Panorama 2024 Left Us Wanting

Knolly Moses

We heard some decent music at Panorama 2024, as we should expect from the top steel bands. Most arrangers are clearly trying to explore new ideas, and their choice of tunes from different periods gave the competition a nice vibe. Others stuck tight to formulaic renditions that couldn’t stir the North Stand, or anyone else.

What we can say, however reluctantly, is this wasn’t a memorable Panorama. Yeah, we know. That’s a bit sacrilegious. But no music stood out. Nothing got everyone on their feet, a sure sign that a band has moved the audience. Not that the bands didn’t try. But it takes a lot to move those people in the savannah who have pan in their DNA. We do appreciate the hard work it takes to prepare for Panorama. We also respectfully expect something special. The audience was let down that night.

It’s not easy to identify why this Panorama was underwhelming. Perhaps that’s because we expect each to be better than the last. So we want to hear the music move significantly. But  if we are to point to a bothersome issue in 2024 we would say it was the poor balance among the instruments. Too many of the bass and middle sections sounded thunderous, making it difficulty for us to enjoy the wonderful tunes played. It could be that the bands were trying to give their music more body and fuller orchestration. The result, however, was that most of them clouded their melodies.

This preference for a heavy bass line may be a throw back to when Guinness Cavaliers and its awesome bass section won Panorama in 1965 playing Lord Melody’s Mas. Lennox Bobby Mohammed led the first band from South to win Panorama. Cavaliers rocked Port of Spain that year, and other arrangers took note. Everyone was talking about their bass. That was half a century ago, however, and much has happened since with pan –in tone, technique, and the instrument itself. So strong bass alone doesn’t cut it anymore.

Heavy bass sections also muffles the front line pans. They interfere with the way we hear the tune. When a band doesn’t sound clear it’s easy to assume the arrangement is poor, though that may not be the case. When we must strain to hear the music lines it’s hard to get the essence of the arrangement.

That night we spotted Dr. Ray Holman in the Grand Stand and asked for his take. Not surprisingly, his experience was similar. “When I listen to the bands I am not getting a nice all round sound, “ said Dr. Holman. “Some of the bands [are] hitting too much of the bass. We have to work on that.” The first man to write music specifically for Panorama believes it could be the miking of the pans, but he believes if that is the case then it should be worked on.

Leon Bent, Music Lecturer and Director at Alpha Institute, Kingston, Jamaica, wasn’t happy with so many technical phrases in the bands’ arrangements. “By incorporating excessive runs, there's a lack of melodies,” says Bent. “So sometimes the audience can get lost midway into the performance.” Bent is also peeved that there were two ties in the first five placings. “What’s the point of competition if bands are just going to tie with each other? That is beyond nonsensical.”

We can only say that All Stars deserved first all by themselves. The clarity of their music made us all want to dance. We can’t say the same for Renegades, who seemed lost in a confusing introduction. Their music lacked the energy and integrity of Duvone Stewart’s awesome 2023 arrangement of Feeling to Party. Even Invaders, Starlift and Desperados sounded livelier that night. And Exodus certainly should have beaten Renegades.

As always, Phase II came with potential and possibilities that didn’t impress the judges. While their tune is a rich melody, the arrangement hardly melded. Now several more bands can say they beat Phase II in a competition, not exactly the legacy Len Boogsie Sharpe may have envisaged. We hope he and all the other arrangers come with better stuff next year.