Tobago has long been a dominant force on the steelband landscape.
And this year is no exception. One only has to review this year's performances, thus far, to conclude that despite some challenges, interest in the national instrument is alive and well on the island.
On January 17, the Scarborough-based Uptown Fascinators won the National Small Conventional Band competition at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, delivering an exhilarating performance to Winston Soso's I Don't Mind. Four other Tobago outfits had also made it to the finals of the competition.
And today, the island's medium conventional bands will get the chance to prove their mettle as judging in the preliminary round of competition takes place from 7 pm in panyards/communities.
"We are very, very excited," said Iran Anthony, manager of Steel Xplosion.
He said the band, which placed eight in last year's National Panorama Finals, is performing the Erphaan Alves song, Soca Global. It is being arranged by Odie Franklin, who has worked with Skiffle Bunch and other bands.
Anthony told Newsday the band, which has had a penchant for performing songs of yesteryear, agreed to try a song of more recent vintage for this year's competition.
"The band always has a tendency to choose old tunes and this year, we have a younger arranger so we gave him the opportunity to choose his tune and he came up with that (Soca Global)."
Anthony said the large turnout of young players has added to the band's enthusiasm.
"We have to turn back players. Normally, we would have to go to Trinidad for players but a lot of Tobagonians have come out. We only have about eight players from Trinidad."
Anthony said the high level of interest shown by the young people must be rewarded.
"Government should really applaud it and give the players some sort of incentive."
He said bringing players from Trinidad can be costly.
"Some of them want return flights, three meals a day, hotel accommodation plus transport. And if the band does not make it to the finals in competition, it is really costly. Sometimes, there is a lot of unforeseen business you have to take care of."
Steel Xplosion will be the first band to perform at the Buccoo Integrated Facility.
No stranger to winner's row, Katzenjammers Steel Orchestra, has selected Merchant's (Dennis Williams) Caribbean Connection, a Terrence BJ Marcelle-arranged piece, for this year's competition.
Having placed second in both the Tobago Pan Champs and national finals in last year's competition, manager Maxsom Ramsey said the band from Black Rock is leaving no stone unturned this season.
"The medium band category is the most competitive category and we are putting the final touches to our tune of choice. We cannot afford to take things for granted if we want to be a part of history by performing in the first national finals in Tobago," he told Newsday.
The final of the Panorama medium conventional band competition will be held on February 16 at the Dwight Yorke Stadium, Bacolet.
Mt Pleasant-based outfit Carib Dixieland is hoping to land a spot in the finals with its new arranger Ojay Richards.
"Things are proceeding very good and we hope that we come out on top in the medium band category on points because we have the able Ojay Richards and we have some exquisite panmen and women doing the job night and day in the panyard," said manager Keston Duke.
Bringing up the rear, Carib Dixieland will perform the Chris "Tambu" Herbert classic, Dis Party Is It.
"The arranger is A class. He won the Small Band category (Uptown Fascinators) and has been doing a good job so far. Everybody is excited."
Carib Dixieland placed fifth in last year's THA Pan Champs but did not qualify for the semi-finals of the National Panorama competition.
The medium bands will be judged in the following order tonight:
1. NGC Steel Xplosion Buccoo Facility car park, Buccoo, Tobago –Soca Global
2. Katzenjammers Pan Theatre, Courland Estate, Black Rock – Caribbean Connection
3. Carib Dixieland Pan Theatre, Mt Pleasant – Dis Party Is It