Sunday, February 14, 2016

Carnival 2016 Trinidad - Panorama

Steel pan "trolly" used to move the pans
Monday February 1, 2016
If you will remember back previously we have done some pan yard liming - visiting various pan yards to hear them performing or having a friendly little competition with a few other orchestras.  We went pan yard liming again this week but what we found was very different.  Since it is the week leading up to the finals, everyone was in full practice mode.  In some cases we didn't even get to hear full songs but instead certain sections of a song practiced over and over and over.  They were also many more players - nearly the full orchestras practicing.  In the past, we only got to see a small fraction of these groups. They were also using the special built pan "trollies" that would be used in the final competition.  These were interesting to see in use.  It didn't seem to matter that these orchestras were in practice mode, many people still showed up to the pan yards to listen and see how their favorite orchestra was doing and how it would fare against others.  This seemed to be a very popular past time with older Trini's.  
It's quite a work out playing steel pan

Young, old, male, female, big, small, pan orchestras have all types of players.
12 pans - one player!

I know you are thinking "Hey, we heard a pan band when we were on holiday in Jamaica.  They were playing in the hotel bar."  I am sorry but no......that was not real pan.  Okay.....yes it was but not Trinidad pan, where pan was invented!  Here they are not bands but orchestras with sounds that resemble more of an orchestra vs a band.    
Sound amplifiers

One of the yards we went to was that of the Invaders.  The T-Shirt was just too kewl so I bought one for Tom.  Below is their Mission Statement if you will.  It says "We, the members of this incredible Steel Orchestra, take enormous pride in being a peace-loving cohort of fun-filled musicians who invade the minds, hearts and souls of our willing listeners and charm them, mesmerize them, intoxicate them and captivate them with our melodious weapons of mass entertainment."  

Actually, the pan orchestras of the past in many cases used to be violent gangs as well.  The groups often fought other orchestras.  Some of the names of these bands of men were "Hell's Gate", "Invaders", "Desperadoes".  However, eventually over time the violence gave way to the music.  The focus became beating the competition on the stage vs in the streets.  The history is rich and fascinating. 

Phase II Groove - practice

On Saturday February 6th 2016 we saw the National Panorama Finals - 10 medium and 10 large orchestras.  It started just after 7pm and the last orchestra finished at 2:15AM to packed stands.  Medium Pan has maximum of 90 players for finals and large has a maximum of 120.  Many of those are playing multiple pans.  That is a lot of pans!  The stadium is a purpose built pan stadium.  There are stands on both sides of the stage.  The area in between (the stage)  is probably the width of say 1000 ft total.  There are ramps on both ends so the pan "trollies" can be pulled/pushed up onto the stage.
Finals night - on the move toward "De Stage"

Making their way toward "De Stage"
"The Drag" is an area east of the pan stadium where the orchestras setup and stage. They do some last minute practicing as well.  Family and friends act as support staff for these big orchestras, helping to push the pan "trollies" through the crowds and up onto the pan stage.  We took the time to go outside the stadium and wonder through "the drag".  It was a whole other world out there with the pre-competetion buzz, party atmosphere of the helpers and many, many vendors with food and drink.
Getting set up
Each orchestra has a conductor as well as an arranger and tuner.  Many of the orchestras that night played pan tunes from the 80's and 90's.  However, the winning orchestra in the large competition - Desperadoes took a modern day SOCA tune "Different Me" and adapted it for pan.  Very interesting and a hit with the crowd.  They then use that song title as the theme.  In this case, they were all dressed various costumes.  My favorite medium orchestra Sound Specialist of Laventille played "The Ganges and The Nile."  Their costumes where African and Indian (India) - which I thought was perfect for Trinidad.  Each orchestra performs their piece for the judges.  It can be no longer than 8 mins.  I am not sure what all makes up the judging criteria but there are many aspects they look for.  

A large orchestra getting set up
Inside the stadium there was general admission and VVIP seating (couldn't figure out the extra V, maybe very, very important person?).  Once again we were shocked and pleased to see people bringing in small coolers.  And guess what?  No one got out of control.  No one got crazy.  People still bought food and drink from the vendors inside the stadium.  In the USA coolers are a no go.  Even unopened water bottles are a no go in the USA.  They force you to buy hyper inflated food and drinks at events in the USA.  Argh!    

Presenting their piece
Now least you go thinking pan is easy.  Think again.  The various pans are built and tuned to be the various parts of an orchestra and thus the use of the term orchestra verses band.  A tenor pan alone can produce 36 different notes.  36!

Soprano pan
But look closer.

Tenor pan
How about this for notes and sounds!

Tenor pan in detail
More details for you music heads!

So you can see that steel pan drums are not just pounding on an oil drum.  There is much, much, much more to it.  According to locals, they are actually starting to teach pan in school.  FYI - the national anthem of Trinidad and Tobago is played in pan.  It's beautiful.

The road to the finals is long.  Besides practicing, the regional competitions start in early January with many, many orchestras trying to make their way through to the finals.  We only saw the top ten in both medium and large categories.  Are you getting a sense of how big this is and how much Trini's love their pan!  The National Panorama Finals was broadcast live on TV with commentators if that gives you any sense of it.    

Below is the winning performance in the large orchestra category.  Desperados is from one of the toughest, roughest neighborhoods in Port of Spain - Laventille. The have a long history of winning with the most wins of any pan orchestra.  Their last win however was 2000 until this year. 

Below is the official video for the song "Different Me" 
Another kewl link to the Panorama songs here.

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