Steel Pan

Steel Pan Band

Without calypso and steelband, carnival cannot be represented in its true form. Since the first carnival calypso king was crowned in Dominica in 1959, the steel drum became an integral part of mass and street revelry. Calypso echoed the mood and the expression of the masses and steelband popularized those sentiments on the road from "Ma doe suck it to me", "Jenny Scandal", "Don don don" and "Tennis Shoe Scandal" to serious social commentaries like "Police brutality". Amidst gangs of black devils and masqueraders, the revelry and rivalry was always present.

It all began in the early 60s with steelbands like Esso featuring the Andre brothers and Eddy, Eric and James Gregoire. Though the sponsors changed and the names became different as in Cisco - Harmonicats and Whitchurch Sound Channel, the panmen remained true to the art which was born in the Caribbean, that of pan playing. Hence Peterson Angol, Morgan Alfred, Allan Jno Baptiste and others, through the kind sponsorship of O D Brisbane formed Old Oak. The riverside posse changed later to Asto-cats and then to Chocolate county. Shell and Regent had personalities like Ulrick 'Idol' Jackson, Julian Winston and Degoster Jno Baptiste. In fact, Jackson in those days was a leading calypsonian who won the crown on three successive occasions. Carnival lovers would remember fondly "Mr. Copeland", a big road march of the early to mid 60s. there was also the Vauxhall Steel Band loaded with talents such as Athie Martin, Collin Bully, Fitzroy Williams, Curtis Henry and Derick Hyson.

There were popular D-Special and South Starts which emerged from Pointe Michel led by Bardouille. With Calypsonians Bingo's "Pointe Michel Girls" became a theme for these soul masqueraders. Dominica's cultural capital "Sout City" Grand Bay was not to be left out and is still going strong under the leadership of Mr. Rupert Cuffy, a 1995 Golden Drum recipient. Not long after, Ju-c steelband from Mahaut was formed. Miguel Dublin and Eddy Andre went on to be trained as pan tuners.

Steelband and calypso were blood brothers, one fed off the other. Fighting among gangs and disputes were settled when the various representatives met to compete in the steel band competitions. The three major bands were Sout Stars, Vauxhall and Whitchurch. There would be a test piece and solos by single tenor pan players to see who the boss was. Deceased Errol Emmanuel and Vincent Labad were masters of the art. Eddy Andre, the late Allan Jno Baptiste and Athie Martin were three of the most outstanding tenor players of the 90’s. Wilfred Pancho Jno Baptiste another Golden Drum award recipient, and Julie Martin served as tutors to the Kairi Beacons (youth) Steel Orchestra. The former is a founding member of Phaze 5 steelband which represents the new age fusion of pan and electronics as experimented with by Athie Martin with Panalec in the 80s. Genesis Steel or a combined pan representation makes an appearance on the road during carnival while Phaze 5 is more commercial doing hotel, cruise ship, engagements and recordings. Some work has also been done with the Goodwill Junior high School, Grandbay, Marigot, Roseau Improvement Committee Steel Pan, Genesis, and they have made appearances at 'Pan by de Bay', an annual activity organised by the Dominica Festivals Commission geared at the resurgence of pan in recent times.

The six bass player has always been a focus point in any steel band. Some outstanding players have been Willard Whyllis, Peterson Emmanuel, Ulrick Jackson, Billy Doctrove and Acouris. Because Dominica was without a radio station of its won, the steel band was responsible for perpetuating calypso music on the road long before the hi-fis and electronic bands took over. for this reason, when the calypsonian composed, he would create a melody around the pan, hence refrains were more catchy and verses shorter and less complex than those repeated by brass bands today. Unfortunately, as we entered the new millennium, the pan player seemed almost obsolete. Calypsonian Checker made a final plea in the early ninety's, calling for a "pan resurrection" and Black Starliner reiterated the call in "Is me de pan" one decade ago:

before it was pan and lapau revellers jamming on de streets but since they bring dis hi fi thing stone and bottle came on de seen

But as far back as the 60s, Lord Breaker documented his concerns:

when the queen wave she tail in de Windsor park
prizes like hell she get for dat
if the prizes doe improve in the coming years
no more steel band, no more calypso!

The call was heeded! Pan groups sprung up in schools as the SMA, DGS, Mahaut, Portsmouth, Marigot, through the efforts of Jennifer Fadelle’s at the Dominica Club and Pan President Hannah Raffoul through the organization of show and competitions,Norris Prevost's RIC Steel and even in the church. Telecoms company, LIME responded creating a platform through which pannist could exhibit their skill and be showcased at the annual "Creole in the Park" activities. Trainers of the 80's and 90's Pancho, Allan, Arthie, Paris Douglas, Charlene White–Christian, invested in a new crop of talents who themselves became leaders and teachers; Pius Jno Baptiste and Chad Zamore of Genesis Steel and most recently Trinidadian trained pannist, steel pan maker and tuner, David 'Bob D' Winston a tutor at the recently established Old Mill Institute for the Arts.

Extracted from: Dominica's Arts & Culture Magazine, Division of Cutlure, 2012
by Ian Jackson

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