By H. Ian Jones
This year marks the 14th production of Pan Alive since it became a competition at Fort York in 2003, and it promises to be the most exciting yet. On Friday night, Lamport Stadium will be transformed into a musical battle zone as nine steelbands drop bomb after bomb in their effort to dethrone four time reigning Pan Alive champions, Pan Fantasy. To paraphrase Alvin Daniell – discipline, like a’ army practisin’; steelban’ man and pan women all night drillin’; dis is pan alive war; is success dey fightin’ for; some will moan; an’ some will groan; Lamport Stadium is de pan battle zone.
Sixty-two years ago, Esso Dixie Stars did the first performance by a steel band in Toronto at the Canadian National Exhibition in August 1954. Today, there are steelbands in elementary and high schools and at York University, as well as churches, community centres and panyards throughout the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Ontario. There have been exchange visits between schools from Trinidad & Tobago; and many Toronto based players journey to Trinidad every Carnival to participate in the Panorama competition with the top steelbands. Last August, two Toronto steelbands travelled to Trinidad to participate in the International Steelband Panorama.
In order to enrich the audience experience for Pan Alive 2016, we have implemented some artistic changes. We have created a virtual lighted stage, so that the judges sit in one location while the steelbands move on and off the “stage”. Our new production team includes a Music Commentator who will conduct post-performance interviews with the steelband leaders/arrangers; and we also have guest performers, Macomere Fifi and Rhoma Spencer along with Pan Elite Steelband from Arima, Trinidad whom we hope will give us a “li’l pan ‘round de neck jump-up” to end the evening.
The participating steelbands have chosen music ranging from the traditional 1985 Lord Kitchener to the evolving 2016 Joyan James. The selections are: Amrit Samaroo’s “Breakthrough”, “Boogsie” Sharpe’s “Madd Music”, GBM Nutron’s “Scene”, Joyan James’ “Different Me”, Kerwin Du Bois “Unforgettable”, Lord Kitchener “Pan Night and Day”, Machel Montano’s “Oil and Music”, Mark Loquan’s “Bass on Fire”, Shadow’s “What Yuh Come Here For”, and Tambu’s “Free Up”. The arrangers are based in Toronto, Trinidad and New York; and they are coming with tremendous musical talent, experience and fresh ideas. The players are armed with their sticks and their wrists ready to execute whatever musical passage is thrown at them.
Since 2003, only three steelbands have won the competition – Afropan (three times), Salah Steelpan Academy ( four times) and Pan Fantasy 5 (five times). Afropan and Pan Fantasy were declared joint winners in 2006. Will 2016 be the year when another steelband joins this illustrious group of Pan Alive champions? “Come an’ judge fuh yuhself!”
- Ian Jones is a founding member and current board director of the Ontario Steelband Association. He has been a panist, arranger,composer and steelband instructor for more than 40 years.