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Like father, like son
The son of legendary steelband arranger Jit Samaroo and the next generation of the famous musical “Samaroo” family (Samaroo Jets), Amrit Samaroo is intent on continuing his ailing father’s legacy having had his grounding in the pan from a very early age.
Thirty-year-old Samaroo has always been surrounded by music and has been inspired by the work of his father for as long as he could remember. He started playing pan at the age of six. During his formative years as a musician, he won first place at SanFest and the School’s Music Festival in 1992 and 1999 respectively.
In addition to being raised in a musical family, Samaroo has received formal musical training, completing an Associate Degree in performing arts at the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (Costaatt), and a Bachelor of Arts in musical arts from the University of the West Indies as the first winner of the Music Literacy Trust Fund Scholarship.
In 2012, he took the Melodian Steel Orchestra to the big stage at the Panorama finals in the medium band category for the first time in 16 years. Samaroo and his cousin Antony formed a small steelband, Supernovas, which placed second in its category.
Although Samaroo enjoyed success as a solo musician in his early days (1999: First in schools steelband festival), his passion is arranging and he has written his name in the chronicles of pan arrangers in Trinidad and Tobago by taking the Renegades Youth Steel Orchestra to winner’s row in the National Junior Panorama Competition in their first three years (2002 to 2004), and to the runners up position in the three subsequent years (2005 to 2007). He continued to win other junior competitions with St Augustine Girls’ High School Steel Orchestra.
It wasn’t long after that his services were being requested by bands locally and internationally such as the Pantime Orchestra in St Lucia which, under his baton, has emerged as a major force in the St Lucian Panorama. He is also the musical director of the Steel Sensation Steel Band in Queens, New York.
In 2008, BP Renegades invited the younger Samaroo to arrange their panorama piece due to the unavailability of his father. He accepted this challenge and in his two short years as their Panorama arranger, managed to maintain the band’s proud record of competing in every panorama final since 1980.
Among the “made-for-pan” calypsoes he has written and co-written are Band from Space, Brazilian Flag woman and T.K.O. He worked with vocalists such as Crazy, Tony Prescott, Anslem Douglas, and this year Emmanuel ‘Oba’ Synette who vocalised his 2013 ode to the ‘die hard’ supporters, My Band. Samaroo is a member and staff arranger of the Trinidad and Tobago National Steel Symphony Orchestra (NSSO).
Q: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
A: I was born and grew up in Waterloo Road, Arouca.
At what schools/institutions did you receive your education?
I attended Tacarigua Presbyterian School, then went on to El Dorado Secondary School (Eldo Brown). These institutions helped shape me into the individual I have become by reinforcing the values my parents stood for at home.
What are your ‘pan’ plans for 2013? Will we see a return to the large band category?
I hope to take the following bands to winners’ row: Melodian Steel Orchestra with the calypso My Band, Supernovas with Machel’s remake of Maestro’s Gold and in the single pan category with David Rudder’s Dust In Yuh Face. I’m working on returning to the large band category, stay tuned!
What song would you like others to listen to that they have not heard?
There is this one that was emotional for me that I co-wrote with a NSSO college called Pan for Peace.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life and how did they?
That would definitely be my father, a mentor, provider and disciplinarian. He showed me what a man should be. He stood firm to his beliefs and lived life as an example to others. One such lesson was to achieve anything in life one should work towards it. I had the best teacher in him.
Tell us about your inspiration to do the type of “work” you do.
The word “work” as it is for me is indeed quite a task and I challenge anyone who thinks differently to try doing it. My inspiration is quite obvious, seeing not only the success my father enjoyed as an arranger but understanding it takes hard work to achieve it.
Who was your hero or “idol” growing up (fictional or real or both) and why? And who do you admire most today?
Like most youngsters from my time, my hero was Brian Charles Lara. Being from a cricket loving family, the Test match would always be on the TV and Lara seemed to always be batting. Absolute joy to watch bat, from the time he took guard to the follow-through of the shot. I even remembered seeing him take his first wicket in the same match that Chanderpaul debuted in at Bourda in Guyana. Then to find out how much he loved pan and Carnival!
Which of your work(s) do you rate as the most satisfying and memorable?
