World Steelband Music Festival 2000


October 14, 2000
By Terry Joseph

THE World Steelband Music Festival, currently taking place at the Jean Pierre Complex in Port of Spain, is turning into a Cinderella story for the Swiss entry, Panch 2000 – a band formed just nine months ago.

By the same opportunity and after just two nights, the festival is already developing into episodes of horror for local steel orchestras and pan aficionados who once thought the indigenous product invincible.

At the conclusion of the preliminary round, which played its final note at 2.45 a.m. yesterday, Panch emerged victorious with 798 points, beating top-drawer local band Exodus into second spot and by a whopping 18 points. And given the circumstances leading up to its participation in the festival, the Panch win not only qualifies the band for the semi-final, but may also rank for prime space in the next edition of Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

Panch was founded just last January and played its first public performance only five months ago, a free street concert in Berne, Switzerland as a warm-up for the European qualifying round of the festival last May. In fact, Panch has never played professionally and was up to yesterday, virtually unknown in the global steelband fraternity.

The Panch achievement has therefore doubled as a wake-up call for local orchestras and genuine surprise to the Swiss band’s personnel. “I’m somewhere between being very excited and very shocked,” Panch conductor Yaira Yonne said yesterday. “I absolutely did not expect it, as that was certainly not our best performance. Panch has only played in public five times before last Thursday. We did two test performances in Berne and two in Zurich before the Paris contest and now Trinidad and Tobago.” But whipping the 16 other bands that performed during the two-night preliminary round is even more astonishing than Yonne admits. At the Paris qualifier, Panch was beaten in fourth place by England’s Ebony Steelband, France’s Calypsociation and Steel Pan Lovers from Finland; all of whom have now suffered a reversal of fortunes at the hand of the Swiss band.

Indeed, Panch 2000 was not even supposed to come to the finals, as only the top three bands from the European zone had originally been invited. It was a combination of circumstances that eventually got them included. Their tune of choice, Franz von Suppe’s “Poet and Peasant” having won top honours in that category in Paris, coupled with the predicament of eight of the original 24 bands declining at the last minute; got Panch a spot in the Trinidad playoffs.

“We are so very lucky to make it to the first round and now to the second level,” Yonne said, “although we do not want to over-value the results at this stage of the contest. We are going to be working even harder over the next few days to improve the work. Actually we are going into rehearsal in half an hour and we have also scheduled two rehearsal sessions for Sunday (today), one at 11.30 a.m. and the other at 7 p.m. at the Starlift panyard. “Oh, it would be nice to win, but we are more interested in a supportive relationship with pan and the players here. We are not into fighting with each other to get to the top. The contest for us is in the music. In fact, we are learning a lot from Trinidad based bands on our first time in your country. This is a whole wonderful experience.”

Trinidad-born Jenny Lee, now associated with France’s Calypsociation and who was part of the organising team for the Paris playoffs, shared Yonne’s sentiments: “It is the instrument that will win, no matter who takes home the prize,” she said. “The Trinidad and Tobago bands have been coming out to Europe and now they invite us here. It is a thrill of immense proportions.

“Being a Trini, I warned the European bands that they will meet strong competition. We came with pride. We feel both content and gratified now that Calypsociation is past prelims, although I privately felt that any one of the European bands could make it. But our primary aim was to participate in this milestone event for pan. If we win that is grand, but being here in this festival is another kind of triumph altogether. Those two nights of preliminaries have seen some astonishing moments in pan,” she said.

Among the astonishing performances on Friday night was that of the Northern Illinois University Steel Orchestra, whose interpretation of Robert Chappel’ s “Wood and Steel” brought the audience to its legs. With three pannists moving to play the Ugandan Amadinda (an instrument based on the African xylophone), coupled with the jimbe drum and congas, the NIU band produced a rhythm to die for. And to think that NIU had only one short rehearsal after arriving here on Thursday afternoon, added value to its performance. Trinidadian virtuoso Liam Teague, who gained both his music degrees at NIU, appeared in the band’ s frontline.

Along with Panch and NIU, three other foreign bands are now eligible for the semi final round, which takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday nights at the same venue. Ebony was scintillating with von Suppe’s “Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna” and Annise Hadeed’s arrangement of Hollis Wright’s “Celebrating with Steel”. Calypsociation earned rich applause for its renditions and the Defence Force Orchestra, under the baton of Deryck Nurse, kept the quality of the evening steady, with its interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No 4 – The Finale”.

Tobago’s Buccooneers became the only casualty of the preliminary round, with the other 16 bands going forward to the next tier of the festival.


1. Panch 2000 -- 798 points
2. Exodus – 780
3. TT Defence Force – 778
4. BWIA Invaders -- 774
5. BWIA Ebony – 772
6. Northern Illinois University – 771
7. Calypsociation -- 758
8. TCL Group Skiffle Bunch -- 750
9. Steel Pan Lovers -- 739
9. Solo Pan Knights -- 739
11. Our Boys – 712.5
12. Courts Laventille Sounds Specialists – 707
13. NCB Angel Harps -- 676
14. Parry’s Pan School -- 697
15. CASYM -- 672
16. Moods -- 641
17. Tobago Buccooneers – 616


Terry-J at I-Level

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