DUVONE STEWART, who has led the BPTT Renegades Steel Orchestra to back-to-back national Panorama titles in 2018 and 2019, is looking forward to 2020, and going after the three-peat in Panorama wins.
He said: “It’s on the top of the agenda for Duvone Stewart....I know it is going to be an uphill task, but I am humble and focused. And I’m going to leave it in God’s hands. I have a good band, a good complement of players, a good staff that I work with in Renegades, a good sponsor to support me and I am going to give my all in trying to see if we can repeat as Panorama champions, 2020.
"Whatever God has planned for me, I will accept. If I’m not successful at it I’m not going to take it as a loss, but rather as God’s work. When He says yes, nobody can say no. But if it does happen I’m going to be really thanking and praising Him for blessing me with a great gift.”
Stewart is also very focused on selling pan to the world big time.
“If I am that new face I will work with the likes of other young arrangers like Seion Gomez, Arddin Herbert, Leon Foster, Stephon West, Dr Mia Gormandy, Keisha Codrington and others from the new breed of arrangers to come together and sell the national instrument globally.
“We need to respect, love and embrace our own, because steelpan belongs to TT but there are countries outside of TT that respect pan more than locals.”
Questioned about his extensive travel this year, Stewart said it is a part of his career which started in 2002, with an invitation from Mokhtar El-Mokhtari, head of the University of Nantes, France who wanted steelband and Sterwart’s master classes at the university and El-Mokhtari’s band Calyps’ Atlantik.
Stewart said his Panorama successes were like an advertisement for foreign work.
“I have been very determined, very, very persistent in making and creating the brand Duvone Stewart to become the face of the instrument where I can become the flagship of the new generation that goes forward with instruments, and then on the educational side, where I could go about teaching, doing master classes and lectures and workshops."
He's been to France, Germany, London, US, Caribbean islands, Maldives, Japan.
This year so far, he said, "just sent a bigger buzz to the steelpan community, internationally, having been successful in winning in three categories. But a whole heap of colleges from the US have been calling me, stemming back from the arrangement of Year For Love I did in 2018. It was a very phenomenal arrangement.
"I have since been getting calls from West Virginia University, the Ellie Mannette Steelpan Clinic, Catonsville High School Baltimore, Stanford University in Carlifornia, a lot of high schools in the bay area in San Francisco including the New Wave College, and others in Dallas, Texas and Oakland.”
Stewart was also at Denver's Pan Ramajay, and says people are calling and booking him to lead master classes, pan workshops and lectures in the US. He's been doing this in France every year since 2002.
“Before 2019, I was affiliated to a band called NFM Pantasy. And everywhere we travelled we did demonstrations and workshops, and it keeps growing every year. I could say it is 100 per cent more than before 2019. The schedule is a hectic one.”
After several master classes in the US and gig in Grenada, Stewart is now back in Trinidad doing arrangements for the Starlift Steelband in St Vincent, and also writing music for Ebony Steelband in London for Notting Hill Carnival. Then come visits to Germany, France, the US and Canada.
What about training TT youths?
“I’ve studied it because we need to take time to edify the young musicians in steelpan about the art and craft of arranging. But we dwell on the competitiveness in pan and not thinking about the longevity of what pan can give this individual. For example, we have courses in UTT to teach children about the mechanics in music, the theory, the practical and after that they have nowhere to go. So we want to open some centres where we could have open-air workshops in Trinidad where they can come and listen to current pan virtuosos, from whom they can get insights and after we can hold some classes in the school system where we can teach children about the art and craft of arranging steelpan music.”
Stewart said he had the very best opportunity to learn how to arrange for pan just by being a member of Amoco Renegades based at Charlotte Stree, Port of Spain, in the 80s and 90s, when Jit Samaroo was around, and now, he must pass that on. He is hoping relevant ministries will facilitate the master classes and invite young people to attend them.
He said his influence on young Renegades arrangers like Jamal “Mek Mek” Gibbs is very big, but he never tells them how to do their work.
“I may throw an idea out about his/her communication skills towards the players in getting the best out of them, but just be you."
Outside of Renegades Stewart said there are a number of youth who have gone to him for arranging ideas and tips.
“Dante Pantin is my right hand, we work together in the studio and he does some arranging for Shades in Steel, and when we meet on regular connections we talk about the arranging. He is one. Stephon West, Marlon White and Carlon Harewood, being the champion arranger he is in the single pan, we converse, we exchange ideas, teach each other things; and in Tobago Kirsh Ramsey, OJ Richards, Gerard Balfour, Leeandro Noray and Michael Toby."
As for influences on his own arranging: “I had the help and guidance from Dr Jit Samaroo and the knowledge that he portrayed at that point, though I never had a conversation with him to say how to arrange.
“Other influences were Boogsie (Len Sharpe), Clive Bradley, Robert Greenidge, Ray Holman, Professor (Ken Philmore) – because everybody have their own different ways of doing their style of music.
But he paid the greatest tribute to a father figure of Renegades.
"I have been a heavy, heavy lover of Dr Jit Samaroo from since 1986 and I wanted to emulate the work that this man was doing and to learn from him...At that time, Michael Jordan was the biggest thing in NBA basketball, he had a slogan: 'Everybody wants to be like Mike.' But for me, I want to be like Dr Jit Samaroo.”