I have had a few that really stood out for me, winning the hat-trick with Renegades youth at Junior Panorama and ensemble category with St Augustine High School at the Schools Steel band Festival 2004 was satisfying. Most memorable would be doing the arrangement of Dr Jit with Renegades for the 2009 Panorama. I enjoyed the mood in the yard with players and supporters requesting pieces to weave into the arrangement in Tribute to Jit.
What daily motto/credo do you live by and in three words, your recipe for success?
Diligence, perseverance, humility.
What was the most difficult decision you ever had to make?
Parting with Renegades. It was one of the musical institutions that I was schooled and grew up in and still admire and support today. But when things got rough at the beginning of 2010... communication with management (at the time) went to another level. Things were said on both ends—mine and theirs—that led to a separation. But both parties have learnt and grown from the experience and I’m happy to say I still enjoy an amazing working and non-working relationship.
What are your most prized possessions: one tangible, one intangible?
Tangible: My father’s original music scores and work manuscript. Intangible: My music, sharing it, teaching it and seeing people happy because of it.
What is your favourite pastime/interest/hobby outside of performing/playing?
Being home and spending time with my beautiful wife Terri-Lee and adorable and now somewhat mischievous 11-month-old daughter Aria.
What goals and or ambitions do you still have?
I have many goals and ambitions that I set for myself and working to achieve. But foremost, as we are in the season, winning the National Panorama title in all the categories my bands compete in.
If you could interview or dine with anyone from your life—living or dead—who would it be and why and what question would you be eager to ask?
It would be my father. I know it may seem mundane but because of the Alzheimer’s disease which he started exhibiting signs of back in 2006, his coherence and ability to carry on conversations have deteriorated quite a lot over the last two years. We spoke a lot when I was younger and now I miss it. I would want to just talk with him about any and everything. I would like you readers to know through this question about my dad’s condition, and who gracefully bowed out of arranging after accomplishing almost all the goals he set for himself—with nine victories—including the climactic hat-trick from 1995, 1996, 1997 with one band, Renegades.
What is your typical music-related day like?
Rehearsals with the National Steel Symphony Orchestra from 9 am-12 pm. Individual rehearsal or scoring music for the group from 1 pm-4 pm. After that it’s according to which bands require my services which start about 6 pm. If it’s Carnival season I head to two bands a night. One at 6 pm and the other at 8 pm. But when panorama gets closer to finals I work with all three. Supernovas from 6 pm-7.30 pm, Nostalgic from 8 pm-9 pm and Melodians from 9.15 pm-till. It’s great having all the bands in one region. The other good thing is most of my players are youths and players who play with bigger orchestras, so they leave earlier to meet their rehearsals on time. So it’s not like long ago where you have to slave over the pans for hours anymore. I provide them with scores, they prepare it and come in to do light drills and perform.
Where do you see the future of the pan and the steelband movement?
We must attract people to Trinidad to experience more than just Panorama. Steelfest, which was held last year, was a great model and one we would do well to keep. But we still need to create more avenues to attract pan players from across the globe to come to Trinidad and Tobago and perform.
Which are your favourite pieces of music or songs (non-calypso)?
I have a love for classical music and in that department Orpheus of the Underworld by Jacques Offenbach is certainly one of my favourites. Besides that, Dan Fogelberg’s Leader of the Band hits me on a personal level.
How has your father, Jit Samaroo, influenced your musical development?
Besides inheriting what was biologically possible, I inherited a lot of his musical taste—From Bach to Jobim and Mohammed Rafi to Sparrow—he taught me how to listen and appreciate music. That, coupled with a heavy diet of Renegades Panorama arrangements was always on my little cassette player as a teen. So it was natural that when I started to arrange I could only sound one way, like my father. People thought that it was Jit who was doing all those Junior Panorama arrangements and just putting my name on the banner. I was thrilled to hear that since I knew at 18 and 19 years old I was being compared to the legend himself. However, when I started with the senior Renegades I was chastised for my sound, then and still up to this day. From university lecturers (not in the music department), to even my wife’s co-workers in Port-of-Spain General Hospital. ‘He don’t have he own style!’ they said. If you were born and grew up in Spain wouldn’t you speak Spanish? I don't know what they expected from me. I am the son of Jit Samaroo; that Samaroo style is natural to me for obvious reasons. But over the years working with different bands now I have adopted new ways of doing things just as he did, from when he started to where he finished.
Describe yourself in two words—one beginning with A, the other with S, your initials.
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