The St James Amphitheatre on the Western Main Road will resonate with the sounds of steel on Thursday June 13, 2019 when 15 steel bands take part in the first 5-A-Side competition to be held in 13 years as part of the annual WeBeat St James Live Festival.
The WeBeat St James Live Festival is a community effort that was initiated in 2001 to promote the arts and culture of St James and the wider society. The 2019 edition, hosted by the St James Community Improvement Committee (CIC), runs from June 7, 2019 to June 15, 2019, and Cecil Tomkin, president of the St James CIC explained that the spotlight on the national instrument begins today.
"Although we have June 15 (2019) set aside for the street parade of the larger steel bands, we are having the 5-A-Side competition to encourage the smaller groups pan groups. We want to ensure that they too have a presence," he said.
"Steel band is our culture and it's important to support it. The inclusion of steel bands in the WeBeat Festival will expose this important artform to the younger members of our community. This will help to instil a love for it to ensure that it continues to thrive into the future. We did not have the 5-A-Side competition for 13 years because of a lack of sponsorship but this year bmobile came forward. bmobile has been supporting the WeBeat Festival over the years and I would like to thank them. They are our local telecommunications company so it's great to see they are investing in the local arts," added Tomkin.
Marsha Caballero, TSTT’s senior manager corporate communications stated that one of the objectives of the bmobile Foundation is to fund initiatives – such as the WeBeat St James Live Festival – which support our culture and thus the development of our nationals and the economy.
"Trinidad and Tobago is rooted in our arts and culture which is the lifeblood of our vibrant society and a powerful driver of our sustainable development. When people come together like this to celebrate our culture, this nurtures a feeling of solidarity, tolerance, achievement and pride, and contributes to the capacity-building of our nation. As the only local full service communications provider, bmobile is a proud partner of the St James Community Improvement Committee and our steel band community. We look forward to seeing people come out in their usual large numbers to enjoy this event."
Keith Simpson, an executive member of Pan Trinbago who was born and raised in St James, is a key driving force behind the steel bands' presence at the WeBeat Festival every year. Simpson is also the manager of the 48-year-old St James Tripolians Steel Orchestra which has participated in the WeBeat Festival since its inception. The St. James Tripolians is recorded in history as the first pan-around-the-neck steel band formed in Trinidad and Tobago. So, as the organiser of the second ever 5-A-Side steel band competition, Simpson is aptly suited.
He explained the format of the competition: "We invited both the single pan steel bands and conventional steel bands from the west and along the east-west corridor to participate. There will be 15 bands in the finals (on June 13, 2019) at the amphitheatre. Each side will consist of four pan players and one drummer and will do a Mighty Shadow composition of not more than five minutes. They will be judged along the same criteria used for the national panorama competition. The 5-A-Side competition really tests the skills of the arrangers and players because each arranger has to get their arrangement across with only four players. The audience will really enjoy this competition."
Simpson, who was one of the 2012 WeBeat honourees for his unflagging support of the festival and contribution to the steel pan community, also expressed his gratitude to bmobile for its sponsorship of the 5-A-Side competition. "bmobile has been consistently supporting the steel band community over the years. Their funding will be used to cover the whole expense of putting on the competition. The 5-A-Side competition provides another opportunity for the pan lovers to come out. The first time we had the competition 13 years ago, it attracted a lot of excitement and the finals was packed with attendees. We are confident that this year, due to the help of bmobile, it will also be a huge success."
The week-long festival began on June 7, 2019 in the "city that never sleeps" at the amphitheatre with Turn It Up! Live; WeJazz on June 8, 2019 at the Harvard Club; and WeBingo on June 9, 2019 at the amphitheatre.
The activities continued at the Amphitheatre with a health and wellness day and film night on June 12, 2019. WeKaiso also takes place on June 13, 2019; and the event will come to an end with J'Ouvert celebrations at 4 am followed by a pan parade at 7 pm on Saturday June 15, 2019.