Renegades Steel Orchestra on stage at the National Panorama Semi-Finals in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on February 9, 2020. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.
One of the highlights of Trinidad and Tobago's annual Carnival celebrations is the Panorama competition. It's a musical contest that pits the country's best steel orchestras against one another as they play a specially arranged instrumental rendition — marked by original variations — of a popular calypso or soca music tune.
The competition has been held every year since its inauguration in 1963, save for 1979, when it was boycotted as a symbolic gesture of support for the steelband movement pioneer Rudolph Charles, and his fight to gain respect and better recognition for pannists.
The bands compete in small, medium and large categories. There is also a single pan category and Panorama competitions for both primary and secondary schools.
In recent years, rather than have every stage of the competition hosted at a big venue like the Queen's Park Savannah in Port of Spain, judges have been visiting the pan yards — the community spaces where bands are headquartered — to grade them during the preliminary round of the competition. These events always attract a lot of public patronage, with pan lovers visiting several pan yards over the course of the season, supporting their favourite bands and sizing up the competition.
Carnival's most popular pan-related event, though, is the Panorama semi-finals, where steelpan enthusiasts can enjoy a wide cross-section of performances from the spectators’ areas, and even get in and amongst the bands on what is known as “The Drag” — the area leading to the main stage where the bands line up in order of appearance and practice their drills. Fans and supporters also help roll their instruments — which are mounted on clusters of wheeled platforms with canopies — to the stage, where bands battle for a place in the finals of the most prestigious prize in steel pan music.
As she is every year, photographer Maria Nunes was on hand at the Queen's Park Savannah on February 9, 2020 for the National Panorama Semi-Finals, which featured the medium and large steel orchestras. Here's a taste of the atmosphere was like Nunes’ spectacular photos, presented here with permission:
A woman plays the bass pans in the Trinidad All Stars steel orchestra as the band practices on “The Drag” before taking the stage at the Panorama semi-finals. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.
The Trinidad All Stars steel orchestra, on stage at the 2020 National Panorama Semi-Finals in Trinidad and Tobago. The band played Naila Blackman's “More Sokah”, arranged by Leon “Smooth” Edwards and placed fifth out of 14 large bands. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.
Desperadoes, one of the most popular large bands, takes the stage at the 2020 Panorama semi-finals. “Despers”, as they are fondly called, also performed Nailah Blackman's “More Sokah”; their arranger was Carlton “Zanda” Alexander and the band copped second place.
Desperadoes supporters help carry the steel pan racks off the stage at the Queen's Park Savannah after the band performed at the National Panorama Semi-Finals on February 9, 2020. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.
Arranger Len “Boogsie” Sharpe conducts the Phase II steel orchestra during the 2020 National Panorama Semi-Finals. The band performed Olatunji Yearwood's “2020 Vision”, placing fourth. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.
The Phase II front line, comprising players of tenor pans and double seconds, are full of joy as they play their piece at the 2020 National Panorama Semi-Finals in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on February 9. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.
The “engine room” of a steelband, comprised of percussive instruments, is the section that establishes the rhythm and pace of the performance. The band is Supernovas: their song of choice for the 2020 pan semi-finals was “Dear Promoter”, a collaboration between soca singers Voice and Kes, arranged by Amrit Samaroo. The band placed sixth. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.
Another female bass player, this time from the band Tropical Angel Harps, gives it her all at the Panorama semi-finals. The band's musical choice was Nailah Blackman's “More Soca”, arranged by Clarence Morris, which earned the group tenth place out of 14 large bands. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.
Renegades, another steelband with a large following, performs Skinny Banton's “Wrong Again” at the National Panorama Semi-Finals on February 9, 2020. The piece was arranged by Duvone Stewart; it won the favour of the judges, who ranked the band in first place. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.
The large band Panorama finals is scheduled for February 22, 2020.