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©2002 Express Newspapers is a subsidiary of Caribbean Communications Network. All rights reserved!

2002-09-17

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 Codrington.

“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 since then.

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 evenings. 

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 mess”.

“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 fat.

“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.”

 

©2002 Express Newspapers, Caribbean Communications Network.   All rights reserved!