May 3, 2020. It was the early phase of the Covid-19 pandemic when the world was still in disbelief of the new normal. But the ten finalists had to focus for it was the final leg… They were thrilled at making it to the finals. Heart racing. Adrenaline pumping. Even amidst Covid challenges, the competition was stiff. Earl Brooks Jr of Trinidad and Tobago was smiling nervously but everyone knew that he was a force to be reckoned with. Twenty others from Guyana, Barbados, Antigua, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the US and St Maarten, also clashed at the starting line as the crowd on Instagram screamed in anticipation. Ready, set and pom pom pee pom… indeed… the sweetest pan olympics titled, PanoGrama, was finally about to climax. The fantastic finish was no surprise though, as Shaquille “Flogo” Forbes played his sticks to second place just behind Brooks who bagged the gold medal with his rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.
Fast forward to the year 2021… PanoGrama founder, Tobagonian, Nevin Roach, is sitting in the backdrop of a sunset in Barbados and reflecting on how his brainchild made history as the first ever online pan competition. He is grateful that his event is now deemed as the World Cup of Steelpan.
I am now getting acquainted with the term PanoGrama which translates to an international online pan competition that showcases talented up-and-coming musicians, the testing ground for some of the most promising pan extraordinaires.
“PanoGrama is the flagship event of PanoGrama Entertainment, the business which specialises in steelpan entertainment. It provides wholesome and family-oriented world-class entertainment, while also contributing to the holistic personal development of the pannist,” Roach avows.
He continues: “I had my very first encounter with the steelpan in 2002 and have been mesmerised since. Just one year after my initial introduction to pan, I was offered a golden opportunity and became a Pan Minor’s Music Literacy Scholarship Programme student, where I was successful,” the former captain of the Bishop’s High School Steel (Tobago) Orchestra, who moved to Barbados to study at The University of the West Indies (The UWI), Cave Hill Campus, Barbados remembers. In 2006, he made his debut in the National Trinidad and Tobago Panorama with Katzenjammers Steel Orchestra and in 2020 he graced the stage with the reigning champions for the National Small Conventional Band category, Tobago-based Uptown Fascinators.
“My love for the pan saw me travelling across the region to perform in several steel orchestras. My passion for the art form also goes beyond the stage; I have served on the executive management team of the Mosaic Steel Orchestra in Barbados for several years,” he tells me. A charismatic hockey player with a penchant for culture and entertainment, his entrepreneurial journey began after graduation from The UWI Cave Hill through signature hockey events.
Covid-19 killed off plans
The year 2020 was supposed to be his big year to make some of his events international but the Covid-19 pandemic killed some of these plans. Nevertheless, amidst chaos there is opportunity as the pandemic precipitated a whole new innovation- PanoGrama!
“During the heights of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions in 2020, live entertainment on Instagram sparked an idea to do something for pan. We were all stuck at home craving entertainment and I thought I could provide just that. I wanted to bring the entertaining vibe of Panorama to Instagram and as a result, PanoGrama was born. Panorama + Instagram = PanoGrama. Quick math! However, that was only part of the rationale. I also wanted to use the platform to help pannists who faced financial challenges, considering that going out to play gigs was no more,” Roach recalls as he relives his entrepreneurial epiphany.
PanoGrama’s goal was achieved through the offer of cash prizes, especially appearance fees sponsored by Pan Trinbago, the world governing body for pan. Also, upon completion of the competition, a sizeable donation was made to the Social Prosperity Fund of Pan Trinbago, to aid those facing financial hardships within the steelpan community. It proved to be a successful inaugural event reaching 32 Instagram accounts, hosting over 1,000 finals attendees and garnering media attention throughout the region. Furthermore, the audience of pan enthusiasts were not only treated to the sweet sounds of steel but also guest performances by five-time Barbados Power Monarch, Mikey; 2019 Vincentian Ragga Monarch, Hance John; Monk/Riddim Tribe dancer Nandi Yard and young steelpan sensation Jadon Philip.
However, from May 7-16, 2021, PanoGrama 2021 will trump its first instalment as pan musicians vie for a bigger winner’s stash of one thousand US dollars and an all-expenses-paid trip to perform in Canada and more. An educational arm will also be introduced such that webinars on personal/professional development, career guidance, musical development and music and business, would be hosted by professionals on behalf of PanoGrama.
“The PanoGrama platform has done so much for a lot for us. It shined the spotlight on us and made people aware of a lot of our talents. It brought connections to a lot of us and it also brought change with it being the World Cup of Steelpan. Big up to Nevin and I know that PanoGrama would be on another level this year,” Brooks exudes as he waits eagerly to throw his tune in towards a repeat of the crown. For Roach, it will be another chance to set the stage for steel and sticks as the World Cup of Steelpan is unveiled once more in the height of a pandemic.
For more information on PanoGrama 2021 check out https://www.pano-grama.com/audition.