By Michael Derek Roberts
It’s a Brooklyn-based steel orchestra – not a band (even though I’ll use that familiar colloquial Caribbean word to describe this steel orchestra) – that has been delivering high quality, unique and sophisticated music for sometime now. In fact, the orchestra has carved out its own special niche among the rarified atmosphere of the Pan Pantheon in New York. It’s safe to say that D’Radoes Steel Orchestra or simply “Radoes” as its popularly known is among the best of the best in the world of steel pan music in the city and state – and beyond. CARIBBEAN TIMES NEWS recently visited the band’s East New York pan yard to meet with the leaders and to get a sneak peek of what’s in store for its challengers at this year’s Labor Day Carnival Panorama – the annual premier steel orchestra competition – to be held on Saturday, September 1.
As reigning Panorama Champions the band is again the favored front-runner in this years competition. D’Radoes Steel Orchestra has taken the top spot every year since 2014. The immensely popular band is one of biggest ensembles in the competition. Its boasts a loyal following and membership that have “stuck around” with the band, and are diligently working towards a fourth win, said Tom Montvel Cohen, the band’s manager.
“I’ve been with this orchestra for sometime now. The difference between Radoes and other bands is our discipline and hard work. That and the fact that we recognize that we must nurture and build on the talents that we have while attracting new ones. That’s why we have so many young people in our ranks. We are intact with the same squad and we’ve been fortunate to be very successful over the last few years,” said Montvel Cohen. “We are very humble with our hardworking approach that has worked for us.”
The band’s recent victories, he noted, came from working closely together as a coherent unit but also having a good time doing what they all love to do.
“We are a very, very organized orchestra, and this is reflected in not only learning the music we make and create, but the logistics in getting everyone on time at the Brooklyn Museum (Panorama venue), setting up, and making sure that everything runs smoothly,” said Montvel-Cohen. “You need good music and good players, but you also need to keep the morale and vibes high to keep the players happy, and do what needs to be done.”
Charged with “putting the music together” is pan veteran, ultra-skilled, and experienced Terrance “BJ” Marcelle, 54. A big, hulking man with a soft voice and ready smile, “BJ” as he’s called by everyone, commands the pan yard and is the creative genius behind the music and its interpretation. He’s responsible for whipping the pan players into shape, and into an organized high-performing unit that delivers exquisite steel pan music. On his broad shoulders and razor-sharp musical mind rests the hopes and aspirations of the band – and a 4th Panorama title.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 7 years old. I love it. As the arranger I have to come up with the musical concepts, creative approaches, and get it right. There is no script that you can follow. You literally have to feel the vibes from the energy in the yard. And we have to do this as a work in progress until we get it right – over and over again. Until everybody is playing and working together – like the notes on a steel pan,” Marcelle explained.
Asked about the youthful energy and enthusiasm among Radoes players and how he’s able to maintain that right into Panorama, Marcelle said that it was important that “you lead by example.” He said that “tight discipline and tough love” must be balanced with a genuine sense of caring for all of the players as a family. “Without that you can be the greatest arranger and you’re not going to get any cooperation. I work very hard and when my members and players see that they are motivated to do the same,” Marcelle explained.
Helping to fine tune the finished product is Dane Gulston one of the best and most accomplished panists in the world today. Dane, based in Trinidad and Tobago, started his professional career playing with the famous Calypsonian Lord Kitchener. He’s toured all over the world and is giving Radoes his expertise as a world-renowned panist.
“Pan is my life and my livelihood. I’ve been playing from a very young age. I’m very honored and happy to be working with BJ and the Radoes team to bring home the 2018 Panorama championships. I’m excited about our progress and in the coming days we’re going to make sure that our music is the best on Panorama night. We have the talent, about 100 years of collective leadership experience between us, and a group of youth players with near unlimited energy. That’s Radoes,” Dane told CARIBBEAN TIMES NEWS.
Born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, Dane began his musical career at the age of 7 at his grandmother’s home. One of his earliest influences was his uncle Steve who was an active member of the Trinidad All Stars Orchestra. He became a member of the Panazz Steel Orchestra in 1992. He was also a member of his primary and secondary school band, South East Port-of-Spain Secondary School. Dane is a consummate percussionist and is also proficient in playing the congas, bongos and timbales. As a student of music, he’s excelled in his field and today is considered one of the best steelpan players in the world. Dane practices three hours a day to maintain his awesome skills.