Pan Foundation launched in Toronto

Jill Andrew, NDP Culture Critic and MPP for
Toronto – St. Paul’s (left); Simone Dalton, EDF founder; Miranda Hassell, EDF steering committee member

Pan enthusiasts and the curious gathered in Toronto on Saturday for “Under the Bamboo Tent,” an evening of musical performances and story telling to mark the launch of the Esther Dalton Foundation (EDF) by her daughter, Simone.

Aim of the EDF is to  use  “steelpan music to inspire youth to be active learners, empowered community leaders, and positive role models.”

Initially established as a non-profit organization in Trinidad, the Foundation is now based in Toronto, where  Simone Dalton resides.

“I started this project in Trinidad in 2015, five years after my mother passed away. I wanted to do something to commemorate her legacy and celebrate the mark she left on steelpan culture during her life,” said  Dalton.

“Under the Bamboo,” the intimate,” invitation-only” event, featured award-winning actor, director, and playwright, Rhoma Spencer, as the emcee. Spencer took guests on a trip down memory lane through stories of some of the instrument’s history. She asked attendees to imagine that they were not in wintery Toronto, but in a panyard, or bamboo tent, as it was once known.

Before the storytelling came the music with a performance by premiere pannist Joy Lapps and her ensemble, featuring Jeremy Ledbetter, Andrew Stewart, and Larnell Lewis, a Juno Award nominee for Jazz Album of the Year.

The EDF  Founder returned to her tenor pan roots for a special performance with Andrew Jackson, Danielle Jessamy, Rashaana Cumberbatch, and Corina Sukhai, all pan musicians whom she met when she moved to Toronto and joined  the Scarborough-based Panatics steelband. Ian Jones, former head of the Ontario Steelband Association, served as the musical arranger for the “pick-up side.”

Dalton shared her pan story with guests through a video called “Pushing Pan, Pushing Boundaries.” She officially began playing pan at age nine but was introduced to pan culture at birth

“Pushing Pan, Pushing Boundaries” was the second video segment of the evening. “Youth on Steel,” an inaugural digital storytelling project produced by EDF to highlight the voices of young pannists in Trinidad, was also screened

Dalton recalled that her mother was a fervent Starlift Steel Orchestra supporter who helped build their profile as a family-focused band through many initiatives.

“But although my mother’s work for the steelpan community happened in Trinidad, she toured Toronto in the late seventies as a pannist with NSA Vibrations.”

“The pan community has grown in this city since then and best of all, it has grown through the music programs in middle and high schools. Now that I live here, I thought it would be a great opportunity to build on what is already happening.”

Dalton pointed out that EDF “has “married its grassroots ethos” with the charitable backbone of Toronto Foundation.

” It is now one of more than 500 funds that the charitable community foundation administers as a cause-neutral centre for philanthropy.”

EDF is supported by a volunteer steering committee comprising  Danielle Jessamy, Miranda Hassell, Kevin Campbell, and Nadien Godkewitsch, is looking forward to issuing its first grants in the coming year.