by Latoya Burnham
If you start with a comparison to what was an unmatched show last year, then First Citizens Pan Fusion last night at Ilaro Court would fail to match up.
Taken on its own merit however, one would have to say it was a good show, in an event that seemed this year to concentrate almost exclusively on pan and the musicians rather than the music of the festival – calypso.
So even when the featured artists incorporated some calypso melodies into the show that featured everything from classical music, to jazz, blues and R&B – the large and seemingly hard-to-please crowd on the lawns of the Prime Minister’s residence were largely unmoved.
Perhaps I should interject here that there was applause and in some cases screams of approval for certain selections and the appreciation of the skill of the artists, but the dancing on the lawns and the raised hands jamming to sweet music that was had a year ago were suspiciously missing last night.
The show opened with the Pan in the Plaza Ensemble – a collection of youth jamming on the night and was followed by the first act of the night, the Trinidad and Tobago National Steel Symphony Orchestra.
The Orchestra, formed in 2007, it was revealed, always travels with the country’s Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism, Lincoln Douglas, who sporting a broad-rimmed white hat and blue nehru-collar dress shirt, sitting with Prime Minister Freudel Stuart and our Minister of Culture, Stephen Lashley on the night.
The 25-member steel pan group began with the William Tell Overture then the Waltz for Iris by Trinidadian Ray Holman.
As some patrons continued to fill up seats and space on the grassy knoll above the expansive stage, the orchestra picked up the pace a bit with Festival of Voices and Morning Dance. Tico Tico No Fuba and a new arrangement to Gabby’s Emmerton were two other selections the band played with gusto, before ending with Pan In Harmony by Lord Kitchener, a Clive Bradley arrangement. Having obviously thoroughly enjoyed the latter two selections, with a Trini flag waving from the corner of one pan, the band left the stage to rousing applause from the audience.
When the stoute André Forde hit the stage, the vibe was a bit more electric. Bouncing and clearly enjoying the interaction with the band The Original Unit, he started with hits like Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together before launching into his own original Cecil’s Point.
This brought a new feeling of life to the evening, especially when he replaced the band with “the Andres”, a full band comprising himself on pan, Andre Daniel and Andre Clarke on keyboard, André Donawa on bass and Andre Woodvine on sax and had the crowd grooving to Grover Washington’s 1974 Mister Magic, and Woodvine’s Citronella.
As the local band jammed on stage, saxophonist Arturo Tappin stood stage right tapping his feet and nodding with the vibe, rocking to the rhythms. But then The Original Unit, comprising Stefan Walcott, Neil Newton and David Carnegie, returned, with the addition of Richard Bill Evans on acoustic bass to end the set on a high note.
By then it was time for the second headliner of the evening, Len Boogsie Sharpe. His biography says he is a man blessed with perfect pitch and after hearing him, one would have to agree. He allowed his pans to sing, talk and dance – the only thing they didn’t do was get up and walk off the stage at the end of a high energy set that nevertheless still did not wow the large crowd. Sure there was appreciation and applause, but a heavy pall still seemed to settle over the audience, with only a few members shaking and genuinely grooving to the music.
The perfect fusion that saw local calypsonians joining in the action last year was missing this year and perhaps be part of the reason the hills that were on their feet dancing to RPB and Alison Hinds remained seated on blankets and folding chairs this year, with hands just coming up to applaud the performers.
At the end of the evening, one could almost say Nicholas Brancker stole the show. Joining Sharpe in the latter part of his set for Summertime, Brancker almost literally bent the guitar to his will as he dominated in a call and response segment with the Trinidadian pannist, who additionally sang each note he struck in a demonstration of his impressive ear, feel and knowledge of the pans. By the time the duo got to Alison Hinds and Square One Iron Bazodee, Sparrow’s Drunk and Disorderly and Superblue’s Signal for Lara to end the show, only a few people had risen to their feet when they could not hold back the sweet feeling anymore. Members of the Trinidad steel orchestra even came onto the lawns to jam to the sweet soca.
But before the sets were finished, some patrons had risen to their feet to leave the arena, probably listening to the end of the evening on their way out the back gates of Ilaro Court.