Last week Guyana celebrated its 50th anniversary of Independence. In the post-colonial narrative of the Caribbean, Guyana has always been an enigma.
During semis of Panorama 2013, few may have noticed arranger Andre White hidden in the back of the Tamana Pioneers playing drums. However, this young arranger has already won Panorama in both New York and London and is quietly making inroads in T&T.
A multifaceted pan performer, arranger and jazz soloist, White has had little time to enjoy the triumph of his latest Brooklyn Carnival victory in September. Since May, he has been composing for his own jazz quartet, gigged around the Boston and New York area, and started recording three different album projects ranging from straight jazz, with his quartet, to more R&B to fusion and reggae.
Born in the United States with Jamaican and Trinidadian heritage, White does not fit the traditional mould of steelband arrangers—not having grown up on the stage of the Queen’s Park Savannah and toiled in the panyards of T&T. Regardless, his path to success challenges the conventional norms and may indeed foreshadow the future course of T&T’s national instrument. Musically literate and an accomplished jazz soloist, White studied brass, percussion, and piano music as a child and continued his education at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
White has a genuine appreciation for the legendary pioneers of steelband arranging, the likes of Boogsie Sharpe, Jit Samaroo, and Clive Bradley. However, his ambitions go beyond Panorama. “I went to Berklee to become a musician,” White said. “I want to push that envelope and, to be honest, I want to be a bebop pan player.” His advanced musical training, gifted musical ear, and knowledge of the past Panorama master arrangers serve to create a style all his own.
“I’ve really been approaching steelband arranging like big-band jazz arranging,” said White. And he hopes that by being true to himself he, too, can be recognised. A mere 22, White has already amassed an impressive resume as a steelband arranger. Since 2006, he has arranged for Adlibs Steel Orchestra of Long Island becoming, in 2008, the youngest steelband arranger to win Brooklyn Panorama. With White arranging for the band, Adlibs also claimed the Brooklyn Panorama crown in 2011 and 2012.
He is also acclaimed for attracting younger musicians to the Long Island band. Adlibs Steel Orchestra boasts a membership 90 players strong, mostly under the age of 18.
The energy and exuberance of Adlibs Steel Orchestra was on full display recently at the 2012 Brooklyn Panorama, where White’s arrangement of Destra’s Baddist expertly balanced youthful enthusiasm with the craftsmanship of a seasoned musician.
White has an encyclopaedic memory of the history and arrangements of Panorama tunes. However, he makes no apologies for his strong desire to use current popular hits as he continues to push the limits of steelband arranging. “People want to hear popular music, and the pan arrangers and players need to give that to them,” he said. “I don’t think we should look for songs that sound like Kitchener and others of the 90s and 80s. We’re not living in the 90s and 80s.” White is a regular in London, where he led Mangrove Steel Orchestra to victory in the London Panorama 2011. Mangrove leader Matthew Phillips sums it up: “We feel very lucky to have found Andre when we did—back in early 2008.
To my mind Andre is a genius and the band, and me personally, have learned a lot from him and will continue to do so.” While less well known in T&T, White is chief among a new breed of players/arrangers residing in the US who make their way to Trinidad to arrange for Panorama. He spent three years arranging for Sforzata and last year Desperadoes gave him his first experience arranging for a large band. Only a few short weeks ago, he was called, on short notice, to arrange for the Tamana Pioneers. Eager to prove his mettle in the homeland of pan, White dropped everything to come here again and embraced the challenge of taking on a new arranging job for a Panorama band.
White is excited about this chance to arrange for the Tamana Pioneers. In particular, the closeness, quiet resolve and the dedication of the young people in the Tamana Pioneers is inspiring. And the band’s size allows him to work more closely with each individual. Formed in 1982 by Michael Antoine, Carlos Rojas and Geon Ramnarine, the Tamana Pioneers were founded to provide a positive activity for the youngsters of the Tamana community. The band performs as a small youth band and has participated in the All Schools Steelband Music Festival since 1983 and has consistently reached the finals of the small band category of Panorama each year since 2006. In 1990, the Tamana Pioneers gained international exposure when the band went on tour to Scotland to participate in the Inverness Youth Folk Festival and Aberdeen Youth Festival.
Since then, the band has returned to Scotland five more times. Panorama 2013 has been an up-and-down year for the Tamana Pioneers as the band placed high in the standings for prelims, before dropping in semis, and eventually placing fifth in the finals. As he continues to emerge as a jazz performer and a pan arranger in London, T&T, and New York, there is a bright future ahead for Andre White.
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