By 4.30 pm some of the 20 bands expected to play at the Panorama 2024 Single Pan Finals were on The Drag, running through their song of choice.
There were a handful of people listening to the bands as they played and some walking from band to band, getting an early idea of the musical arrangements.
On December 3, there was a fierce and colourful contest for the single pan title at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain.
In the battle of ascending and descending scales, restatement and musical illusions, San Juan Chord Masters emerged the victor with Andre White's arrangement of the popular soca classic, Dr Cassandra, by Barbados’ The Mighty Gabby. The band was even able to demonstrate what the “chook” might have looked like that helped Gabby’s midsection.
Although scheduled to start at 6 pm, the event began at 5.50 pm with a preshow.
Musical Instruments of Trinidad and Tobago Company Ltd’s (MITTCO) Shaquille Flogo Forbes played the national anthem. South band Jah Roots entertained along with moko jumbies and other traditional Carnival characters as part of the preshow.
Pan Trinbago’s president Beverley Ramsey-Moore brought short welcome remarks, saying there were 1,220 pannists and 20 top arrangers.
Ice Water Pan Ensemble of Diego Martin was the first competitor on stage, playing SuperBlue’s 1997 hit Barbara. The band delivered a lively performance, dressed in blue T-shirts. Jamal “Meck Meck” Gibbs arranged the song.
Each band gave a visual representation of its song of choice, whether it was the TT Fire Service Steel Orchestra being bathe in a bright orange light, the colour of lava, at its earliest temperature, while performing Red Plastic Bag’s 1999 song Volcano, or San Juan East Side Symphony’s demonstration of a dame lorraine engaging Mac Fingall’s infamous Big Belly Man.
The fireworks and theatricality associated with the larger Panorama competitions added to the audience’s enjoyment of the finals.
Newtown Playboyz’s Carlan Harewood's arrangement of the late Kitchener’s Pan in A Minor had the audience applauding loudly. The presence of Kitchener’s son Kernal Roberts also delighted them.
The bands moved seamlessly from one to the other allowing for a smooth event. The finals took calypso and soca lovers through the genres’ songbooks with songs like Sparrow’s Doh Back Back, Tony Prescott’s All Aboard, Merchant’s Pan in Danger and Crazy’s Suck Me Soucouyant.
Some pannists – who played for multiple bands – were seen quickly changing into the T-shirt or uniform of the next band they were scheduled to play for, while that band was setting up on stage.
The entire competition was neatly wrapped into a four-hour long show, with a 15-minute intermission, and ended with Platinum Steel Orchestra playing Preacher's My Dulahin.
As the results were delivered, some audience members were heard loudly disagreeing at Newtown Playboyz being awarded third place.
Chord Masters celebrated its victory with Ramsey-Moore and Minister of Tourism Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell among them, after 11 pm.
For Mitchell the single-pan competition showed the heart of community and villages.
“When you look around, the buzz, the communities are out to support their steelbands. It is an exciting thing. We are very happy. No bacchanal. No controversy. Everybody is just here to participate, play their music, represent their communities and succeed,” he said.
Mitchell said there was also a high youth involvement in Panorama 2023.
“There is a large component of young people getting involved, not just in single pan but in all the competitions and we are excited and happy to see that.”
He, too, echoed comments by Ramsey-Moore and Chord Masters leader and manager Richard DeCoteau that the youthfulness was not only to be found among pannists but arrangers as well.
“Young people are taking the lead in the steelpan movement. It bodes well for the future of the culture and the future of steelpan in TT,” Mitchell said.
This readies TT for Carnival 2024 celebrations, he said.
“Carnival 2023 was the first year out of the pandemic. There were some challenges, hopefully many of those challenges are overcome. But I think the country as a whole is looking forward to an expression of our culture.
“We have had some good developments in the steelpan movement with the declaration of World Steelpan Day. So there is a highlight now with pan.”
Mitchell said calypsonians were “rearing and ready to go” and soca was coming day by day.
“Carnival 2024 is really setting up to be a very exciting time,” he said.