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St Bernard: Why New York City boasts of ‘the now generation of pan’

A couple months ago, Yvette Rennie, the president of J’Ouvert City International in New York City, hired me to do a video documentary with some prominent people involved in the NYC steel pan movement. She wanted to focus on the economic development of steel pan in NYC. 

The interviewees included Nolene Davidson, a musicologist, Wilfred Kieal Jr, an arranger and pannist, and Anthony Joseph, president of the United States Steelband Association. 

Photo: Pannist Khuent Rose (right) practices his craft.

They were all confident that the standard and quality of NYC-based pannists are world class. They pointed to several steel pan programs in public schools, private schools, community organisations and churches and discussed setting up a database for the entertainment industry to easily find pan players in NYC. 

They noted too that the NYC Panorama was always about the party songs—something which has become vogue in Trinidad and Tobago recently—and were proud of the large number of young people involved in the NYC pan circuit who went on to colleges, and proclaimed the pan yard as a sort of daycare and foundation of their academic development. 

Exhibit A of pan in NYC is Andre White. He’s of Jamaican parentage and learnt pan from his Trini neighbour. White made a clean sweep by winning all three categories of the most recent Trinidad and Tobago virtual Pan Ramjay competition, which had competitors from all around the world—including from T&T, the birthplace of steel pan!

White and Earl Brooks Jr, are both trained musicians from the Berklee School of Music.

Photo: Gifted Jamaican pannist Andre White.

One person who should have been on the panel is Keith Marcelle. Keith has given his life to playing, organising and developing pan in NYC. When Keith sent an invite to attend ‘The Now Generation of Pan’—a production of his beloved Sesame Flyers International organisation—it boldly proclaimed that the NYC pannists have moved ahead of our homeland, Trinidad and Tobago.

The performances at The Now Generation of Pan production lived up to the billing. There was traditional steelbands but most alarming were several individual pannists accompanied by their own full music bands. I was unaware that there were quality pannists with their own bands in abundance in NYC.

The audience was appreciative of the wide variety of music these musically competent pan soloists and their accompanying musicians performed.

The closing act came from Trinidad’s Renegades Steel Orchestra arranger, Duvonne Stewart. He stood on stage with pride, joy and enthusiasm and proclaimed that the performers for the evening: Freddie Harris III, Kareem Thompson, Iman Pascal, Jonathan Scales (highly recommended by Andy Narell), Khuent Rose, Andre White and Earl Brooks Jr were definitely pan’s Now Generation! 

Sesame Flyers is working with film producer Christine Shaw of Drop40 Productions to produce a video show for the world to see the high musical standard of steel pan in NYC. 

Photo: Pannist Andre White’s musical team gets ready to jam.

The city already has claim to the only street festival in the world where only steelbands perform—at the NYC J’Ouvert, no electronic equipment is allowed. And now, the stakeholders of steel pan in NYC are no longer shying away from proclaiming they have some of the best trained pianists in the world.

It’s important to recognise the contribution of Yolanda Lezama to the development of steel pan in NYC. The foundation named after her father, The Carlos Lezama Archives & Caribbean Center, created a forum for the young NYC pannists to show off their skills at the annual Children Festival Youth Pan Fest. 

It’s an annual event for children and teenaged steel bands to perform for the public. Brooklyn West Indian and non-West Indians alike, show up in numbers to cheer on the children, who are given ‘back to school’ gifts. 

The performers at The Now Generation of Pan started at the Children Festival Youth Pan Fest. The next event is scheduled for Saturday 28 August and, if you are in the NY Tri State area, do yourself a favour and attend with your family. 

It’s one of the pipelines for developing these excellent pan players in NYC.

Photo: 2017 Claccc Children Festival Youth Pan Fest winners.

As Yvette Rennie stated: “I remember when many of them stood on boxes to reach their pans to perform in the bands.”

About Eric St Bernard

Eric St Bernard
Eric A St Bernard is a host and producer of Global Soca on TeamSoca.com, the #1 Total Soca station in the world. He holds a MSc in TV/Radio from Brooklyn College and has worked extensively in Caribbean music formats in Trinidad and New York, as well as events promotions and media advertising.

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