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Tuesday 10 December 2019
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French youth pannists visit TT

Local instructor Robit Tobitt takes Zoé François and Lilas Villechalane through their paces.
Local instructor Robit Tobitt takes Zoé François and Lilas Villechalane through their paces.

EIGHT children from the band P’tit Pan of Nantes, France, flew into TT last Tuesday to learn the rudiments of pan, and also to familiarise themselves with the culture of this country.

They were the toast of a reception hosted by French Ambassador to TT Serge Lavroff and his wife Caroline at their home in St Clair on Thursday evening.

Lavroff was particularly pleased that the Nantes band accepted the invitation to visit TT during their vacation, especially coming from a city that is known for its prestigious artistic festivals and its Carnival.

Members of the P'tit Pan steelband

He said, “This evening is dedicated to an incredible, unique and mythical instrument, the steelpan, the only acoustic musical instrument invented in the 20th century and which embodies the spirit, talent and artistic creativity of TT. More than a symbol, this instrument is a kind of link between peoples; with its unique vibrations which speak to us in the language of heart, it is the best vehicle of friendship between the Caribbean and the rest of the world. And it is not far fetched to say that today, the steelpan is becoming a key international player in diplomacy by placing itself at the service of a noble cause, peace and understanding among nations.”

Mokhtar El-Mokhtari (in white shirt), head of the Calyps’ Atlantik Pan School and Susan Shurland (in black and white dress), deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts engage the young French pannists in discussions.

Mokhtar El-Mokhtari, coach of the group, and who runs the Calyps’ Atlantik Pan School in France said the visit is part of the band’s project conceptualised some years ago. He said: “The children started playing pan seven years ago and their dream was to come to Trinidad for a master class and to play pan in the Mecca of steelpan. So a year and a half ago they started doing fundraisers like concerts, selling their own handicraft and hosting cake sales to finance their trip to Trinidad.”

He said when the children, who range from 12-15 years, arrived they were placed in the homes of Trinidadian families to experience all that is local from the food and music to excursions, all taking in the Trinidadian experience.

El-Mokhtari said there is workshop of 25-30 hours of pan practise but the rest of the time is centred around the TT culture.

French Ambassador to TT Serge Lavroff and his wife Caroline try their hands at the pan.

At his pan school, he said the children are taught by teachers who have visited TT, learned the skill of pan playing and returned to France to impart their knowledge to them.

“For the last ten years we have been receiving TT artistes. We have worked with Duvone Stewart who is now famous, but when he was not famous, we were already working with him,” he said with a laugh.

He added that P’tit Pan is associated with Valley Harps and BP Renegades which, he said, makes time to visit each year when the reigning Panorama champions go to France for the famous Nantes Music Festival.

At the reception, two members of the band Lilas Villechalane and Zoé François were excited to play an intro and verse of Iron Love, taught to them in two sessions by local pan instructor Robert Tobitt.

At the reception too, the children were introduced to local food such as bake and shark, crab and dumpling, corn soup and phulourie, which they all loved.

Susan Shurland, deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts expressed her please with the event. She said: “The French embassy is always very much involved in culture, it’s a very big aspect of their work here in TT. I feel proud that our national instrument is reaching young people abroad and as a representative of our ministry, I have a responsibility to make sure that this is maintained and sustained."

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