Celia, Alex & Debra


Celia, Alex & Debra Carnival Conference March 2013

Here’s One We Made Earlier. The 2nd Carnival Archive Conference March 15th and 16th 2013

Celia, Alex & Debra

Celia, Alex & Debra Transcript (Click to read/hide)

Hilary Carty:

Celia I’m afraid you’ve got to top that but I’m sure you will.

Celia Burgess-Macey:

Alex and I are going to try and talk about some of the issues around women in pan; we’re going to put the voices of women into pan, hopefully, because we’ve been asked by the Archive to try and put together information to go into the archive. We’ll whip through some stuff in this presentation today, but there will be much longer accounts in the archive eventually, so we’ll just scratch the surface really.

The history of women in steel bands is still really to be written, a project for somebody out there to actually write the history and do the research. We’ve already referred to the fact that carnival in general is under-researched, certainly the place of women within the steel band movement is desperately under-researched, however women have always been there.

I want to just start with this wonderful quote [ slide ] because this really tells me what I’m here for, because this is what I feel about it:

‘Women doing their natural thing excite and tickle me; women committed to being all of the woman they can be. Breaking new and untraditional ground is a cause for celebration. In fact, it’s like sweet pan music to my ears.

It’s an exciting time for women, we have found our voices and unveiled our talents and we are unstoppable. We’ve taken on the men in traditional men activities and we’re excelling, the steel pan is just one area that we have challenged and taken by storm, just about every steel pan band now has a female player. There is no greater joy than watching a sister beat pan with attitude.’

Just as you saw Debra beating pan with lots of attitude.

To get from where it was at the beginning to where we are today is a bit of history. The history of the steel band and the invention of the pan, the only instrument to be invented in the 20th century, really goes back to the history of the African drum, what happened to enslaved people coming to the Caribbean, bringing their African drum, finding it was banned, going on to tamboo bamboo, beating of the bamboo sticks, finding anything that they could to beat, biscuit tins, dustbin lids, and then oil drums, which is where the pan begins.

My uncle by marriage, John Slater, has written a book which I’ve got on sale out the front about his early life in pan, he was one of the very early pan-ists in Port of Spain, and he says in his book:

‘There’s no doubt in my mind that it was because of our African heritage that we emerged from beating the Shango drums to the tamboo bamboo, and eventually the steel band. Most of the steel band pioneers I knew grew up in this Shango atmosphere, beating the drums and singing the various African songs.’

So we’re talking here about a historical and spiritual heritage that goes way back.

Those are some early pans [ slide ].

Alexander D.Great:

Can you show that for a bit longer. Just to explain the tamboo bamboo are on the right, obviously you’ve got an African drum there, and the thing at the back, the orange looking thing, is a 4 note pan from the 1940s, a very early pan. The blue one hasn’t even got any notes on it, but it’s convex rather than concave, which is they didn’t even know what they were hitting, they hadn’t started tuning. That’s brilliant; I found them this year in Trinidad with a guy who keeps these things from the past.

Celia Burgess-Macey:

More archival material.

So where, when, who and why?

Just very quickly pan was invented in Trinidad in the working class districts of Port of Spain and elsewhere, so it came from the community, from below, in the 1930s, mainly young working class men to express their creative and musical spirit to get around the bans, and as a badge of pride and group identity in what was then a colonial and very patriarchal society.

So where were the women?

Well there were women there from the beginning, although very few played pan, and there are a number of well documented reasons for this.

I’m not going to try and read that quote [ slide ], you’ll have to read it for yourself because I can’t do the accent, but there are a lot of quotes from women you can find that actually document how they were forbidden to go anywhere near steel bands, because there was a common perception that steel band men were riffraff and ruffians. This is a stereotype actually, a very common stereotype of anything working class, and still going on today.

A lot of the pan men were certainly not ruffians, they were dock workers, they just wanted to play their music, and some of the trouble that did erupt around steel bands was nothing to do with the musicians, it was more to do with hangers-on. I have that really from talking at length to Uncle John.

Some of the early pioneers were a woman called Norma Callendar, who was there at the very beginning, born on Hill 60, that’s a working class district of Port of Spain. She began beating there in 1945 when the ping-pong pan just had 5 notes.

Then there’s Daisy James McLean, another early participant in band, who played with the City Symphony Steel Band, and was the first woman pan-ist to accompany a calypsonian, her brother Medada [? 30:11] in fact, on stage. She then emigrated to the United States and founded steel band there. You’ll find this goes through, that men and women who emigrated took the pan with them.

