view of the Witco Desperadoes pan complex
Glasgow, son of Witco Desperadoes captain, Bertram Glasgow, rehearses
on a guitar pan at the bands Laventille pan complex.
has put Laventille in the national spotlight. But as murderers continue
their rampage, even amid police and army patrols, reporter Wayne
Bowman looks at how a cultural icon, Witco Desperadoes Steel Orchestra
continues its struggle to uplift the community that gave birth to it.
Hill is the centre of attention throughout the nation. Crime is the
focus and it seems that all the good that has been produced by Laventille
has been forgotten.
receive the hero worship once reserved for those cultural ambassadors
of the community, who gave their all to ensure the Hill was spoken well
of despite the many challenges.
likes of Winston Spree Simon, Brother Resistance, Rudolph
Charles, Clive Bradley and so many others brought the Hill a good name.
there is the binding agent that for many years brought the community
together. An entity that was created with the blood, sweat and tears
of young warriors who more than 50 years ago, laid down their ivory-handled
switchblades to take up sticks and steel.
decided to create melodically sweet rhythms as they beat out their frustrations
at being forgotten by the overseers of the society.
is the Hill and the Hill is Desperadoes.
legendary steel orchestra began as a simple pan-round-de-neck side known
as The Dead End Boys back in the early 1940s. They were a notorious
bunch who sought to protect the honour of their community. They clashed
with the police and any other group that challenged their manhood. Around
1950, two members, Wilfred Harrison and Donald Steadman, decided to
encourage the young men to become more organised and focused on developing
as a band.
title Desperadoes was adopted and the band began to participate musically
in the Carnival celebrations. By 1955, the band had signed a sponsorship
deal with Coca Cola and changed its name to the Coca Cola Gay Desperadoes
Steel Orchestra. From here the band members began to set their sights
on excellence. They participated in the first ever Panorama competition
in 1963, placing third. Three years later it took the championship with
a Beverly Griffith arrangement of Sparrows classic Melda.
then the band has claimed nine other Panorama championships as well
as three National Steelband Music Festival titles in 1986, 1988 and
is not only synonymous with Laventille, though. In 1964 sponsorship
of the band was taken over by the West Indian Tobacco Company Ltd and
became known as Witco Desperadoes.
day when you mention one entity, the other is understood. Manager of
the band, Dr Finbar Fletcher, said you cant have one without the
other as far as Despers and Laventille and Despers and Witco are concerned.
He said Despers brings a mark of excellence to both the community and
role the band plays within the community is integral. In the midst of
all that is happening around us, Despers continues to bring a spirit
of unity to the community. At present we are steadfastly seeking ways
through which the band can be a more active part of the solution to
the crime situation and other negatives that are affecting Laventille,
veteran panman said one of the contributing factors to the problems
of the community is the absence of positive role models.
produces many talented people in all areas, he said, from music and
the arts, to academics and technical skills. Having these skills and
talents is not enough, though, since once one comes from Laventille,
its more difficult to break through.
Fletcher said, those who do manage to find success eventually move out
of the community, leaving the youths with few positive role models.
said Despers is setting things in place to go into the communitys
schools and help them set up their own steel orchestras. He said this
will help the young people acquire not only musical skills, but also
aid in their all-round social and academic development.
the relationship between Despers and Witco, Fletcher said that is as
solid as ever. He said the company has contributed much to the band
over the years, just as Despers has given back much to Witco in return.
level of excellence maintained by Despers throughout the years reflects
positively on Witco, and anywhere the band has travelled around the
world, Witco has enjoyed the best representation.
greatly appreciate the role they have played in the band and look forward
to a long and positive relationship.
of the band Bertram Glasgow said Despers is at one with the community
of Laventille, which is these days getting a bad name because of the
foolishness of a few people.
the elders of the band are looking out for the youth and are seeking
ways to get them more involved in positive activities. In fact, a Desperadoes
Elders Association was formed about two weeks ago.
added that the band is in the process of assembling a Desperadoes Youth
Orchestra to work alongside its 50-member senior stage side. The stage
side performs regularly at events and functions across the country as
well as abroad. Work is expected to begin on the orchestras 500-seat
auditorium, which was built two years ago.
auditorium, which forms part of the Desperadoes Pan Complex was never
officially opened and fell prey to vandalism. Both Glasgow and Fletcher
are confident that it will be completed this year and plan to ensure
that adequate security is put in place to prevent it being vandalised
in the future. Once completed, the plan is to produce as many entertainment
and educational events for the community at the auditorium as possible.
also announced that ace arranger Clive Bradley is still working with
Despers, preparing new material for both the senior stage side and the
coming youth orchestra. Glasgow said Bradley was never fired from the
band as had been reported in the media after Carnival.
was a misunderstanding. Bradley is very much still a part of Despers
and is working on new material for us, Glasgow said.
other steel orchestras are facing challenges in holding on to or securing
sponsorship, Despers seems to be sailing in smooth waters, for now at
the future brings, Desperadoes will survive and maintain excellence.
That will never change, and the band will continue to strive to affect
the community of Laventille in a positive way, Fletcher said.