Veteran pan composer Mark Loquan has partnered with musician Etienne Charles, photographer Maria Nunes, and a US team for a video project of his nation-building song My Home to be released for Trinidad and Tobago's Independence Day. TT marks its 59th Independence anniversary on August 31.
Loquan spoke about the song and the project in a behind-the-scenes video entitled My Home: Building Bridges with the Steelpan that was uploaded to YouTube last week.
"The story behind My Home is kind of a personal story in terms of what we do as a people, as individuals. I didn't call this song 'our home' I called this song 'my home'. I tried to make it a bit more individual to you and your story. I guess my story was more a fusion of all these experiences outside of Trinidad and in Trinidad and hearing people talk about our country and talk about our instrument and our music."
He explained it is a more instrumental piece of music "but there are words coming in and out" and the words have to do with how we build a future and how we shape this place we call our home. The lyrics for the song include the lines "let us work together to secure a future," "think about the children, a new generation," "all ah we is one" and "my home TT."
Loquan told Newsday the inspiration for the song was the idea that he was part of a journey.
"I had been working in all parts of the world and I came back and worked in Trinidad. How do I contribute at this point in time? How to build this nation?"
My Home was launched on Independence Day in August 2019 with a video produced by Gerelle Forbes. Loquan explained the video centred around the invisible small acts that people do.
"We see all the problems going on in the country but there is a lot of positive things people doing. We wanted to capture a lot of positive things people do for each other."
He added the song was about shaping destiny and is meant to be uplifting.
In 2019 Loquan celebrated his 20th anniversary of composing music for pan and in October, at a concert at the National Academy for the Performing Arts, My Home was performed live for the first time.
"Fast forward to 2021 and we are launching another performance of My Home on Independence Day again."
Collaboration in a covid world
Loquan recalled he had been talking with Charles about combining the pan with other instruments in a covid and virtual world.
"How to combine people paying pan and brass and big band instruments as well as voices in this environment."
Charles had previously written a big band arrangement for a pan piece by accomplished pan composer Professor Liam Teague which was performed in 2019 at Northern Illinois University where Teague is professor of music and head of pan studies. Loquan explained for the new My Home arrangement he gave Charles full freedom to do what he wanted.
"He did a steelpan arrangement and everything with big band, and voices."
He noted it was a virtual collaboration where he got the pan done here and got musicians based in Michigan and Maryland.
"We wanted to present to the world that people could come together in this space and actually use the pan as a vehicle to bring people together. It's also fitting to the theme of 'building my home'."
In the behind-the-scenes video, Charles spoke about his process.
"Steelband is such a wall of sound and so figuring out the ways to space the ensemble out so you orchestrate that there are spaces for other instruments to come in. That's been the fun part of working on this arrangement."
He also commented on the theme of the song and its global application.
"As Trini as this piece is you know the world is really our home. So the piece speaks on many different levels because of that. During this pandemic it's interesting because the world is so disconnected but it is also more connected, especially us as musicians."
Charles told Newsday after writing the arrangement during his travel quarantine in Trinidad they decided to record the arrangement.
"So I’d produce the recording sessions in Trinidad and Lansing (Michigan). The experience was great and uplifting to work with so many great musicians during a time when performance and live recording opportunities were very limited. I hope people experience the beauty and flexibility of the steelband. There’s a message in the music and arrangement. What we have in common always outweighs and overcomes our differences. If we harness that power, we can grow stronger together."
In terms of musicians on the project, there were more than 30, including 11 locally for the steelband, three pannists in the US to do some overdubbing, 13 for the big band, three on drums and percussion and Charles doing a solo.
Loquan said a lot of the people used for steelband could already read music and were from the National Steel Symphony Orchestra and the University of TT. Charles arranged the score and they began recording within a week.
My Home video
The music was one aspect but the team also had to create a seamless video. The camera work was split between teams in the US and Maria Nunes in Trinidad. Loquan added the three of them—he, Nunes, and Charles—conceptualised how to get the video done and Nunes was instrumental in the photography and all the videography.
Nunes told Newsday as the director of photography on the project she conceived the look of the video.
"It was a great piece of teamwork. The collaboration between Mark and Etienne from a musical standpoint was interesting to document as a photographer/videographer/filmmaker."
She added: "I always enjoy documenting the process of artists at work, especially of musicians."
Nunes attended the rehearsals and then had the opportunity to have an artistic vision for how the video looked.
She said she loves pan, has been playing the instrument since she was 15, and as a photographer, she has also done a lot of work in pan.
"It is a very beautiful instrument and I welcome the opportunity to show the beauty of it and the skill of the players in a very dynamic and aesthetic way."
The project was filmed in Trinidad, Michigan, Maryland, and Florida. Nunes worked with Keevan Chang On to shoot the footage at the Little Carib Theatre, Woodbrook, and she used the blue stage lights.
"I wanted to create something visually beautiful. And I feel I achieved that."
She explained Charles used the footage at the Little Carib Theatre in Trinidad for videographers to reference in terms of lighting and the aesthetic.
"It would look as if everyone is in the same place and not disconnected."
She said the editor, Steve Brickman, was based in California and is a musician himself and used the score to line up and time up the notes between the pan and the big brass band.
"A lot of credit has to go to Steve Brickman for pulling the whole thing together."
Loquan said when people think of virtual projects they think of "seeing a bunch of people in little squares."
"It was not like that at all. When they performed it was as if they were all performing at the same time. It looks as if it was live, but it was all filmed at different times (and in different locations). In the real world, you can't do that."
On the logistical issues, Loquan said they had to follow covid protocols including having people spaced out, like the singers, and some wearing masks.
For the future
Loquan said the entire process took about eight months to complete and will culminate with the video launch today.
"It will showcase what could be done and that you could bring together a lot of people. It started off as 'My Home Trinidad' but it could also be considered the world. That is an angle we also have—how to bring people together in the world and musicians together with the pan. It fits well with the theme of 'my home.'"
And what does Loquan hope Trinidadians will experience when they see the video?
"I hope the experience will be on different levels. One experience of pan being used with other instruments. Not just Panorama, but original songs from Trinidad and people playing that music on other instruments.
"The other experience is the whole issue of collaborating in a manner that can be a model for the future. The virtual world has helped to connect us even though we are not in same space or place. That is a way that we can think about using the music for the future as well.
"(And) third, this is a Trini piece, about my home. A positive message about uplifting each other. It is an instrumental piece but the vocals are talking about building the future, think about the next generation, and the children, and looking to build a place here today for the future. I hope it also touches a nerve on Independence Day particularly."
Loquan said this model could be applied later on and possibly with pan and symphony. He added because the piece was scored it can be played with other musicians giving it more sustainability.
"We don't have a culture of scoring all our music. But we need to score our music and preserve it for the future."
And what's next for Loquan? He said there were other projects he was working on that will continue to build on this theme.
"Continue in the vein of uplifting at a time when a lot of have struggles and strife."
He said it may not be the same song but something else relevant for the current times. He has also begun speaking with Charles about working on another virtual project.
"While I don't have a specific project I would like to see these kinds of projects continue, not only by me but by others as well."
Returning to the video, he said it should make people feel proud when they watch it.
"Proud of your instrument, your music and your country."
The new My Home video will be released on Loquan's social media, namely Mark Loquan on YouTube and markloquanmusic on Facebook.