First published on Newsday
Monday 15th February, 2016
Read it here: http://www.newsday.co.tt/features/0,224046.html
Mika Tanaka and Hiroko Ueda have been coming to Trinidad for the last 16 years and 7 years respectively to perform in Panorama. It all started with a panorama CD their Trinidadian pan teacher in Japan, Michael “Manish” Robinson brought back for them one year. Several years later, the women both admit that this is now a way of life for them.
Michael “Manish” Robinson got his start in pan from his father who had his own band Supersonics in the 1970s. This was based in St. Barbs, Belmont and back then, he says, “the misconception was that if you played pan, you had to be a vagabond. My grandmother took my dad to Mt. St. Benedict’s to ‘take the demon out of him’. However, when he became an adult, he decided to educate his children in pan music.”
Pan has taken Manish (as he is often called), to Denmark, Sweden, London, Canada, the Caribbean, Australia, USA and more. He has performed at Buckingham Palace and even for the emperor of Japan. He was the first Trinidadian to play pan in Japan in 1993. He realized that at the time, pan music did not really exist there, so he decided to first work for a year and a half, then later opened his own school.
Robinson explains that Mika is the only Japanese to take part in a competition and witness all her bands win in different categories in 2008. Single pan – La Horquetta Pan Groove, medium band – Courts Sound Specialists of Laventille and large band – Phase II Pan Groove.
Mika came to Trinidad once and soon started her new life of returning to our island every year. She has played J’ouvert twice and also played pan on the road. “I wanted to experience the culture – the food and the music. I learnt to cook callaloo, stewed and curried chicken, macaroni pie and even how to make pepper sauce. I learnt to speak English and drive in Trinidad. Pan music has changed my life!”
Hiroko who is a medical doctor by profession, checked the internet for classes 7 years ago and found two teachers – one was Japanese, the other was Trinidadian born Manish. She explains that she went to both schools to compare, but it was at Manish’s school that she got “good vibes” so she stayed there.
Hiroko describes her first experience of listening to Panorama live. “I shook and literally cried. My body just reacted to the groove. I never experienced anything like that with the pan in Japan.”
She changed her work schedule from full time to part time in order to practice her music on weekends and come to Trinidad every year.
“Pan has made me into a healthier person. I wake up early to practice and I go out less. As a result, I have also reduced my alcohol consumption!” She jokes.
Over the years, the ladies have played with such bands as Silver Stars, Desperados, Invaders and Fonclaire to name a few. Mika also took part in ‘Pan in the 21st century’ about 10 years ago in Trinidad, but it was much smaller compared to Panorama. Manish explains that it didn’t attract sponsors and not many people attended so it no longer exists. She also competed in a competition at Caribana in Canada in 2013 called Pan Alive.
She has observed competitions in London, however admits that she has never found any other competitions around the world that compare to Trinidad and Tobago’s Panorama since the bands/competitions are so small. Mika says Japanese pan music is different from Trinbagonian music which has a different intonation, tempo and dialect.
What do the ladies take back to Japan? Good vibes, culture and good memories. Hiroko chuckles a bit and replies, “On each trip I also try to take back some dried sorrel, curry powder and mixed fruits to make sweet bread which I fell in love with after only trying once.”
Their teacher explains that all foreigners do not play the Panorama music again once they return to their country, because it belongs to the band. He arranges his own music which they play in Japan.
The only improvements Manish as well as the ladies will like to see for Panorama is the establishment of a permanent home for the Carnival and Panorama. He says, “too much money and time is spent on rebuilding and deconstructing the north stand each year. That is millions of dollars that can be utilized in a better way.”
He also says that the medium band category can possibly be eliminated since there are not many large bands, but some of the medium bands are very good and can compete in the large band category (since the number of members are not that different from the large band), allowing for better competition.
Hiroko ends by declaring, “I love pan music, when I heard it I couldn’t place it into an existing category of music. The Panorama arrangement is so great! I think it should be spread throughout the world.”
Mika concedes, “We would love to experience pan music too in Japan. I can’t imagine life without it. That’s what keeps me coming back every year. This is my life.”