts around the world to play. The schedule impacts his panyard workplace.
“My luxury of being in T&T for the majority of the season has changed my lifestyle,” Teague said.
He came home three times for the season. It’s tough to know a band’s roster with an on-again off-again bromance with the band.
The anguish of losing time like that can only be compounded by the players’ indifference.
“Fortunately, we’ve got Marcus,” he said.
“We’re just trying to create music that has integrity. Cognizant that I was lured to create for a competition, I must strike that balance between me and the band. I want people to say that (music) was new, that was different.
“I’ve got to be innovative. In 2016, we made use of instruments from Brazil. I have a global view of things. I want to educate. Panorama doesn't validate who I am as an artist.
“I have had respect for Jit and his common classical structure of his arrangements; for Boogsie’s jazz background and spontaneity of ideas. He is an enigma in that he’s not formally trained. What he does, the average person will take years to master his musical vocabulary.
One time, Teague stopped rehearsal when he learned Anthony Williams was taking in the rehearsal. Nobody was aware that he’s one of the pioneers.
“It’s about genuflecting to what’s happening in contemporary music, not about being territorial,” Teague admits. “We need to fight down that perversity. This happens when people listen to only their bands.”
Teague says he’ll take away from the Panorama the love he feels for “We are Conquerors” as well as the management and the players.
“I enjoyed the piece and I have enough confidence in my ability to create something of substance. Edwin Pouchet's belief is that it’s about a total show. I buy into that.
Teague mentioned Cliff Alexis, a cornerstone of pan education and steel pan building recently retired from NIU, as one of his great influences. Also Al O’Connor, founder and director of the NIU steel band.
Teague is quick to add Miles Davis and John Coltrane to the list of those who have influenced him, those who didn’t settle for the status quo. “I respect tradition, but I want to bring new elements to the table.”
I watched composer/arranger Len Boogsie Sharpe in Phase II’s panyard one night in early January, the way someone would watch a raccoon from the kitchen window as a real pain in the garden.
There was a troubling doubt in my mind about what he was doing with Red, White & Black, though I admired his audacity. I sorta swooned like I had spent Christmas Eve blowing up balloons. Then the quads and four pans woke me up.
Boogsie once wondered why some panatics and lunatics are consigning him to the Underworld.
Hey, Boogs, simply flip an invisible switch once and shoot them down with a robust and forgiving rifle.
If you toss this question about how pan can attract a bigger house without rattling an old cage, Boogsie’s response just might be “It’s in the dance up and down winners row and you’ll find it bubbling up.”
Some would read that as contradiction, but, hell, who asked them?
As sharp as Boogsie’s mind operates, who would have told him that his Red, White & Black sent them into an emotional tizzy. Hey, Bro, the minor key can be happy as well. Boogsie isn’t off, as some are wont to believe. He flies the flag with the zeal of a patriot. Nobody comes closer.
Jus’ sending a message, brothers and sisters in pan. Check the lyrics.
It cheered us up, more so than scared us.
Minor key? Bah! Humbug! That’s what Scrooge might have huffed were he in town.
When all is said and done, the Rama will trumpet that “Boogsie was here.” You feel me?
It wasn’t like Boogs was namby-pamby this year. He’s never stale piss. Innovative, yes. Lush and cool, right on.
I am smart and I want respect. Remember that line by Fredo Corleone in The Godfather?
A Duke named Ellington once classified music as good or bad. And this is good music. Duke was referring to The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, a song about rebels by Traffic.
Boogsie’s was good music the night I caught it in the yard, and better on Panorama final morning.
We must leave Boogsie’s heart to its dream. I don’t know about you but I’m always enthralled by his codas. If a minor is dark and dull, Boogsie brightened the outlook on the future of the red, white and black with rich harmonies and the incomparable voices of the quadraphonic and four pans, instruments that at times hold hands with the frontline pans and even the basses. Just as well, Boogsie’s coda came on strong, brimming with confidence as if to underscore that he had the last laugh. Keep laughing, Boogs. I’ve known you for years and you hardly crack a smile.
Maybe you don’t want to read the next line, Boogs, but some people made major noise about the music, such as elements of the minor key in the song.
To those slime balls, ’member when he come down the Avenue in 2016, the last band of the night, and his first of three songs was the standard, “That Old Black Magic”? Same Boogs. He’s a god. Anyone who never could have foreseen the the current damage to the steel band body politic five years earlier, she now has a better understanding of Do Something For Pan.
Low Spark of High Heeled Kids
Poet Mervyn Taylor follows up
They want to know who win
Kids and sharing of this music
the conversation from older to younger
We still discovering the infrastructure
We haven’t maxed it out
Greatness is a huge gathering of people
I can’t do what these kids do
The endurance night and day St. Margaret’s pricely Despers
Tents like walking through a valley of sound
Hope they don’t build condos here
You never know what’s in their head
Dalton Narine (My Take on . . .)
Late Panorama results
It’s materially different from
Within this huge apparatus
you can hardly find a scintilla
of good, decent organization
COFFEE STREET REVISITED
I’ll never forget the head I wrote for a Guardian story
when Bradley won
with In My House.
It was published on Page one
The Head reads
Bradley Talks the Talk
Narell Walks the Walk
The story was about two men
The winsome winner and
the rebel who recorded
an instrumental piece of music
and called it Coffee Street
The absence of lyrics bore out
the impact of the song because
you could hum the damn thing
or whistle it while you work
Keith Smith sent a message to me
via a lackey that that single story
on a Jouvert morning would mean
more to me if I switch to The Express. I did.
Keith was a Lavanty man like I was
Keith was my lone editor
I could write what I want
Bloody Art of Longtime Badjohns
Gravediggers, jagabats & weed all night
share the cemetery
On and on
best years of my life
as a writer — and I wrote for The Village Voice
The Miami Herald and Ebony magazine
COFFEE STREET TWO
Belmont longtime soccer king Patrick Raymond eases his back as he sits by the bar, quaffing beer at the RAF on Queen’s Park East. Some Despers players have come in from the cold on Cadiz Road to take a break. Coffee Street is playing on the house speakers.
A Despers man starts a conversation.
“Boy, Coffee Street is the best tune that never win a Panorama. According to Raymond everybody leaves it there, No argument. None to start.
Best Tune hangs in the rafters for God knows how long.
Coffee Street doesn’t need words.
Words would phuk it up
Clive Chaman, guitarist for Silver String says to Raymond, What we have in Trinidad that we don’t appreciate — a general malaise about the culture.
O’ Trinidad. Ah, Trinidad.
It was that kinda Rama where greatness and respect were not so much in abundance as in demand.
Dalton Narine - email@example.com
If I gave you everything that I owned and asked for nothing in return
Would you do the same for me as I would for you?
Or take me for a ride, and strip me of everything including my pride
But spirit is something that no one destroys
And the sound that I'm hearing is only the sound
The low spark of (steel band) boys
The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys — with apologies to Traffic
Take it away, boys.
Dalton Narine watched a movie among friends and was
harassed for watching the credits roll. He was 12. They laughed at his quip
that someday his name would be scrolling like that on a movie screen somewhere.
Little did they know it was a prescient warning.
A similar scene played when Narine stopped learning the piano and walked into a panyard. Nobody believed him until they saw him playing classical music on pan on J’Ouvert. Eventually Narine co-founded the iconic PAN magazine and became senior editor.
Narine, an award-winning writer for two newspapers and a magazine, started working on a novel. But the chair of Columbia University film school steered him toward a screenplay instead. Your story is a movie, the professor said. Today Narine is working on his final draft, with two more screenplays in his head.