THE SOUND OF STEEL IN
By: Onpapa Wantaya in
Supported by a grant from
the US Embassy in Thailand, Guyanese writer, journalist, and retired United
Nations Staff member, Derrick Jeffrey discussed the history and development
of Guyanese Steelband in a series of lectures that highlighted the
contribution of Jazz and Steelband music as part of Black History Month
Celebration in the Kingdom of Thailand.
Making his presentation in
several Thai universities during the month of February, Mr. Jeffrey
addressed hundreds of students, academics, and musicians on African American
contribution in the shaping of America's art form - Jazz and its
proliferation throughout the world. The highlight of Mr. Jeffrey's
presentation was his articulation of the history and development of
Steelband, its arrival in the United States, and its contribution to the
arts in the United States from a Guyanese perspective.
Mr. Jeffrey, a former
General-Secretary of the Guyana National Steelband Association and a winner
of the Dr. Cheddi Jagan Medal for Literature (Stand Pipe 1970) held the
audience as he recalled the development of the Steelbands in Guyana, its
struggle for acceptance, and his knowledge of the construction and tuning of
the various instruments that constitute a Steelband. It was the first time
most Thais have ever seen or heard about Steelband and were fascinated by
the presence of a fully functional Tenor Pan, which Mr. Jeffrey brought.
Both music professors and students alike were astonished when audio clips
from Guyana Invaders and Silvertones were played along with video excerpts
from the World Steelband Festival 2000 held in Trinidad & Tobago.
Mahidol University in
Bangkok Thailand, which has recently constructed a US five million-dollar
faculty of music has indicated its interest in establishing a Steelband
within its faculty of music and has recently imported a First Pan from
Trinidad. However, one of the Thai music professors has expressed his desire
to visit Guyana and the Caribbean sometime next year to discuss and learn
more about Caribbean music and possibly set up a student exchange program
between Guyana, the Caribbean, and Thailand.
Mr. Jeffrey in red shirt
looks on as students examine a Tenor Pan
Mr. Jeffrey addresses music students and teachers at Chang Mai University
Students examining a Tenor Pan
PASSION FOR PAN -
Derrick Jeffrey has a
passion for pan. In 1969, twenty-two years after the Red Army Steel band
from Trinidad and Tobago came to Guyana (then British Guiana), Derrick
started his brave crusade for pan. He has taken it to South East Asia in
In his capacity as General
Secretary of the Guyana National Steel Band Association, Derrick traveled to
Trinidad and Tobago in 1969, to discuss with the Trinidad Steel Band
Association an upcoming Guyana Steelband Conference to be hosted by and in
Guyana. The T & T Association not surprisingly, was indignant at the
temerity of Guyana wanting to host an International Conference in the face
of T & T's invention of pan.
As is his wont to do, he
argued his position, on Trinidad television, with the T&T pan leaders,
shared a vision and expressed some fears about how pan would be represented
in the future. Calypsonians Merchant and Black Stalin later recorded
similar fears. Despite the mixed reputation of pan men of that era, Derrick
left T&T unscathed and with a measure of success.
In the same T&T television interview hosted by Ed Fung, a
Guyanese TV journalist, Derrick articulated a vision for pan: put pan in
schools as an academic subject. Then on radio he played selections arranged
by Roy Geddes and performed by the leading Guyanese steel orchestra Demtoco
Silvertones. He invited his audience to compare the Guyanese bands with the
Trini bands. There was acknowledgment of the high quality of panmanship and
the well-respected Trini maestro Anthony Prospect called in to volunteer to
adjudicate performances at the planned Guyana conference.
Derrick's passion for pan
over the next thirty was somewhat controlled. He has lived a richly varied
life that took him from Guyana to the USA to Cambodia and now to Thailand.
To ease the pains of a "wounded Cambodian society mending itself", he
introduced pan at the dawn of the new millennium. In February 2003 he looked
at, and listened to, a video of the 2000 World Steel Festival and 21st
century pan enthralled him:
Click here: Steel Pan Corner
Watch out Thailand: there
is pan in your future. Derrick Jeffery is imbued with plenty of passion for
pan and he lives in your land.