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Trini pan legends to be honoured in US

By Terry Joseph
December 28, 2000

THE Trinidad and Tobago Folk Arts Institute of New York, USA will on April 22 next year, honour five of pan's most famous names at a gala titled: Legends of Pan.

The institute, whose Board of Governors is chaired by Trinidadian Les Slater, has established itself as a guardian of indigenous arts and a research-oriented think tank since 1991.

Slater, whose local credits include his work with the legendary Forsyth Hilanders of Laventille as a virtuoso, has also made a name for himself in the United States as leader of a touring pan ensemble. He has presided over the institute from inception.

Each year, luminaries in indigenous arts are accorded citations of merit and on occasion special tributes have been mounted to salute outstanding artistes or art forms.

In 1992, for A Pan Salute to Kitchener, the institute organised a stellar cast of pan soloists, including Robbie Greenidge, Boogsie Sharpe, Andy Narell, Ken Philmore, Arddin Herbert and Earl Brooks for the event, at which the Grandmaster performed "The Bees Melody".

For the tribute to the pioneering Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (Taspo) in 1993, a concert featuring Rudy Smith, Earl Rodney, Greenidge and Raf Robertson was staged.

The institute has also produced talk shows and joint projects with the Brooklyn College, World Music Institute, Ethnic Folk Arts Centre and Medgar Evers College to highlight Trinidad and Tobago's musical traditions.

Singular tributes have also been paid to cultural icons outside the pan arena. That list to date includes recording pioneer Emory Cook, broadcaster Bob Gittens, Daphne Weekes, Beryl McBurnie, Dr JD Elder, Joey Lewis, Julia Edwards, Stephen Lee Heung, Winsford "Joker" Devine and reigning national calypso monarch, Shadow.

Next April's gala is exclusive to pan legends.

The 11 selected for honours are Curtis Pierre, Bertie Marshall, Clive Bradley, Ray Holman, Jit Samaroo, Neville Jules, Emmanuel "Cobo Jack" Riley, Junior Pouchet, Clifford Alexis, Wallace Austin and Earl Rodney.

They will be feted at the Farragut Manor in New York, at an event to be attended by Trinidad and Tobago Consul General to New York, Terrence Walker, and UN Ambassador, the Honourable George McKenzie, and mounted in collaboration with BWIA West Indies Airways and BWIA Invaders Steel Orchestra.

Five of the honourees currently reside in the USóJules, founder and leader of the Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra; Pouchet, founder of the Silver Stars and whose band in Orlando, Florida has had one of the longest-running contracts with the Disney Corporation; Riley, who enjoyed celebrity status for his virtuoso work with Woodbrook Invaders; and fellow band member, Austin, who became a tuner for the prize-winning Desperadoes, have taken their skills to New York; and Alexis is now permanently employed with the Northern Illinois University Steel Orchestra, the band that came in second at last October's World Steelband Music Festival.

Holman, who just completed a two-year stint at Washington University in Seattle, is currently at home but due to return there next May.

Pierre, who led the pioneering Dixieland Steel Orchestra, currently teaches pan; Marshall, innovator and inventor, who led and arranged music for Slater's former band, Hilanders, now tunes instruments for Desperadoes.

Samaroo, Bradley and Rodney are celebrated arrangers, the former best remembered for his work with the family band (The Samaroo Jets) and the prize-winning BP Amoco Renegades Steel Orchestra.

Rodney, who took Solo Harmonites to several victories, is equally well known for his work with brass bands and in the jazz fraternity. His arrangements of two of calypsonian Sparrow's most successful albums adds further colour to his already varied resume.

Bradley, who has also worked in jazz and with calypsonian Nelson ("Mih Lover", "Disco Daddy") has guided the last three champions of the annual Panorama competition to victory.

Speaking to the Daily Express, Pierre described the gala as a humbling collection of pan greats.

"What the Folk Arts Institute has managed to do is identify a number of persons whose contributions to the steelband movement is priceless but often overlooked. I am humbled by the sheer greatness of the men with whom I have been lumped for this honour," he said.

Pierre's response is patently modest. He is also a pioneer, albeit in the realm of dismantling the class and race barriers that affected the early development of pan.

His involvement with Dixieland was at a time when pannists invariably came from depressed areas and the instrument was more often associated with violence and anti-social behaviour than music.

He was also a member of the second Taspo, a foundation member and education officer of Pan Trinbago, a member of the government-appointed committee for the standardisation of pan, chairman of the Spree Simon Foundation, and chairman of the Carnival Advisory Council.

Under his leadership, Dixieland toured Africa, the Bahamas, Canada, Europe, the US, Venezuela and several Caribbean islands.

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