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Every panwomans or panmans dream, is for their band to play at the Panorama Steelband Competition and win.

The Panorama Finals, held each year, always on the Saturday night prior to Carnival Monday, is the event that all ‘pan’ lovers never miss. This is the time that ‘pan’ people, stranded in foreign lands, have a sinking whole-body pang of homesickness. They can’t turn on a radio to hear, or a TV to see, what is broadcast only on the local stations. But thankfully, even this is changing albeit very slowly. The finals of the event are held in the evening at the Grand Stand, Queens Park Savannah, Port of Spain in Trinidad.


The Panorama Steelband Competition, initiated in 1963; was not the first steelband competition to be organised, nor is it the only steelband competition held in these islands, but it became and is, the Premiere steelband event of the year. As Trinidad gained Independence on August 31st 1962, the Nations first Prime Minister, the inimitable Dr ‘Doc’ Eric Williams who was steadfastly and conspicuously fond of cultural events and their promotion, (He was also steadfastly and conspicuously fond of Broadway Extra cigarettes that finally keeled him over), was probably instrumental, together with his government, in sponsoring a National Steelband Competition to mobilise and inspire a musical resource of such obvious abundance and talent but was stuck to the carnival “road”, with no other purpose on which to focus. So as a matter of no little National prestige, Panorama came to fruition the following year for a newly Independent and celebrating nation. Panorama flourished and remains. Its impetus and success has no doubt had incalculable beneficial effects for the steelbands, their promotion and for the world-wide recognition of their art-form.

Panorama involves virtually all the steelbands in Trinidad and Tobago.


Conventional and Traditional steelband categories are represented. For 1998 a new Junior (conventional) category will be included. As the name implies, younger players under the age of 20 are being encouraged to form bands. The logistics of moving around large collections of ‘oil’ drums due to band size and because of the number of the bands competing, the competition begins with rounds of ‘preliminaries’ – as they are called. The preliminaries are held in four geographic competition zones, out of which the finalists emerge to compete, at their respective times, at their coveted grail at the Grand Stand, Queens Park Savannah, Port of Spain.


The finals for the Traditional steelbands are held a day before those for the big (now Senior) Conventional event. The time and place for the Junior events and finals, is presently being decided.

When the bands arrange themselves for the Panorama competition, they attempt to field as many players as they can muster. The sizes of the bands thus approaches the upper limits as described for conventional and traditional steelbands. For the traditional bands, there is a regulatory limit of 40 members. For the conventional bands however, where the attractions are grater, the regulation limit fell from 120 to 100 members for the 1998 competitions, much to the consternation of big band leaders. One explanation suggests that this levels the playing field; allowing bands from smaller communities, who struggle fitfully with 70 or 80 members, to compete more equally. For 1998 and today, that’s it, but the limits may change again thereafter.


Whatever the size and form of the bands, Panorama provides an exciting, entertaining though exhaustive series of events. For the 1998 Senior Conventional steelband Finals, 15 bands, as set by Pan Trinbago, will compete. 15 out of 148 possible bands at the last count. 15 of the very best rolling on and off the Grand Stand. Due to a tie in the Zonal competitions there were actually 16 steelbands for the 1998 season. The 1999 season will have 12 bands. It nearly takes all night. It tries your patience. About 4,300 hand crafted, finely tuned, unique steel drum instruments will cross the stage accompanied by 1,350 hyped up musicians propelled and encouraged by 1,300 equally hyped helpers and devoted followers. (With another 7,000 to 10,000 enthusiasts left outside.

Organising this stand of musicians is prodigious. Controlling it is impossible. It all appears to just about happen.


The when frustrates you. But when for example, on 15 separate occasions, when it does happen, when the music sings, when the iron reverberates in your soul, when you are taken by the rhythm, when you recognise the familiar and hear the unexpected, when you are beaten down and then driven up into ecstasy, when you realise you will never hear it quite like that again, you know then; when you’re at Panorama.

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