Date: 7.21.02

The Politics of Steel


It was a carnival atmosphere on Rutland Road in Brooklyn, New York as people gathered at the old Boys & Girls High school stadium to hear both calypso and steel bands on a bright Sunday afternoon.  Arddin Herbert, 32, the arranger for the CASYM (Caribbean American Sports and cultural Youth Movement) Steel Orchestra is standing outside of the venue chatting with friends and well wishers.

Herbert’s countenance is that of a man who is confident and self assured.  It’s a look that comes with success.  The 65 member CASYM band has been a first place winner at the West Indian American Day Carnival Association’s (WIADCA)  Pan-O-Rama for the last two years.

As they head into their 14th Pan-O-Rama, the Verizon technician by day, and arranger by night is far from being over confident heading into this year’s competition.  “Nothing is ever given, we’re going to go in there and give it our best,” says Herbert.  “Nothing is a given not even life.”

This year there will again be  two separate Pan-O-Ramas that take place in NY, United States.  One contest is coordinated by WIADCA and the other by the United States Steel band Association  (USSA).   In 2001 steel orchestras conspicuously banded together to hold their own version of the event independent of the two camps.

When Herbert is questioned about the politics surrounding the annual Pan-O-Rama event he declined to comment on the matter directly.   Instead he insisted that solidarity is extremely key to the survival of black cultural expressions.   “At some point we as a people have to unite,” says Herbert.   “[The division] is doing more harm than good.”

When Herbert is asked what it would take to combat the colonial mindset pervading black life he said that “old people are pretty much set in their ways so its up to the young people” to make a difference.   “Hopefully some conscious youth will come and pave the way…guided by the elders,” Herbert continued.  The CASYM band is made up of musicians from all over the Caribbean.

As patrons gather at the venue, Metro Steel Orchestra manager, Tony Joseph, 38, is setting up on field.  Joseph, a mechanical engineer, says that the Metros—consisting of 65 to 100 pan players—are looking forward to this year’s Pan-O-Rama after coming in second place to CASYM last year.  “We expect to win,” says Joseph.

Alcia Dixon, the 15-year-old captain of the group is very proud of the contributions she is making to the group to make that expectation a reality.  “I do all the behind the scenes work and help keep order of the band,” says the diminutive Dixon with a dead serious expression.  Given that this will be her fourth year with the band, the young pan general says that she isn’t at all nervous about performing at Pan-O-Rama.  Dixon is looking forward to pursuing a career in accounting.

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CASYM Steel Orchestra

Parking lot of Prospect Heights
  High School 
833 Classon Ave.
between President and Union Streets
Brooklyn, New York


Metro Steel Orchestra

1720 Nostrand Ave.
between Clarendon and Cortelyou
Brooklyn, New York

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Last modified: July 28, 2002