THE big 40 is a momentous occasion in the life of any person or thing. But popular steelband Republic Bank Exodus Steel Orchestra's 40th anniversary was a quiet one, muted by the covid19 pandemic.The band's manager, Ainsworth Mohammed, said a concert had been planned, but with the pandemic currently raging through TT, that was cancelled. "The anniversary, the formal date that we recognise is May 3.
"What we had planned was a small concert using the numbers that was available at the time, which was 25. "That is now off completely. We are not doing anything now except that we are planning for the International Pan Ramajay and that has also been postponed because of the numbers," he said.Mohammed said the ensemble required for Pan Ramajay is six to eight people, and with the number now being down to five in the current health regulations, that event was also postponed for the time being.The International Pan Ramajay competition was held virtually last year. So the band is focused, for now, on upgrading its facilities at the panyard. And when the health restrictions are relaxed or lifted, the band plans to restart its activities even stronger, Mohammed said. "And maybe later on in the year do the concert that was planned," he said. The Tunapuna band's history is documented on sites such as thebestoftrinidad.com.
The website said: "Exodus was formed in St John's Village, St Augustine, on May 3, 1981, when several members of the Flamingoes Steelband, including Amin Mohammed, walked away thereby creating an 'exodus.' "(Amin) Mohammed went on to manage the band during its first 15 years. The band made an immediate impact by reaching the final of the Panorama competition in its first year. "Exodus continued to make progress in the 1980s with the help of the renowned musical arranger Ray Holman and Kenrick and Harold Headley. Later, arrangers Pelham Goddard and Desmond Waithe were recruited and combined to lead the band to four Panorama and three Steelband Music Festival titles. In 1996, manager Amin Mohammed migrated to the Cayman Islands and his job was taken by his brother, Ainsworth Mohammed," the site said.
Mohammed recalled the band making it to the Panorama finals in its first year playing Irwin “Scrunter” Reyes Johnson's The Will. From there, Mohammed said, the band grew from "strength to strength." Besides its four Panorama titles, the band also has to its name three national music festivals, two world steelband music festival competitions, and won a Caribbean Panorama championship held in Grenada. It was also awarded the Chaconia Medal Gold in 2003. But the pandemic year has been a difficult year for everyone including Exodus. Mohammed said, "We have been like all other steelbands and artistes...We would have been challenged a lot in that while our members would normally get stipends and so on from gigs, that has been denied.
"It has been that way since March last year. He said it was not only the entertainment sector that was hard hit by covid19 but also hospitality, among many others. The world has started reopening and events are once again taking place, including Miami Carnival, But Mohammed believes opportunities abroad for bands and entertainers will continue to be a challenge, depending on the country. "Because even though the countries which are open may allow people who have been vaccinated, I don't know yet if the protocol will be to have a vaccination passport or something like that."He said he did not see some things opening up to TT in the very near future because "in our country we are not yet vaccinated."Some of us may have got the first vaccine, some may have got the second, but that number is very small when compared to the population size.
"Even when we are all vaccinated, countries will take certain measures to protect their own citizens from other people coming into their countries."He said there will also be other considerations as to whether artistes will be vaccinated and if they will have to quarantine on entering different countries. Virtual events provided some measure of relief for entertainers and the wider world during the pandemic and Mohammed sees this as becoming a permanent part of the entertainment landscape. He believes live entertainment will never be replaced, but sees a lot more virtual shows than in the past. As for the next 40 years, Exodus will continue to put in hard work, develop the skills of its players through its music school, encourage its players to become music literate and really keep being among the best, Mohammed said. "And we are among the best in the world when it comes to the steelband business," he added. He is also certain the band will continue doing well as it has over the last 40 years."The objective really is to do even better than we have done in the past," he said.
For the next 40 years, Mohammed sees Exodus continuing to fulfil one of its primary objectives; flying the flag of TT high. Last year the band had several tours lined up, including performing at the Vatican, Miami Carnival and at events in China and Japan. All of of these were postponed because of the pandemic. But the band will now look to having those events reinstated as soon as it is permitted by the various countries and the Government.