To the uninformed, Duvone Stewart can seem boastful.
Get to know him, though, and you’ll realise his apparent cockiness is really an affirmation of the greatness, he believes, he was destined to claim.
“I have always maintained a stance that I was born a winner,” an upbeat Stewart, 42, declared in a Sunday Newsday interview.
“I am living my dream and I am enjoying my dream and doing what I love doing best, making music and making people feel happy.”
As the ace arranger for BP Renegades Steel Orchestra, Stewart took the popular Duke Street, Port of Spain band, to victory with Voice’s (Aaron St Louis’) Year For Love, in last year’s National Panorama competition – a title it had last clinched some 21 years before.
As if that were not enough satisfaction, the Tobago-born arranger also steered South-based band Pan Elders Steel Orchestra to its fourth consecutive win with the late Samuel “Brigo” Abraham’s Limbo Break in the medium band category.
This year, in addition to working with his core bands, Stewart has taken on another challenge: arranging for the TT Defence Force in the small band category.
The Defence Force band was previously a single pan outfit.
“I believe I have been built with music and I have lots of it to give out,” he said of his decision to add another band to an already overflowing plate.
While saying it would be difficult to stay at the top of his game during the hectic Carnival season, Stewart assured none of the bands will be short-changed.
“It is very easy to fall off but the records have shown the progress of Duvone Stewart from his inaugural year in arranging. He has become a forceful competitor, trumping up win after win, locally, regionally and internationally.”
He added: “I have become a force to be reckoned with every single year by putting on my A-game. So, I am confident that doing three bands for Panorama in one year can be done.”
For Stewart, working with three bands in one year is not unfamiliar territory.
The arranger recalled in 2014, he once placed first in the Panorama competition with San Juan East Side and Pan Elders. That year, he also placed third with BP Renegades.
Turning his attention to signature outfit, Renegades, Stewart said the band, which begins rehearsals tomorrow, will play Farmer Nappy’s (Darryl Henry) Hookin Meh for this year’s competition.
“It is one of the most popular songs on the radio today. I like the grooviness behind it. There are things I feel I can work some magic with it. I have ideas and visions behind it to make it become a good rendition for 2019.”
He said Pan Elders, which started rehearsals on January 2, will seek to defend its medium band category title for a fifth consecutive year with Scrunter’s (Irwin Reyes Johnson) The Will – which speaks of the late Lord Kitchener passing on his calypso legacy – in tribute to the cultural icons who passed away last year.
These include pan luminaries Ellie Mannette and Ken “Professor” Philmore as well as calypsonians Winston Bailey (Shadow); De Original De Fosto Himself (Winston Scarborough); and Lord Superior (Andrew Marcano).
Stewart said: “A lot of bands tend to do the original arrangement from the set composer or singer that passed away. They might do a Pan By Storm from Philmore or they might do Dingolay by Shadow.
“I believe that my concept behind paying tribute and respect to these icons is by doing The Will because it is a message left by somebody who has passed on. I have received musical messages from these persons.”
Stewart said the past year has been overwhelming. He’s been to France, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Antigua, St Vincent, Barbados, New York, West Virginia.
“Duvone Stewart has become a household name and I have grown tremendously.”
He said while the band’s late arranger Jit Samaroo was a tough act to follow, there was a definite changing of the guard in Renegades.
“We have welcomed to the gates someone with a new name, face, image and concept behind continuing the growth of the instrument.”
Stewart went on: “I have grown to the point where I have extended my talents to countries that I have never really done before. Everyone just wanted to meet and greet, be around, talk to, perform with. I was just becoming that iconic figure in the minds of many people. ”
Stewart, who regards his arrangement of Year For Love as one of his best to date, said he also has conducted classes, workshops and lectures in countries where the steelpan is compulsory in their respective school systems.
Of the tune, he said: “The arrangement was a true story, one which I broke down in detail and thoroughly explained. Everybody was captured by the storyline.”
Saying Renegades and Pan Elders are now brand names internationally, Stewart admitted his schedule was exceedingly hectic and, at times, “uncontrollable.”
“But, I had a group of members in both bands which kept things together, kept me focussed and on solid ground.”
For 2019, Stewart said pan lovers can expect continued greatness.
“I am very fortunate and blessed to work with one of the greatest steelbands in the world (Renegades) and a membership that is very talented.
“They believe in me and I am just going to continue doing me, enjoying me and providing raw, uncut, loving music.”
Stewart said while he would make mistakes along the way, “I am going to do the best I can with whatever is in front of me.”
Asked if he felt pressured to repeat his 2018 victories, Stewart said: “It is not the first time I would be trying to repeat as a champion arranger. I did it for 11 consecutive years in the small band category.
“I did it four consecutive years with Pan Elders. And now, I am embarking on a new stance in repeating as a champ in the large band category.”
Saying the country has a long history of talented arrangers – Carlton “Zanda” Alexander, Leon “Smooth” Edwards, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe and Amrit Samaroo – Stewart said their work must never be discounted.
“My thing is that I have great respect for every individual that graces the stage with their music, talents and arranging in bringing a band to the best that they can do.
“I always tell people you can't really criticise the work of an arranger because he, by himself, is an artist, someone who recreates an original concept.”
He explained: “A calypsonian will sing a song and all we have to work with is a minute and about 20 seconds, which is about 48 bars.
“We have to recreate that original verse and make it into something like 248 bars of creative original music which comes from our mind because we are skilled and trained to do such things. So, when we go on stage and you hear our music, that is what comes from inside of us as arrangers.”
Stewart said he has been following this pattern successfully over the years.
“I did it in the single pan category and in the medium (category). I did it once in the small. I did it last year for Renegades and I am just continuing being me and going about my mission in providing good music, not being pressured or bothered because, at times, some people will do things to distract you.”
Stewart said he would not be deterred in maintaining his standard in the artform.
“I feel confident that I will do my utmost best with whatever God provides for me. It is in His name.
“They only time to enjoy music is when you are alive and I am going out to express me, show me, love me, do me, with all of His praises.”