The steelpan music presentation called Pan Ramajay is designed to both discover and unleash the Jit Samaroos and Ken
“Professor” Philmores of tomorrow, onto the global music circuit.
So said the late Amin Mohammed, co-founder of the competition and leader of Exodus Steel Orchestra, which conceptualised and produced it.
The revelations were made during an interview back in 1994 with Alvin Daniell, host of the television magazine programme titled Calypso Showcase, on state-owned Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT).
Back then Mohammed declared that too many of the nation’s potential virtuosos were being stifled by the band culture that manifested within the steelpan fraternity. Therefore, Exodus had to hit the refresh button and resuscitate the process of honing dynamic playing skills and musicianship among individuals on the steelpan.
He recalled that during the bygone days of the steelpan players in the panyard could be heard routinely improvising on a particular melody; an art and sound which sadly became less frequent.
“This is what Ramajay is seeking to bring back. We really had a different phase in the development of steelbands where the band, as a group, formed a very powerful identity, but the player as an individual member of the group has been losing some of his or her individual identity, and the arranger is the boss,” he said.
Mohammed continued, “The arranger in a sense dictates this is what I want you to play. If you are playing a tenor pan, and you… are playing a tenor pan, you will play the same thing, or you may have a group of tenors playing the same line and another group playing a different line, and similarly with other instruments. Pan Ramajay is the forum where, in a sense, we move away from that and we allow the player to be the highlight…(the) highlighted person and the focus really is on the player and the skills”
It was his belief that the evolution of the steelpan and its sustainable development would have been determined by creating fertile grounds for emerging exponents of the artform to rise.
In his assessment, back then, Len “Boogise” Sharpe, Robert Greenidge, Ken “Professor” Philmore and Jit Samaroo, were professionals, who newcomers needed to emulate, citing the individual skills of those veterans were of an extremely high calibre.
Mohammed said, “And, we do feel that the younger players coming up… if they are ever going to become professionals, they must be able to do that type of playing. Otherwise, if they can just play what is given to them by an arranger, they will just continue to be a normal player.”
Mohammed and the steelpan
What was Mohammed’s relationship with the steelpan? Well, as it turned out he had his own storied history.
In an effort to grasp Mohammed’s passion for the steelpan Daniell asked about his relationship with the indigenous musical instrument. The former Exodus official calmly summarised it with a simple reply: “long time.”
It turned out that Mohammed’s encounter with the steelpan occurred around the time of his ninth birthday.
“I have been playing pan since in elementary school. That is about eight, nine (years old). So, I have been around for a long, long time. When I was a kid, we had a little band in Tunapuna called Troubadours, which was a very small band and that’s where I sort of cut my teeth… And then I moved up to St John’s Village with Flamingos. At that stage they were actually called Harmonets. Then they changed their name to Flamingos, because of the closeness of the name with Harmonites. That was back in about 1960. I was actually playing with Harmonets and then Flamingos, which later became Gay Flamingos, then back to Flamingos, after the word gay wasn’t so acceptable,” Mohammed recalled.
He played with Flamingos for a number of years. His instrument of choice was the double-second pan. Eventually, playing would not be enough. He took the reigns as the band’s manager. He stayed with Flamingos until the band’s last Panorama back in 1981. He also played that year, then moved on to form Exodus.