Merle Albino-de-Coteau, a more well-known woman in pan, and again we’re really going to try and put women before you, as Ali was doing. These are the women that we need to know more about. She grew up in Lavent Hill hearing the music of pan.

In lots of these women’s stories they started out hearing, hanging around the edges or being involved in the band in other ways, and then graduated into pan, really the men couldn’t keep them out because of their own passion, their own desire to play, and their own musical ability. Some of them got into playing pan because the men recognised they were just bloody damn good.

Merle had the advantage that she had piano lessons so she had some music training, and the boys eventually recognised her.

Then there’s Hazel Henley, who defied tradition and formed an all women steel band in 1952 called ‘Girl Pat’, and again there’s a lot of history to be written around that, the first all women steel band. She was helped by Ellie Mannette who’s one of the really early men in steel band, so there were certainly men helping, as Ali also recognised in her story.

Then we come on to Pat Bishop who’s much more well-known, again a long life story in pan. She grew up in Port of Spain, became a really well known arranger, arranging for many of the Trinidadian bands, performing and conducting for Desperados, one of the best known bands from East Dry River in Port of Spain. She then became Musical Director of Lydian Steel and a radio presenter, and there is a lot more to be said about her.

Another person who grew up in classical music and moved into pan, being very well aware of her African roots and wanting to claim that, was Jocelyn Carcelle [? 32:54].

There were some factors preventing, as the song says, women’s equality in pan, the general social attitudes and the hostility of some people giving pan men a bad name, so children were kept away from pan.

The culture of the pan yard is another issue, and actually talking to women today there’s still maybe an issue. The pan yard is very male friendly, fairly male dominated rather than family friendly, so there are issues around drinking, bad language, sexual innuendo, the kind of humour that wasn’t meant for women’s ears, pan practice going on very late into the night and then an issue about getting home. My own daughter who plays pan often had that issue, and I was out late into the night playing taxi to lots of the young girls playing in that particular band. The pan yard not being a safe or a comfortable place to take young children, and women need to be able to take their children with them if they’re going to be playing pan for hours on end, so there are still some issues.

Women who broke the mould early on, again Sylvia [? 34:25] started being a flag woman, that’s the woman who waves the flag in front of the band; Jocelyn Pierre, arranger and adjudicator, famous for arranging a tune in 1959, so sometimes by taking on other roles women could be accepted.

Changing attitudes, I think there has been a real sea-change in the attitudes towards women playing in pan, perhaps partly because of women’s advancement elsewhere in society, so there are general issues there. There’s a woman player in Skiffle Bunch on top of the presentation [ slide ].

Finally, the role of pan in education, and Alex will say a bit more about this, but this has been a vehicle, a way in for a lot of women, that pan going into schools, pan going into colleges, pan being recognised within the general music education sphere has meant that women and girls can come into pan that way, and one of the key people in that regard was Dawn Batson [ slide ], who’s very well known in Trinidad, here, the United States, Canada, everywhere that she goes.

Alexander D.Great:

It basically became respectable and recognised because, like swing music and jazz, it involved white players and white bands which gave it an air of respectability. Steel Bands was a Dixieland steel orchestra started by Curtis Pierre, mainly white players; Silver Stars and Invaders started seeing more middle-class players so acceptance grew.

This is a quote by Jeannine Remy, of whom I shall speak in a moment:

‘The positive example is of a few women pioneers.’

And this is a quote from Pamela Field saying:

‘For women like me we should give thanks to Merle Albino, Pat Bishop, Dawn Batson; these ladies gave us, pan women, the opportunity to play pan. They’re inspiring women in the pan world today.’

Jeannine Remy hails from Wisconsin originally, she was a percussionist, and, as you can see from this:

‘For years I fought the perception that girls shouldn’t play percussion, I’ve always been a minority in my field. I can remember as a young girl packing a concert hall because they wanted to see if a girl could play drums.’

And so it goes on, she’s in a man’s world arranging for pan. She basically upped sticks went to Trinidad, she is a senior lecturer now at the University of the West Indies, she’s married, been living in Trinidad now for about 20 years and has never looked back, and absolutely enjoys the fact that she made the right move. She is the lady in the middle in the red [ slide ], that’s Jeannine, on her right is Emily Lemmerman whom I’ll come to in a moment; the lady on the left I don’t know because I didn’t find out who she was. This was a shot taken outside the Music Department this year at UEA.

Jeannine says she was an undergraduate in percussion and attended a music camp where she gained hands-on experience of the steel drum, fell in love with it and transferred to Illinois University, this is going to be up on the website so you can see it in the full archive, ‘there are only a handful of women in Invaders’, and since then she found every excuse to go and play pan every year, and eventually moved there.

