The genesis of Exodus
March 9, 2001
FROM a genesis that leaned heavily on luck (coupled with the magnanimity of the late Rudolph Charles), the Exodus Steel Orchestra has gone on to become not just the reigning Panorama champion, but one of the most celebrated bands in the pan world.
In 1981 Amin Mohammed, who had been with the Gay Flamingoes for many years, became disenchanted with the management of that orchestra and walked out during a meeting of its members. He did not go far, choosing a location just across the street from the panyard.
Before making the trek, Amin called on all members who supported his views on how the band should be managed to follow, if they were interested in setting up a new group. The result was an historic exodus, which is why the resulting band was called the Exodus Steel Orchestra.
It is but one of the many colourful stories that follow the Tunapuna-based band, whose uniforms and insignia has never varied from black and white, trimmed with silver. Ironically, the silver came to represent its position in the Panorama standings for many years.
Altogether, Exodus has chalked up an unenviable number of second places in the panorama competition, scoring three in a row before winning this year’s contest. They have also come in second in the music festival with equal frequency over the 20 years of the band’s existence, but jointly won the 1998 edition (with the Defence Force Steel Orchestra).
But there has been regular gold too, albeit at lesser levels. Band manager Ainsworth Mohammed has lost count of the number of times Exodus won the East Zone pan championship. Fact is, the band has taken that trophy on 12 occasions.
Last year, declared Champion of the 20th Century champions after running second to the Witco Desperadoes at the Panorama contest, Exodus was adjudged King of the Road at Carnival 2000 and finished third in last October’s World Steelband Music Festival.
The band did a seven-city European tour just one month before the World Festival, which included a performance at the Manchester United football ground for a game in which local star Dwight Yorke participated. To close that junket, Exodus enjoyed star billing at the closing ceremony of the World Exposition in Hanover, Germany.
This year, Exodus not only won the Panorama trophy and the biggest purse in the history of the contest (with prizes worth some $320,000), but also won the Jouvert morning Neville Jules Bomb competition. In addition, they were declared joint winners of the Downtown contest and have emerged second in the King of the Road competition for steelbands, a title they’ve already won three times since 1995.
Exodus has had such a victorious romp at the annual Point Fortin Pan on the Move competition that the band opted out for the past two years.
This winning streak began shortly after the band was formed. With pans borrowed from the Witco Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, Exodus won Pan Trinbago’s 1982 East Zone competition and secured a place in the national final, mere months after coming into existence.
The band soon became the model music organisation in the pan world with first Amin Mohammed, then his younger brother Ainsworth instilling a sense of business into the steelband.
First retaining the arranging skills of Ray Holman, then the Headley Brothers, Exodus finally settled on the arranging skills of Carnival tempo guru Pelham Goddard, and folk music icon Desmond Waithe. They insisted that the band look toward in-house compositions for the Panorama. The move first took them to the top rung in 1992 with Goddard’s “Savannah Party”.
Apart from its integrity in national competitions, Exodus is also responsible for several innovations in the pan world and its then leader helped bring bout the 1987 reform of Carnival administration.
Arguing that full-sized steel orchestras did not enjoy enough opportunities for engagement in the off-season, Amin conceived the Pan Ramajay competition; a contest among small ensembles, comprising each band’s most skilled players. Now a concert, Pan Ramajay staged its tenth edition last year and continued the tradition of honouring Caribbean heroes.
On the national level, Amin’s skills were also recognised by his appointment in 1986 as Chairman of the Carnival Development Committee (CDC). He pioneered revolutionary approaches to Carnival administration, pulling together an advisory committee, which eventually came up with the National Carnival Commission (NCC) concept, to give greater autonomy to the body that organises the annual national festival.
Mohammed was also appointed to chair the interim NCC, a body whose authority was not written into law until well after he handed the function over to Roy Augustus in 1989. He migrated in 1993 to become president of the Bank of the Cayman Islands, living there until his death in 1998. Younger brother Ainsworth, also a manager at Republic Bank, has been at the helm of the band ever since.
As a tribute to its administration, most of the band’s current membership has been with Exodus from inception. The band maintains an enviable list of achievements at home and has toured extensively.
Among its more memorable tours are those done at the behest of royalty, including a 1993 performance for Prince Charles and Lady Di at the University Games in Edmonton, a panyard concert for Zambia’s President Chiluba in 1995 and the 1999 command performance for the King of Morocco.