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NSSO presents music of Boogsie

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Len “Boogsie” Sharpe

The Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism will present From Gershwin To Boogsie at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (Napa), Port-of-Spain, on August 2 from 8 pm, and August 3 from 6.30 pm. 


The programme represents the 2014 edition of the annual concert Pan On A Higher Note, and will feature The National Steel Symphony Orchestra (NSSO) highlighting the music of Len “Boogsie” Sharpe. 


It will be the first time Boogsie’s compositions will be scored and played by the only Steel Symphony Orchestra in the world, and the acclaimed pan player is expected to join the orchestra in execution of the various works. 


Len Sharpe was a child prodigy of the steelpan who actualised his gifts for composing, arranging and performing through the steelband, adding new dimensions to the music. Born on Benares Street, St James, to a Jamaican father and Trinidadian mother, Boogsie, as he is popularly called, started playing pan at the age of four in the yard of Cross-fire steelband, where he practically grew up. He was ten when he crafted his first arrangement for a steelband. The piece, Theme from the Sons of Katie Elder, was performed at the Christmas concert of his then school Woodbrook Presbyterian. 


His life since then has been devoted to the creation and performance of music on the instrument. As a teenager, he joined the mother-steelband of west Port of Spain, Invaders, which he would leave to team up with visionary composer Ray Holman in Starlift Steel Orchestra. Alongside Holman, Sharpe acquired sufficient competence and confidence to launch out on his own. In 1972, he formed Phase II Pan Groove, the band that continues to give breath to Sharpe’s innate and urgent talent. 


Sharpe remains the premier example of a musical genius in the post-Independence era of the steelband movement. Without reading a note of music, he has been able to compose complex melodies and arrangements that have taken Phase II into the winners’ circle of the Panorama competition, emerging champions six times, placing second 11 times, and third five times. 


Among his most memorable Panorama compositions are I Music (1984), Musical Wine (1985), Pan Rising (1986), Dis Feeling Nice (1987), Woman is Boss (1988) and Birthday Party (1993). 


He is also in high demand as an arranger for other bands, many of which make it all the way to the top, sometimes competing with each other. In 1987, his arrangements won the north, south and Tobago zones, the Pan-Round-The Neck competition and the national finals. 


Outside of the Carnival arena, he composes on original Caribbean themes for the Steelband Music Festival. These full-blown orchestral narratives include The Saga of San Fernando Hill, The Three Seasons, Faces, and Rain Forest. Blessed with perfect pitch, Boogsie is a virtuoso player with a gift for improvising. He plays every instrument in the steelband, but his successful international solo career is built on the double-seconds, which have sparkled in many a jazz ensemble. In 2009, he was awarded the Hummingbird Medal (Gold). 


The NSSO made its debut performances in 2008 at Queen’s Hall, Naparima Bowl and the Van Guard Hotel, Tobago. Other notable concert performances have followed including: the Genesis in Steel concerts as part of the NAPA Fest series in 2010; and nationally televised concerts at Daaga Auditorium, UWI. 


Other performance credits include at the Fifth Summit of the Americas and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) at the Hyatt Regency (2009), opening of the Hyatt Regency in 2008, opening ceremonies of Napa in 2009; as opening guest ensemble for the 2010 Panorama Finals at the Grand Stand of the Queen’s Park Savannah; and at the official naming of the Lord Kitchener Auditorium at Napa in 2011. 


International appearances have included a marquee performance at Carifesta X in Guyana in 2008 where the Orchestra received a prolonged standing ovation for its concert which included a wide ranging repertoire. In 2010, the NSSO journeyed to Costa Rica to perform as part of the Credomatic XX International Music Festival, where it presented four concerts and received standing ovations at each venue. A fifth concert was presented at the T&T Embassy in San José on the occasion of the Independence celebrations of both countries.


Members of the NSSO have performed on two occasions with the National Sinfonia Orchestra in works specially commissioned for symphonic orchestra with the inclusion of steelpans, including the world premiere of Gary Gibson’s Caprice, Gibson’s setting of Kitchener’s Rainorama and Gibson’s orchestration of Jit Samaroo’s iconic arrangement of Pan in A Minor. 


Also making appearances on the programmes on August 2 and 3 will be St Vincent-born pianist Sean Sutherland, and soprano Jeanine De Bique.


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