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Steel in Motion in Siparia

Published: 
Monday, April 16, 2018
Diatonic Pan Institute presents
Woodbrook’s Brimblers performs on the streets of Siparia at a previous Steel in Motion. PICTURE FILE

Diatonic Pan Institute presents Steel in Motion on Saturday, April 22 at 6 pm along the main streets of Siparia. This single pan competition is held in conjunction with the regional corporation and that weekend’s celebration of La Divina Pastora in Siparia. The bands start from the Diatonic panyard on Mary Street head up to High Street and through the centre of town.

A dozen Single Pan bands from all over the country are signed up. Each will perform two songs, one is a religious number of their choice and other is by the calypsonian being championed in this year’s competition. This year it is Johnny King.

Since Steel in Motion started in 2011, they have celebrated Ronnie Macintosh, Calypso Rose, Lord Nelson, Crazy, Baron, Iwer George and Black Stalin. There will be prizes for the best performance of each selection, best performer on the road and the best flag waver.

This year’s honouree Johnny King is an icon since the Eighties with classics like the Road March contender Wet Me Down and Nature’s Plan which brought him to second place for the National Calypso Monarch crown at Dimache Gras in 1984. King entered the calypso arena in 1980, the tents in 1983 and has been performing, recording and touring internationally ever since while working as a policeman. Now retired, he has recently been the manager of the Kaiso Karavan in La Joya, St Joseph, and continues to be an ambassador for a groovy soca style with lyrics that still hit at central issues. Nature’s Plan may be more relevant today than ever before. King has performed at the Diatonic panyard and is excited to be the focus of this year’s pan competition.

But the young members of the Diatonics Pan Institute themselves do not perform at Steel in Motion because instead they are the ones running the event. They are involved in every aspect of the event, from publicity to managing the flow of steelbands on the streets. For the event, the Diatonic Pan Institute also creates a yearly magazine that celebrates the city of Siparia, the chosen calypsonian, and the yearly activities of the steelband. Manager Keith Byer notes, “It’s a practical form of training for events management.”

Indeed, it is giving youth such skills besides developing musical abilities that is central to the vision of Byer, Diatonic’s founder. He sought to offer local youth a positive way forward in troubled times, teaching life skills through steelpan.

A retired oil company engineer, Byer played with Siparia Deltones in his younger days and later managed Deltones for a time. He went on to serve as chairman of the South/Central Region of Pan Trinbago, Vice President of Pan Trinbago, and General Secretary of the Caribbean Steelband Association. Byer also managed Silver Stars Steel Orchestra for three years and brought them to the winner’s circle but decided to focus on youth and what steelpan can do for them in creating the Diatonics Pan Institute.

Byer sought out two old friends from Deltones — Vernon Dimsoy and Janelle Paris — who agreed with his vision and were committed to translate it into action. They formed a non-profit corporation and got a long-term lease for a panyard in downtown Siparia, which has now become a safe place for children to learn, hang out and have fun. From the beginning, Byer’s vision was to teach more than just musical proficiency. He saw the possibility of the institute teaching important life skills such as leadership, band management, event management, broadcasting, magazine production, and more.

For a new youth steelband, they have an impressive history of performing internationally. Diatonic Pan Institute did a nine-day tour to Indiana in 2011, which saw the group help start two steelbands. In 2014, they attended the St Vincent and the Grenadines Independence celebrations as part of a programme called Pan Against Crime. The organisation also attended an international folk festival in North Carolina that year and were spotted by officials who invited them to Taiwan. Last summer they travelled to Taiwan for three weeks performing at the Yilan International Children’s Folklore and Folkgame Festival and held workshops teaching pan to kids at a local elementary school and leaving a starter set of steelpans.

Diatonic Pan Institute holds three weekly rehearsals, performs regular monthly gigs, offers both free music literacy classes to the community and a vacation steelpan camp during the summer.

Initially, Diatonic Pan Institute hired music instructors but now the most experienced DPI teen members are the teachers. Beyond its key outreach event (Steel in Motion), the Diatonic Pan Institute also hosts concerts in its panyard bringing in calypsonians from across Trinidad to perform and has recorded a double album of Christmas classics. They have received further national exposure by creating a syndicated television show a few years ago.

Created, starring, and produced by youth, the first season of a 14-episode TV series featured Diatonic members visiting and interviewing steelband leaders, arrangers and members from across the country.

More recently in Trinidad, they have launched a programme introducing their youth members to drama.

In only few short years, Diatonic Pan Institute has created much more than a steelband; they’ve fostered what Byer believe will be some of the future leaders of tomorrow.

This is the eighth year for Steel in Motion and Byer is very pleased at the growing turnout each year. “Steel in Motion is unique and tries to add something different and fun to the pan calendar,” said Byer. “We don’t announce who the calypsonian to be featured until after Carnival so we can generate excitement by the bands creating new arrangements. Also, the bands are pushing racks through the streets, so our audience is back to feeling close to the bands as they perform. Everybody has a great time!

“Come and see these youth run a free festival celebrating Johnny King and bringing new pan arrangements to the streets of Siparia.”

Ray Funk is a retired Alaskan judge and a Fulbright scholar who is passionately devoted to calypso, pan and mas.

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