By Ian Jones
Pan Arts Network’s 20th anniversary celebration last Saturday night of “Snowflakes in steel ” was an occasion that will be long remembered.
Four leading Toronto ensembles – Panatics Steelband Network, Gemini Pan Groove, Pan Fantasy and Afropan -got together to give a capacity audience at the Chinese Cultural Centre in Scarborough a night of magnificent music.
Each ensemble performed 20-30 minute sets, playing from classics to calypso with pop, blue-eyed soul, Latin and Broadway in between.
First steelband on stage, Panatics, played The First Movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.14 in C Sharp Minor (named Moonlight Sonata in 1832, five years after his death) too slowly, but regained their energy in Stevie Wonder’s Superstition in which they introduced a saxophonist.
Gemini Pan Groove followed with good instrumental renditions of Nadia’s Theme and Meditation (Antonio Carlos Jobim), and added lead vocalists for that beautiful love song from My Fair Lady – On the Street Where You Live, as well as A Change Is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke) and Phantom of the Opera (Andrew Lloyd Webber). The vocalists had good voices, but they were constantly competing with the soprano pans for musical space. The audience appreciated what they heard, but arranger Elton Jones and Gemini lost a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the true beauty of the pan/voice combination.
After intermission, Pan Fantasy gave a beautiful rendition of Sade’s “The Sweetest Taboo” with vocals by Jay Harmony; then encouraged the audience to “let the rhythm take us over” in Bailamos (Enrique Iglesias). Al Foster made good use of dynamics and well-tuned instruments to capture the sensuality of Hotel California (The Eagles’ 1976 Grammys Song of the Year). The “sugar” for Kitchener’s Sugar Bum Bum, was provided by some “Dame Lorrainesque” type dancers, with a cameo appearance by Martin Scott-Pascall choreographer of Dance Caribe and an outstanding contributor to Caribbean Dance Theater in Toronto. They ended their set with Never Too Much (Luther Vandross) using extended moments of silence to elicit premature applause from the audience before they finally ended their set.
Afropan, the People’s Band, brought down the curtain with Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1787 Mozart) which was well played; Dance with My Father (Luther Vandross)- an Earl La Pierre, Sr. arrangement that gave Ralph Robinson the musical space to deliver beautiful vocals; It Had Better Be Tonight (Michael Buble), Sir Duke/I Wish (Stevie Wonder) and Full Extreme (Ultimate Secrets) which “have we jammin’ still”.
“Snowflakes on Steel” not only celebrates the instrument but also acknowledges the women and men who have contributed to the development of pan in Toronto; and provides bursaries to post-secondary students as a means of securing the future of the wider community.
This year’s Women in Pan Awards went to Suzette Vidale and Giselle Bishop; Pioneer in Pan was Joe Brown, the arranger for the Belltones, the only all-female steelband ever in Toronto. There were Life Time Achievement Awards to Ian “Bad Lad” Gould for his musical contribution to Caribbean Culture in Toronto and internationally; and Miley Duke, founder of New Dimension Steelband, who left us in 2015. The bursary winners were Fasasha John who is studying Travel and Tourism at George Brown College; and Corinna Sukhai who is enrolled in Humanities and Music at York University.
Joining the enthusiastic audience of pan aficionados at the celebration were Mr. Garth Chatoor, Trinidad and Tobago’s Tobago High Commissioner to Canada. and Ms. Cherrone Mokund, Trinidad and Tobago’s acting Consul General in Toronto.
Pan Arts Network and the participating steelbands, have worked sacrificially to sustain this production over the last 19 years. It was indeed fitting that they all received awards at the front end of the show with the producers, Pan Arts Network, being presented with a Cultural Recognition Award by Ms. Mokund.