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Champs of Steel Great performances—but poor concert management

Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Pan players from Small Conventional band champion Arima Golden Symphony caught in their element. Photo: SEAN NERO

There were many high points in last Saturday’s Champs in Steel Plus concert, staged by Pan Trinbago Inc at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain. 

Among them was the masterful performance by the young Helon Francis, who is a music student at UTT and who had earlier won the Young King Calypso Monarch on January 25 after he impressed the audience with his rendition of The Real Bandits. 

He sang Real Bandits on Saturday night, and it was both lyrically strong and performed with class and a graceful, effortless confidence on the stage. He commanded the stage intellectually, musically and creatively in a way the soca “party” artists simply did not. And he wrote the song himself. This might be this generation’s answer to David Rudder.

The pan performances were exhilarating, energetic, and entertaining, but in some cases, the heightened volume and frequency of furious crescendos and various musical party tricks intended to raise excitement levels for a Panorama audience outweighed the musicality and art of the compositions, at least to this listener. 

Still, it was good to see so much energy on stage, and from so many parts of T&T, and made one proud to be from T&T to feel so much musical goodwill in the air. For many, this was the only time to see all the winners of the various contests in pan together, and that alone made the show worthwhile.

One of the best pan performances last Saturday night was in fact not by adults but by a student band: the beautiful, powerful, melodic arrangement and performance of the students of St Joseph’s Convent, St Joseph, who wonderfully played the late Lord Kitchener’s song Guitar Pan, arranged by Anders Kappel Ovre, to place first in this year’s secondary school category of Junior Panorama. It was a joy to hear.

Other good performances included the youngsters from Tacarigua Presbyterian, who placed first in the primary school category with their tune Max It Up arranged by Keva-Ann Blackman, as well as the stirring performance of Calypso Music by the Renegades Youth pan side, arranged by Andrew Charles.

In between the many pan performances, we saw the winning costumes from junior and adult Carnival bands, which added lively, colourful texture to a show that was easily way more interesting and varied than what the current Dimanche Gras show has degenerated into. 

Champs of Steel contained a good mix of masquerade, song, pan and even some theatre, as Peter Minshall’s Ras Nijinsky: The Dying Swan performed his evocative yet somehow crippled death throes of a masquerade on stilts. The wingless, androgynous, beautiful, clumsy, sad mokojumbie mas could be read as an insightful comment on the decay of creative mas as an artistic, playful, theatrical form today.

But ironically defying Minshall’s grim, tragicomic portrayal were the children on stage earlier. 

Many of the children played mas in wonderfully designed costumes, notably those designed by Rosalind Gabriel, clearly showing that creative mas is not dead, just incubating—or, perhaps, transposed to a generation as yet uncorrupted by the apparently adult requirements of sexual display and market profits above almost all else. 

The combination of visual interest, fluid motion qualities, craft and design elements evident in the children’s costumes last Saturday night added sparkles and smiles to the night, and easily outshone the costumes of many adult bands seen on Carnival Monday and Tuesday this year. 

Everyone of course, was waiting for the grand finale—the winning, thrilling performance of Desperadoes. And wait we did; and wait, and wait, and wait. 

A few patrons felt fatigued and reluctantly went home before the end. For while the comprehensive selection of performers was a good effort at inclusiveness, the editing of the whole concert was bad—it ran way too long, and sometimes, you just shouldn’t show everything on one night, no matter how much you want to. It becomes too exhausting and marathon-like.

The show’s tickets advertised the show’s start at 7 pm, and its end time at 11 pm. So we were all sitting by 7 pm. But with no explanation or apology, we all then were made to wait for a full hour. 

The British tourists sitting behind me were mystified and getting a bit angry at the delay. The show eventually began shortly after 8 pm, with absolutely no apologies; and, with the overabundance of performers, it ended around 1.15 am. 

Desperadoes performed with a rousing energy that made me remember the glory days of the 80s, when masses of people would storm Panorama after midnight and you could reach out and touch the excitement in the air. Arranger Carlton “Zanda” Alexander danced in jubilation as Desperadoes played Different Me, by 5Star Akil, to an enthusiastic if long-suffering crowd.

A three-hour concert would have made for a better, tighter, more dramatic show. Perhaps we need to hire professional, experienced show managers instead of leaving this critical element to staff in Pan Trinbago or the NCC.


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