The next person I’m going to look is another Debbies, there are lots of Debbies in pan in Britain, and this Debbie Gardner. Debbie Gardner I think is Administrator for the British Association of Steel now, known her for a good few years. She’s inspired by people, she says:

‘People have to come together and work together to achieve anything. They can’t order the tune online and roll up on the day; it’s an all year thing, something you have to dedicate yourself and your time to doing. As [??? 38:51] Mills once said “pan is my religion and the pan yard is my church”.’

There’s a picture of Debbie in full flow [ slide ] playing in Panorama. I don’t know which year that is, but there she is enjoying herself.

Celia mentioned about women taking on other roles. They were often recruited as members of the committee, treasurers or secretaries, fund raisers. These roles fitted with traditional female supporting role, women can be accepted in supporting roles rather than leading. Those of you who know the next sentence, some of you will know this person:

‘There’s still a perception amongst some older men players …’ (this happens in Calypso too) ‘… that women should not be in positions of control, e.g. chair of the association, but this is in the minority, younger males who have grown up playing alongside girls, both in school and in pan yards, do not usually subscribe to that view.’

I’m very pleased to say that’s true, younger males now recognise that women are equal, and in some cases even more than equal.

Distribution of power in the band, we’ve already talked about that, but further down:

‘Women are seen as basically secretaries not as people who are equal to their male counterparts.’

That’s from Janelle Werner.

It’s still a perception, which is what you heard in the song we just did, that women were seen as people who stayed at home, did the cooking, the washing and so on.

Here’s a shot of Emily Lemmerman. Emily is a really special person. She’s that rarest of people, a pan builder, someone who makes pans from scratch. This is a very hallowed area of pan. She’s a tuner and builder of steel pans in Austin, Texas. She owns the Barracuda Steel Drums Company.

Now Barracuda was the name of a steel pan made by the great Ellie Mannette of Invaders, and the story is that Ellie made this really wicked pan that had a great sound, it was stolen one night, left in Lavent Hill somewhere, and he was told, ‘come and get your pan.’ He never did get it, but in honour of him, and the fact that Emily was a pupil of his, so he was broadminded enough, or forward looking enough, to say, ‘this woman has the talent, I’m going to teach her to make pans’, and so she’s a very rare commodity in the world of pan: A woman tuner and builder as she calls herself.

Joy Joseph learnt her chops playing in various steel bands from an early age, and she’s now an accomplished singer, drummer, percussionist and steel pan player based in East London. She also tours the world with a pop star called Mika; some of you may know him. I’m too old to be that interested, but I know that among the youth he’s a very well-known figure, he’s had million selling albums and things. What’s interesting is to look at him you’d think he was a mainstream pop band, but his backing vocalist and pan player is Joy Joseph.

I’m not going to talk about Debra, she can talk about herself in a minute, she’s going to get a little spot at the end, that’s Debra Romain who we just saw playing.

This is another interesting woman, Michelle Huggins-Watts, she is the first woman to arrange for a major band, a middle sized band, what they call the medium size bands, to win Panorama. She won in the medium category in 2011; she’s the first female arranger to win a major competition. I heard her arrangement this year for Valley Arms and it was stunning, it was absolutely breath-taking. It was between her and Phase 2, but she really had the crowd on their feet, a fabulous arranger; a brilliant woman.

Learning pan in schools, we’ve kind of dealt with that.

Rachel Heyward lives in Brighton, she specialises in arranging and playing classical music. She started playing pan at the age of 14, and she mainly arranges classical tunes for pan players. She runs a small band, as I say, a single pan, that used to be called ‘pan round the neck’, where you walk along the street with your pan, which is how it started before they went on to floats. There’s a picture of Rachel [ slide ], again very successful. She’s also married to a novelist called Robert Rankin, some of you might know his novels, he writes over-the-top novels around fantasy tales.

Pan women today [ slide ], this is a lady from Antigua quoting.

The new generation, I want to talk about Laila Shah. Laila Shah is a young lady of 14, lives in Britain, her father, Haroun is one of the leading lights of Nostalgia, which is a pan around the neck band, pan around the neck means they walk along the road with their pans, march with them, first seen in 1951 when TASPO, the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra, came to Britain for the Festival of Britain. There is some talk, I haven’t checked it yet, that pan was seen before 1951, in fact in 1948, in a show that was filmed with Boscoe Holder, who was a dancer.

Anyway Laila at the age of 13 arranged the tune for the band last year. She arranged the tune for Nostalgia when they were crossing the judging point at Notting Hill Carnival, which is some achievement, to arrange for a big band at the tender age of 13. She’s a very talented young lady. [ slide ] there’s Nostalgia on the road.

