Pan is Alive and Well in Canada!

By Joe G. Thomas

Al Foster, Terrence Wilson and Wendy Jones

I had a delightful time enjoying a night of pan music at Ontario Steel Pan Association’s annual Pan Alive event last Friday at Lamport Stadium. I spent most of the night at a great listening and viewing vantage point next to my good friend, and resident Pan Alive DJ, BadLad.

I am happy to state that the overall standard of pan musicianship in Ontario is getting better! The skill and dexterity, especially of the young players, were impressive. Sadly, I missed the performance of the first band, St James Youth Centre Steel Orchestra, who played an arrangement of David Rudder’s “Trini To The Bone” arranged by, as the program stated, Ed Hinds and my dearly departed brother, Delano.

Let me take a moment here to thank OSA for their tribute to Delano’s positive and creative work with youth and the overall pan fraternity in Ontario. Mr. D, as he was affectionately called by his pan students, went beyond just teaching steelpan music. Many stories of his positive fatherly role in the lives of the members of his youth steelband emerged after his passing.

Pan Fantasy Steelband

Full disclosure: I passionately love steelpan music. I grew up in Trinidad at a time when pan yards were not places for so called “decent” young men and women to be found in.  In my case, my mother refused to allow me to go to my neighbourhood pan yard, Silhouettes in Petit Bourg, until I wrote my final high school exam. We moved back to Barataria just about the time that Solo Harmonites was founded and I remain a loyal supporter of “Solo” to this day.

Playing pan in Toronto in the late sixties early seventies with Afropan’s founder, leader and arranger, Earl Lapierre, my cousin Ian Jones, Ed Peters and others, was a particularly wonderful and comforting experience because it gave us all a happy place of home away from home.

Pan Alive 2019 was a good showcase of innovative and entertaining pan music. It was evident that each band was well rehearsed and ready to play! There were very few moments of discordant sound.

The bands that stood out for me were Tommy Crichlow’s Pan Masters Steel Orchestra, Salah’s Steelpan Academy, New Dimension Steel Orchestra, Afropan Steelband and Pan Fantasy.

I won’t get into any second guessing on the judges’ decisions but anyone who has been around steelpan competitions for any period of time, knows that there is always strong disagreements on the final standings.

For those who are not familiar with the practice, the DJ always plays a pre-recorded original version of the song the upcoming band will be playing.

The length of time it took for some bands to be ready to play was a bit too long as Badlad was irritatingly forced to play their tune of choice over and over while they got setup.

The emcee for the evening, Rhoma Spencer, did a good job in keeping things flowing without much personal interjection. Congrats to OSA its volunteers and staff for presenting a good show. I heard some complaints about the food and service in the VIP section but all in all it was a good night of sweet pan!