Pan is KEISHA'S family
By Nigel Telesford
Having seen her appear
with the confidence and poise of a pan-virtuoso at the recently concluded
Pan Ramajay competition, you’d never guess that Keisha Codrington is just as
shy and timid as your average eight-year-old.
The petite lass placed
second in the Soloist category of the Ramajay finals, edging out a number of
experienced and well-known players, including her father and coach, Cary
“Keisha has been playing
since she was three years old,” he offered. “She can play almost anything by
ear and has taken only a few years to learn the things I’ve spent my whole
life learning. I’ve seen her play alone and make people cry, so I accept my
licks this year with grace and a whole lot of pride.”
A Standard Two student at
Laventille Girls’ Government Primary School, Keisha listed
her favourites as: mathematics, football, corn-soup and the colour blue.
Like most girls her age, her thoughts are consumed with fun things like
skateboards, swings and pretty dresses, but in the presence of a tenor pan,
Codrington’s tiny hands usually do most of the talking.
Although, she does not
remember her first public performance, it’s understandable, considering her
age at the time and the numerous audiences that have blurred before her eyes
Rather than the ideal
mantlepiece above a fireplace, her many accolades decorate the space above
the kitchen cupboards in her family’s tiny
Bath Street apartment.
Last year alone,
Codrington earned first-place in the Best Instrumentalist (Primary) category
of the San Fernando Arts Council’s National Junior Arts Festival (SANFEST)
in October, just before winning the Primary School Soloist category of the
Biennial Schools Steelband Music Festival in November. She meekly described
her typical state-of-mind at performance time:
“I feel good,” she
whispered. “I don’t get nervous. I just go out and play and even if I make a
mistake, I keep going.”
Not many kids can boast
of having a family that can snap into rehearsal or performance-mode in an
instant. Codrington’s parents, Cary and Karen - and her siblings, Kareem,
Khari, Kaijah, Kamau and Kizzi - combine their assorted musical talents to
form the Pan Family Steel Orchestra. You may have seen them lined off
downtown on Frederick Street, Port of Spain, during one of those busy Friday
If you stopped for a
minute to listen, you’d have realised that their repertoire is extensive,
much like their future plans, and ranges from calypso and soca to jazz
classics and even popular reggae selections.
“Initially, I put Keisha
alone to play on Frederick Street,” explained the eldest Codrington male.
“It was just for the exposure and the experience really, but I expected that
something miraculous would happen eventually.
“I thought that with all
those people passing by and seeing her there and hearing her play, one of
them was bound to be impressed enough to offer us a grand opportunity for
her. But most reactions were typical - and representative of the state of
pan in this country. On really busy days though, the rest of us would join
her and eventually, we all just took turns and mixed up the repertoire.”
The family holds a
collective ambition to become “musical ambassadors” and indeed, it seems the
passion for the steelpan is deeply-rooted in them all. Inspite of the many
obstacles they’ve encountered along the way, they’ve resolved to pursue
their dream to completion.
Cary Codrington is a
former member of the National Steel Orchestra, who has worked in the
steelband industry for “most of his life”, having played with “too many
bands” over the years. He has observed the actions of governments past and
present and now offers the view that “pan in this country is in a real
“The pan movement needs a
revolution right now,” he advised. “It needs an injection of innovative
young talent. That’s why I’m glad that all my kids are into it heavily, so
that in a couple years - when Keisha and Kaijah start beating me out of
competitions and I have to retire - they’ll know what needs to be done when
it’s their time to take over.
“I was overjoyed to hear
about the Pan In Schools project - I think that may be the only answer to
the many problems within the industry. I hope the next administration that’s
in power picks up that programme and keeps it going.
“We have systematically
alienated our children from our culture,” he continued. “They have been fed
dancehall and hip-hop and everything else but pan and calypso in heavy doses
all through the 90s and therefore, that’s all they’re interested in. Aside
from a couple months of the year, pan is but a novelty in this, the
birthplace of the instrument.
“All over the world, pan
is treated with reverence and respect and marketed as the fantastic
instrument that it is. Only here - in it’s so-called home - is it taken for
granted and used by those who know it’s true power to keep their pockets
“In addition to the
future of pan being in jeopardy,” he continued. “The present state of
affairs is in just as big a mess: most pan players can’t read music and they
don’t earn a decent living off of it, so it’s become a once-a-year hobby for
them. A $200 hustle if I may call it that. The bands themselves are too big
for their own good as far as I’m concerned and they haven’t learned to
become self-sufficient as yet.
“They still have to beg
sponsors for jerseys for Panorama every year, while pan factories in Sweden
and Japan and even the US have catalogues of pan accessories, and
pan-related merchandise like sticks, stands, carrying cases and even books
on pan history and how to play it.
“It’s sad really, but
that’s why I took my family out of that system and out of that general
mentality toward the instrument. Hopefully, with my guidance, they’ll grow
up with a greater appreciation for it - in addition to a greater knowledge
of the instrument and its many uses.”
The staircase filled with
the echoes of a sweet pan melody rote by an unidentified juvenile player,
even as this reporter made his way out of the building.
The amazing realisation
that it could have been any member of the Codrington family made the notes
sound even sweeter to my ears as mother and father; husband and wife and pan
lovers supreme said their goodbyes and thank yous.
“We must thank Dr Anne
Osborne,” they declared. “She has given Keisha a scholarship to study music
at the Creative Arts Centre at UWI. Also: Gary Aboud, Fred Absolum, McDonald
Morris, Horace Raymond and Mrs Bocas of Tidco and of course, Ainsworth
Mohammed. The general public: for their kind words and contributions and
last but never least, the Father above for blessing us with the talent and
the will to survive.”