After a disappointing summer for lovers of the Carnival arts, prospects look sunnier for autumn.
October starts with the 8th International Biennial Conference in Carnival Arts. A certain little virus forced postponement last year, but Prof Haroun Shah and his team have overcome extraordinary odds to put together a packed programme running from 1 to 3 October at The Tabernacle, Powis Square London, W11 2AY.
For that dedication and faith, the organisers deserve our support. The conference is free to attend and the two concerts are just £5 each in advance – the bargain of the year!
There’s something for everyone here – including surprises. For example, headlining the opening concert (7.30pm Friday 1 October) is the Rose of Sharon Steel Orchestra from… Nigeria. How many of us knew there were steelbands in Nigeria, let alone have heard one play?
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They’ll be joined by UK calypsonians including 2020 UK Monarch G-String, veteran Lord Cloak, D Alberto, De Admiral and Alexander D Great. We’re also promised mas bands and ‘CalypsOpera’ from Trinidadian soprano Anne Fridal, who wowed the audience in Holland Park in August. A ‘TASPO and Friends’ Reunion commemorates the 70th anniversary of first live steelpan music in Britain, when the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra performed, to general amazement, outside the Festival Hall in July 1951.
Saturday morning’s session is devoted to calypso – “the first music of the Caribbean” as Mighty Tiger described it – with speakers from the UK, Canada and Trinidad. After lunch (when there will be a chance to see exhibitions on calypso, steelpan and mas), Prof. Tina Ramnarine will give the first plenary lecture: ‘Steel Orchestras and Legacies of Indenture’, casting an East Indian light on the only acoustic instrument invented in the 20th century.
Mas is Saturday afternoon’s theme: speakers include luminaries such as Clary Salandy (Mahogany) and Chris Slann (New Carnival Company). Subjects include children and the disabled at Carnival, carnivals in Barking, ‘Carnival and its digitalscapes’ and an investigation of ‘diasporic baby dolls’, those mischief-making characters of traditional mas.
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The day ends with a memorable night for pan-lovers. Concert no 2 will be a feast of steelpan from St Michael & All Angels (celebrating its silver jubilee), Rose of Sharon, Nostalgia, Pan Nectar, Metronomes, Ebony and Mangrove.
Don’t lie in bed on Sunday morning, because you need to get to The Tabernacle for the start of ‘PANdemic’ at 9.30am. No need to panic, though, it’s an injection of steelpan. First off is a presentation about the highly successful CarniVAX initiative, in which Nostalgia members played outside hospitals to encourage Covid-19 vaccination.
We’ll also hear about a steelpan music tuition series from Delphina James, and interviews with Dylan Mitchell (St Michael & All Angels) and Marlon Hibbert, of Endurance SO. The second plenary lecture, from Dr Bowei Sonny Bowei, should be well worth hearing: ‘The Rise of Steelbands Across Africa’.
The global exploration continues in the afternoon with ‘The Dawn of Steelpan in Sierra Leone’ – another eye-opener – and ‘The Steelband Movement in
Antigua’. The session ends with a discussion on ‘Expanding the Space of the National Panorama’. Given the make-up of the panel, it will be challenging to keep the debate to just 60 minutes!
The work of the conference continues with two youth workshops. Vernon Thomas will run the first, on Saturday 9 October, focused on making steelpan accessories. The second, on 16 October, will explore the differences between traditional mas and ole mas, led by Ros Alexander of UKON Careers.
steelpanconference.com; tickets from: steelpanconference.eventbrite.com; for more info, email Haroun Shah: firstname.lastname@example.org; tel: 07971 334414; Laila Shah: email@example.com; tel: 07411 739918.