Saturday, February 24, 2018

Shenelle Abraham: Young arranger with nerves of steel


Shenelle Abraham. Photo by Roberto Codallo

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Shenelle Abraham is almost literally a certified 'Jacqueline of all trades'. She is one of the few examples of a balance between left-brained and right-brained individuals.

Abraham has competed in numerous calypso competitions over the years and at the age of seven, she wrote her first calypso. Having also entered poetry and essay competitions, she honed her creative streak.

Certainly envied by her classmates, she placed first in her class in examinations from the second year of primary school and every succeeding year. Many moons later, she would graduate with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Music and be given the opportunity to be the class valedictorian.

Currently a student at the Florida Memorial University, she is back in her native country to assume duties as arranger for two steelbands; one of them being the St Margaret's Boys' Anglican School in Belmont, Port of Spain.

A past student of the Melville Memorial Girls' Anglican School she began teaching the male students of the school which was located on the same compound. "The girls were into singing but you know, the boys weren't that inclined to do the singing thing." she said quietly.

The other is the world-renowned Skiffle Bunch Steel Orchestra which is based in San Fernando. "Junior Regello encouraged me and out of a few prospects, I was chosen to arrange for Skiffle Bunch. I almost didn't believe him when he said that I was chosen. I really didn't expect him to do such a big investment in me. The Orchestra now has a younger demographic and a younger arranger can actually help with the communication between the arranger and players. You can relate to them as 'one of them'".

Of her experience, she claimed, "My style complements the players. I've been accustomed to teaching players from five years and over so the patience is there to teach."

At the time of the interview, she was feverishly preparing for thr National Panorama semi-final round. It is commendable that she could preserve her patience and sanity as her rehearsal hours ranged from 5.00 p.m. to 7.00 p.m. at the Belmont school and then she would pick up her Skiffle Bunch duties from 7.00 p.m. to 11.00 p.m. She would then head back to the Port of Spain area where she is staying, and by early the following morning, she would teach music classes.

Abraham was a member of Trinidad All Stars when they won the Panorama competition in 2003, the Exodus Steel Orchestra (winners of the World Music Festivals in 2002 and 2004), the Gonzales Sheikers, the Exocubs Youth Steel Orchestra and the Trinity Foundation.

Her list of achievements reads like that of someone in their 50s. It even boasts of writing an arrangement for noted saxophonist, Francis Prime; being one of five pannists to perform during the United States' 2005 Video Music Awards for rapper, Ludacris; and being interviewed by Hollis Clifton as one of the top influential pan musicians. Abraham will be featured in an international travel magazine, Sand, Sun and Sea. Her full list of achievements would occupy several pages of this magazine!

She has written, arranged and trained members of several bodies and organisations and even at her young age, is highly respected by young and old.

Having attained the honour of being the "Most Outstanding Student" at one point, she was an avid cricketer at her alma mater, Holy Name Convent, where she was even captain of her team. Voted as "Best Cricketer" and "Cricketer With The Most Team Spirit", she continued to use her determination to accomplish her goals.

"I am not looking to be better than (Len) "Boogsie" Sharpe or anyone else. Boogsie can only be the best Boogsie. I can only be me, be the best that I can be."

One who scored the highest GPA in Mathematics, this force of talent summed up her feelings, saying, "Skiffle Bunch is like my second home. Generally, female arrangers tend to have more to prove and might have to work extra hard to get the same attention as a man but I must say that the members of Skiffle Bunch treat me well. It's a good relationship."

"There are other people though, who may not realise the knowledge because a person is young. Most people feel that you don't know anything or much."

Skiffle Bunch eventually failed to proceed to the final round of the competition but Abraham was like a proud mother hen nonetheless. "That day at the semi finals, was a great experience. I got a lot of positive feedback. People said that my music was like a breath of fresh air and it was different to what you would normally hear. Conventionally but still kept the Carnival spirit. I can't ask anything more from them than what they produced on stage. I was very pleased. This is a work in progress and I will view the judges' comments so that I could make improvements."

Since then, her other band placed first at the primary school Panaroma competition. There was obvious elation at this feat.

All of Abraham's accomplishments have come with maybe no blood but certainly sweat…and tears. She related how a wrist injury has hampered her pan playing; and literally had her in tears as she performed on stage years ago. Continual therapy is her only source of hope as she thinks surgery would not make much sense.

Abraham presented a quiet nature so it is a wonder that she can transform and command the attention of seasoned adults within this fraternity.

In Hebrew, 'Abraham' means "father of multitudes or many nations". This young woman, leads her tribes with the respect and vision of a true leader as she becomes more and more revered worldwide.