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The Great Cocoyea War

By Terry Joseph
February 06, 2004

Exodus performs in the 2004 preliminaries.

"Whadap, Cocoyea!" The battle cry echoed across the Laventille Hill midnight Tuesday, a warning loud enough to reach a band from Tunapuna, at which panyard strategists were equally confident that their plan for "War 2004" would see them through to national triumph.

Separated by a single point as they enter Sunday's semi-final turn of this year's Steelband Panorama stakes, Witco Desperadoes, the pride of the Laventille Hill and Tunapuna-based Exodus are both hell bent on coming out on top and, by the same opportunity, widening the space between them.

Although Sunday's savannah party involves 14 bands from the medium conventional orchestra category and a similar number of large bands, the top four positions in the large band grouping, as determined at the preliminary round, has become the competition's major talking point.

Solo Pan Knights and bpTT Renegades are tied for third position but at a ten-point lag behind frontrunner Exodus, who chalked up 273. Panorama history does not suggest the distance is insurmountable but the top two are being referred to as musical combatants in "The Great Cocoyea War", a rubric that embraces both songs involved in the primary joust.

Exodus has selected "War 2004", a composition of The Original de Fosto Himself with musical arrangement from Pelham "PG" Goddard, while Despers will play Clive Bradley's treatment of Shadow's "Whop, Cocoyea".

After an uncharacteristically low placing last year, Desperadoes bounced back this season and with a flourish, a resurgence that injects fresh anxiety into the contest. With their tune of choice enjoying equal public acclaim on the pan and party circuits, in addition to an enhanced rendition, one can confidently expect massive audience participation when the band performs Sunday.

The Exodus selection is the most popular among bands in all categories, making for swift comparison of inter-band performances. Goddard however is famous for his handling of music in both the pan and calypso arenas and has delivered Exodus to winner's row on three occasions, the last of which makes them defending champion.

Both arrangers are pulling out enough tricks to ensure the advance of their respective bands to the next rung of competition, admitting that all previous triumphs pale on final night, when performance at that moment in time is all that counts.

Bradley was calm and assured when we spoke with him. "A number of things have been inserted but basically the structure of the work remains much the same from the first round," he said. "What we have been doing is working on certain technical aspects of the music and by tightening up that end, the overall performance will be automatically enhanced.

Goddard said: "We have been working on Sunday's presentation since Tuesday when results came out. We spoke to band members, telling them not to get too excited, nor should they develop any sense of complacency. We have to continue working with the same diligence, particularly because the piece gets harder with the new bits and parts.

"Before last week we were completing practice by 11.30 pm. Since Tuesday that has gone to at least an hour more each night," he said. "You see, the thing about pan people is that they don't really want to come and play the same thing anyway, they want something else as the band advances.

"If they had a run that was four quavers at the preliminary stage, they actually look bored playing the same thing for the semi-final. If you give them nine they would be happy, so these little things, or extensions, or adding a whole new part is really what they see as the challenge.

"Dr Pat Bishop, who is working with us drilling the band also read the judges' comments to them, pointing out they had to improve on the dynamics.

In some parts, there is work to be done and the final crescendo had to be a little tighter. If the same judges are assessing Sunday's performance, they should notice improvements in these areas.

"We know the other guys are working just as hard because the one-point difference always makes the under-dog feel anything is possible. They will not be sitting and saying 'one point below or one point higher is no big thing.' Panorama doesn't operate like that at all. Everybody has to work and hope the next outing will demonstrate that.

"It makes the Panorama more exciting," Goddard said. "And now that the ten-minute time limit has been reduced to eight minutes, there is even more excitement in the music, as the ideas have to be more compressed into the smaller space if you are looking to get the desired effect.

"This is also the shortest verse and chorus de Fosto has sung in many years. Normally, he could have up to 60 bars in a verse but this one is just a little more than half of that, so extending it with the variations and key changes and intro, crescendo etc, is a little harder.

"You know I am not the kind of person to say we will do the other band this or that. I'm doing my thing in my corner, working out my strategy and at the end of Sunday's semi-final, we will all see the results," Goddard said.

Bradley was similarly non-committal about the band's chances but the mood among members in both panyards was less guarded. "Like the tune says, it is blows for them guys. Is whaddap, cocoyea," said a Despers member pointing to a chalked sign above the panyard's bar that served as a mission statement.

His strident battle cry must also have been heard in Tunapuna where, less than an hour before, an Exodus stalwart described the band's instruments and players as "weapons of mass destruction," referring to its arch-rival's chances of reversing current standings in terms that included "collateral damage" and "prisoners of war."

That, then, is the status report from the front of The Great Cocoyea War, whose next engagement on the battlefield known in pan circles as "The Barber Greene", begins 11 am Sunday.

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