Last night we went to the National Steel Pan Finals at the Queens Park Savannah in Port of Spain. As usual it was late getting off..something about the islands…but that gave us time to wander through the vending stands outside the facilities and pick up some Trini staples like corn soup, macaroni pie, and shark and bake. We settled into the stands and stuffed ourselves just in time to catch the start of the show.
Panorama is not your ordinary little steel band tournament. These bands consist of between 50 and 300 people, all playing in sync with one another, all with pans tuned to different keys. At times it doesn’t even really sound like you’re hearing only pans, it sounds like a whole orchestra. 10 medium bands and 10 large bands competed in the finals, and the event must have lasted 8 hours by the time it was said and done, running until 3 a.m. or so. We left before it was over, so we didn’t get to see the winning band, the Silver Stars, play because they ended up being the second to last to play, but what we did hear was mostly pretty spectacular. The hundreds of drums are mounted on carts decorated to the band’s theme and rolled on stage, and in addiction to played and a conductor, each band might have any number of dancers and flag wavers participating in the action on stage. A band whose song was “Smooth Sailin'” had carts capped with waves and players dressed as sailors, and another performing “Somewhere in Tobago” had all the infrastructure of its carts covered in palm fronds and island-themed decor. One of our favorite bands did a song called “Battle Zone” and everyone as dressed in fatigues. The tops of their carts were layered in camo netting, and at the back one cart had a rocket mounted on top. When they finished their performance, they set off fireworks form the back.
It was pan like we’ve never seen it before. You can catch a few of the tunes online at YouTube.