So it doesn’t matter who wins for Panorama, I will always support Invaders. I mean, I am always appreciative of the winner’s performances, but I always root for Invaders.
It’s a bit of a long story why. First, Ellie Manette is my cousin. Invaders pan yard is where, as family legend goes, Ellie came up with the idea to put grooves in the steel drum so he could make different notes.
I never met Ellie personally, and neither did my mother, but my grandmother grew up with him.
However I loved his dad, and visited with him and Auntie Doris (Ellie’s sister) often as a young woman living in Trinidad.
My dad also played the tenor pan, and comes from a pan and drumming history that’s pretty legendary in Trinidad. That’s not this story, but understand the background.
These though are not the main reasons I support Invaders regardless of what is going on.
When Jomo and I moved to Trinidad together as teenagers 18-19, in 1993, the first thing my brother did was tell my father he wanted to be a musician. My father, notoriously generous to a fault, gave him his own tenor pan, and if I’m not mistaken, cashed in a favour to get it tuned so Jomo could start learning how to play it. That was in late August 1993.
Jomo and I were living in my great-great grandparents house in Woodbrook then. And a short distance away (like two streets over) from Invaders and that legendary panyard, which was a family home and where my grandmother and her cousins all grew up with Ellie and his siblings. Indeed Auntie Doris and Uncle Sidney (Ellie’s dad) were still living nearby. You have to understand, Woodbrook was a lot of families back then, and all of that is part of my personal history.
So in that September of 1993, Jomo could not resist the sound of the pan floating to us from just a few streets away, and in two twos he was up there every night, and rehearsing with the band for Panorama Carnival 1994.
And then came the preliminaries, the semis… to which I attended and was one of the pushing attendants for Jomo’s rig. If memory serves me, he played triple guitar. And I pushed! Lawd I pushed and danced my way over the stage and danced and pushed… it was glorious.
This was not Teen Talent in the steaming Steel Shed in Barbados. This was a completely different kind of ‘support’.
Invaders came 11th that year. But I pushed Jomo’s rig through all of those performances and after the Dimanche Gras show, we pushed the pan all over the city for J’Ouvert…
It was laborious but so much fun. And I would have done anything to help Jomo make music. Indeed, the pushing of Jomo’s rig (I did it the following year with just as much glee), is a metaphor for the next decade or more, where I supplied strings, cigarettes, electricity, food and a variety of other means of support to aid my brother’s musical journey.
Every song on “Free”, I heard go from plucking to what you can now stream and download from a grip of places. I know, because I bought so many guitar strings and lived with Jomo for most of my adult life. I was there and bore witness. To almost everything. My brother and I lived in often uncomfortable intimacy for the bulk of our lives. I may have complained, but I regret nothing I have ever done in service of the music that poured out of my brother’s soul and came out of his pores.
This, is where my loyalty to Invaders Steel Band is grounded. Sentimental, indeed… but it is what it is.
Najja, has the last steel pan Jomo owned. Lisa and I made sure it got to her. And don’t you know how proud Jomo is that she is a pannist of talent!
So yeah… Go Invaders!
ADDENDUM: Last year in August, I went to NYC (a place I could have lived and died without visiting) for a few days to be initiated as a Water Priestess and an N’Ganga of Njuzu (literally the only thing I would have gone there for).
The day I left, I rode a Lyft share to the ‘bus station’ and on the way we picked the most unbelievably polite Asian man.
We got to chatting… I told him how polite he was and how proud he must make his mother.
He asked me where I was from, and proceeded to tell me that he attended a lecture by, met with and talked with the most amazing, articulate and talented musical genius from Trinidad, my legendary and ephemeral cousin, Ellie Mannette.
More weirdness? My father, not related to Ellie at all, grew up in Alfred Richard St., St James, in a house that borders the Ellie Mannette Park, where they hold cultural events every year for Carnival.