Friday, February 05, 2010

Pan Orchestra and Single Pan Semi Finals - Trinidad

There are hundreds of events leading up to the actual Carnival here in Trinidad. Thousands of people play in the Pan Orchestras. Eight hundred came from the smaller island of Tobago (the other half of the two island nation) and were put up in hotels and private homes by the Pan Organization.
There are four designations of Pan Orchestras - large (between 90 and 120 players), medium (60 - 90), and small (to 60). One musician may play up to eight drums. The second type of pan group is single pan. These bands can be up to 30 players, each playing only one pan. Pans by the way have many musical designations according to the pitch and sound.

Some are basses and others are tenors. Some only have one octive, others many. They come in a variety of sizes and materials too.
Starting around the first of the year many go to the pan yards (practice areas for a particular band) to watch their favorites prepare for the competitions. Scott went to one before I arrived and these open practice sessions continue all the way to the carnival itself.

We got tickets for the semi finals for the Pan Orchestras last Sunday. The event started at 10 AM and finished at 2 AM. I'm not kidding. We arrived at 1 and left at seven. We would have stayed later but the noise really got to me. Not the bands;they were great and a reasonable decible level. It was the recorded music which filled in between each band. That was at a painful level at times.

The best bands show huge enthusiasm and dance moves of their own while playing the pans. They are the ones that know the music so well, they can clown around and have fun too. It's contagious - the audience responds quickly.

It took around 10-15 minutes to change bands up on the stage. Huge gradually sloped ramps led on and off the stage. The performers and a few helpers pushed the drums and scaffholding up to set up the arrangement. Drums, shirts, scarfs, flags and streamers & fringe were coordinated with the band's colors.

We had tickets for the stands, happily under a roof, and watched the actual perfomances. Many people just walk around outside and watch the bands practicing and moving towards the stage.
We arrived in time to see five small bands and stayed for all the medium bands. During the afternoon we went outside for a long walk and watched several of the big bands practicing.

The fellow above right is obviously practicing as that cigarette wouldn't be allowed Fifteen to twenty bands of each size performed for about 10 minutes. One song is chosen by the band and arranged especially for them. Two or three songs are really popular each year - "Surrender" and "Battle Zone" for example.

The latter was given a spectacular arrangement by our favorite band - snippits of Star Wars and other movie themes were interpursed and the flag wavers and banner carriers were given some fun choreography.
Hundreds of small stands line the streets and sell a huge variety of food. For lunch Scott and I had stewed chicken, rice & beans and salad. Cruiser friends sitting with us chose Corn Soup, made with corn cobs cut in disks and potatoes. Some of the signs advertising their menus were really fun.
One proclaimed "No Weed Sold Here" and another "Wild Meat". You can choose for example lappe, deer, gouti, or wild hog. The ingrediants for one vendor's Souse, normally a thick rice soup, included chicken foot, cow foot and cow skin - oh yummy! Or maybe these ingrediants are served seperately.
For dessert there are of course all the frozen treats we'd see at home and lots of homemade type candies, not usually chocolate here but caramel and fruit flavored. One stand resembled a penny candy shop. I loved the pair of plastic pigs all dressed up above the jar on the far above on the left. Enlarge the photo by clicking the mouse on it to see the details.

The following Saturday evening we went to the Single Pan Finals. These were held on a street blocked off from traffic. In the center some of the audience and the judges sat in stands erected in a park overlooking the street. Most of the thousands of fans gathered in the streets and listened to the bands

practice before giving their final performance. Vendors in small huts and on the street sold all kinds of food and drinks. One vendor, shown at the very top left, sold candy carried on his head and a frontal backpack. We tucked into a shark and bake, good but not fresh cooked unfortunately. Naturally a few cold beers accompanied that successfully.

Our next two events are this coming weekend. We're going downtown Port of Spain on Saturday during the day for the Junior Parade, presided over by the Junior King and Queen of the Carnival. This will feature the Junior Pan Bands, Dance Groups etc. Sunday night is the Final Senior King & Queen and the Calypso Competition. There have already been three evenings of competitions to winnow down the King and Queen entries!

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