Jacqueline Roberts is a lady who started something called ‘SVG2’ which is St Vincent’s 2nd Generation, based in High Wycombe. She got some funding and runs steel pan lessons in schools and for individuals. She also put the ABRSM, which is the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, got accreditation, so now you can do steel pan and get an exam in the same as you could piano, violin or any other classical instrument, so that’s quite an interesting development.

This lovely lady here < on stage > is going to talk about herself. She’s in it because we had to do a comprehensive study, and Mary [? 46:44] is part of that study, but she’ll tell you about herself in a moment.

The struggle for equality, well you can see that:

‘Pan [??? 46:55] a level playing field where they’re creating a melodious sound equally appreciated as the effort of any man in the band.

That’s a very important statement, women are equal in all respects when it comes to music. We know that.

I think we’re pretty much done. Could I please introduce you, before we finish I would like Debbie to talk about herself, and also to prove that pan isn’t stuck in Calypso alone. She’s going to sing a little tune for you to finish our presentation.

Debra Romain:

Hello everyone my name is Debra Romain. Alex and I have worked together on the piece, ‘Trials of the Pan Woman’. It was really based on the experiences of my life, and I felt it was important to document it in song with someone who is more than qualified to write a fantastic and winning piece.

Just to tell you a little bit about myself, I’m going to talk really briefly because I realise we’re pressed for time. In 1994 I became the first female manager and arranger to enter the Notting Hill National Panorama Competition; I was only 22 years old. It was quite a challenge for me and I met with a lot of opposition. I had to leave the band I was in to start something of my own, because I knew I was never going to get the opportunity to become an arranger, the only way I could do that was to create my own opportunity, and so I’m going to tell you briefly about how I got to where I am today and about my other project which is called, ‘Women of Steel’.

I’ve been teaching pan for 21 years in the UK. I started out doing secondary and primary education, using different genres of music and bringing them into the pan yard. I thought it was important for children growing up doing pan in the UK to use music that they identify with, to understand how the instrument works, and to guide an appreciation for the capabilities of the instrument, to know that it’s not just an instrument used for Caribbean music only.

I now teach and arrange as the Musical Director for the Cambridge University Steel Pan Society. This is a new formal Society started 4 years ago, just like any of the other Societies at Cambridge. I felt they needed to have something a little more diverse, so that international students coming to study at the University of Cambridge didn’t feel they needed to give up their identities to join the formal ones they already had, the rowing and all the other ones we know exist in a university like that, to offer something.

I went to the University and it wasn’t so much that I tried to persuade them about having pan in the University, it was more a case of me saying, ‘why don’t you; if you can tell me a good reason why you don’t already have this?’, and being such a big establishment they really didn’t have a good reason, therefore, there was that door open for me to go in and give birth to CUSPS, which is the Cambridge University Steel Pan Society.

At the moment, as I say I’ve been teaching for 21 years, occasionally I get the opportunity to adjudicate competitions and to give comments to children and young up and coming performers in Pan Clash, Junior Panorama and Pan Explosion for the BAS. I do act as a judge, and I’m able to use my experience to be able to get people to try and develop their skills, males and females, young performers. I mainly focus on the under 25s, developing their performance skills.

I’m currently running an organisation; I started a band, called ‘Women of Steel’.

As a solo performer, I call myself a ‘steel pan vocalist’, just like any other solo performer you may use the pan, or any other instruments to accompany themselves, I accompany my vocals with pan.

‘Women of Steel’ was originally set up by me to create a platform for women to showcase their talents. I took into appreciation the struggle I had to get to where I am now, my journey and how hard it was not having support. I decided that when I’m no longer with this world I’d like to know I’d left behind something significant so that my work wasn’t in vain. Creating ‘Women of Steel’ was that support network also.

We have three goals, but it really is my pass-the-baton project so I know that it will continue to grow and women will continue to feel supported in the world of pan. The three goals are:

The development of each individual member and their performance skills.

The opportunity to arrange. Women who join this organisation don’t have to leave their existing bands, but they do have somewhere in which they can be creative, and so it’s to support creativity in arranging.

Also it’s a mentoring project. It provides a support network for people who have ambitions and don’t feel that they’re in an environment where they can express that, so creating an environment in which we can express ourselves as female artists. It takes away the element of people feeling threatened in the steel band, because you don’t have to leave your band, you are part of something in addition, and hopefully then you’re a credit to your band.

We do perform as a collective but we do also perform individually showcasing each talent.

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