Panoridim 'drums' out music

Photo: Panoridim Players

Krista Henry, Staff Reporter
The steely notes of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Steel Panoridim Orchestra have been ringing high and clear for more than 30 years.

The steelpan group has been a fixture on the Mona, Jamaica, campus for years and is well known to those who have frequented the school and heard the group's religious nightly practice at the Students' Union. More popular in Trinidad, the steelpan evolved out of earlier musical practices of Trinidad's enslaved Africans and their descendants. Steelpan is now a staple in the cultural landscape of Trinidad, but never gained as much ground in Jamaica.

When the steelpan was introduced on campus by students Arden Williams and Jackie Martin in 1954 it was soon dismissed by the general UWI population. Determined, the duo formed the University Steel Band a year later with a membership of eight, which expanded to 14 a few months later.

Bianca Welds, one of Panoridim's PR officers, told The Sunday Gleaner "There has been steelpan on campus for years, as long as UWI has been around. Students from Trinidad brought it over as part of their culture. There were scattered steelpan groups, but they joined together for one concert in 1976, and by 1977 they decided to remain as one steelpan group known as Panoridim."

Currently, the UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra is a co-curricular activity of the UWI Mona campus, and has 35 active members, mostly Jamaicans. According to Welds, each September auditions are held which see a large turnout of persons willing and curious to learn the musical art. Membership to Panoridim is not restricted to university students, nor to persons with musical experience, as it is open to all who are eager and have a little 'riddim'.


Welds said "A lot of people join out of curiosity. They have heard of it and most people do come out of the perception that it's just soca or calypso. Most people who join are very receptive, 'cause pan is relatively simple to learn in terms of the basics."

Each recruit is taught by current members and learn a diverse array of music. "We play a wide range of music, from soca, calypso, reggae and dancehall to classical, gospel, R 'n' B, pretty much anything. Pan is pretty versatile, as it has the ability to sound as close to the genres as possible," Welds explained.

The group went as far as releasing their debut CD in 2001, entitled Steel Pan Alleys. However, the CD was not widely distributed. This year the group is planning to re-release the album, as well as a live concert that was recorded in 2004.

Panoridim has performed in and out of Jamaica for events such as the two visits of the Queen and the wedding of actress Sheryl Lee Ralph. They have competed in Trinidad's World Steel Pan Festival and played at countless events on the Mona campus.

The UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra is currently preparing for their summer concert series to be held at the Philip Shelock Centre from July 4-6, as well as the 11th and 13th. The future for pan is looking bright as the band seeks to expand and become a regional and international name in steelpan music.

(Read more: Jamaica Gleaner)