The rhythm is sweet and melodious but most of all beckoning. It's as if the sweet pan notes are calling me, luring me. Superblue's Fantastic Friday at its best, Steel Orchestra, Silver Silvers' practice session sounds like a final rendition at Panarama Finals, Carnival Saturday evening.
As photographer, Michael Bruce and I walk into the pan yard nestled in a brightly lit alley on Tragarete road, something else besides the music grabs our attention. There is an oriental (Japanese or Chinese I reckon) woman dressed in a flowered jumper and white jacket behind a tenor pan beating her life away. She is into her notes.
I approach her and ask to speak in a quieter place. She smiles and follows. I introduce myself and Bruce but her confused expression is an indication that I must speak slowly for her to understand. "We from newspaper, Express Woman Magazine, we want interview," I say slowly. The petite woman laughs and answers, "Okay, no problem!" I learn that her name is Yurie Sanechika. "First time in Trinidad?" I quiz. "No, I come last year too for...." "For Panaorama?" I assist her. "Yes Panorama, I play pan yes!" Ten minutes later I learn that she is a tenor player with Silver Stars and this year would be her second year in Trinidad playing for Silver Stars. "You now learning or you learn long time?" I enquire. "No, I learn long time. I am steelpan player. I teach steelpan in Tokyo streets and in concert. I music teacher, I teach steelpan in school and I teach people who want to learn," she advises. I am spellbound. I knew that pan was big throughout the world, but Japan?
Pom, pom, pom...The bass players are in full force. "Water and powder..." speaks the tenors. A line of Fantastic Friday is animated and the onlookers in the pan yard are in glee. Some are dancing, some shadowing the players in their antics. Sanechika looks impatient as if she wants to return to her practice session so I have to make my interview brief. "People play pan in Tokyo?"- my questions are endless. "Yes yes, I come to Trinidad with friend, eight of them. We play steel pan. Kentaro play with Phase two Two. I have many steelpan home in Tokyo. Japanese love steelpan, yes. I play percussion too," she avows. I am amazed by her revelation- "I play steelpan on Tokyo Street. Kichijoji Street. Jazz musician play steelpan on street too," she continues.
Sanechika further informs that it's her livelihood. The people come out onto selective streets in Tokyo and listen and dance to Jazz music, her sweet steelpan renditions of oriental Japanese music interspersed with a few Calypso tunes, a main attraction. "On this Kichijoji Street, people lime like how we do on Ariapita Avenue?" I ask once more. "Lime?"- Oh shoot, unintentionally use our Trini "Lime" slang and the amicable Eastern woman is baffled beyond words. "Sorry, I mean people dance and have good time?" She shakes her head in approval. -----Sanechika resides in Tokyo as well and has one sister who doesn't play the steelpan.
How does a Japanese woman become interested in such a grassroots intrsument and moreover learn how to play it so well? The internet of course. She learned how to play the unique instrument through Youtube and from watching Andy Narell, a US steelpan connoisseur. My turn to be confused- "Andy Narell?" "He is big steelpan player in America. I play Narell music in Tokyo Streets and Kitchener." "Kitchener?" I give a patriotic blush. I realise that Sanechika is knowledgeable of the icons in the industry. "Kitchener my favourite. Bee's Melody and Rainorama my favourite. Tokyo people like it very much," the 24 year old declares.
Trinidad and Tobago may be her pan stop but the marimba (a percussion musical instrument) aficionado is well travelled having visited Indonesia, USA and Korea. But these places have not peaked her pan interest though, that's why T&T is so special for her. She says in her native language (and abbreviated English translation)- "Panarama is dream come through!"
Bruce is eager to catch her on camera in playing mode, so we cut the talking short and return to the Silver Stars players who are enjoying their practice as if it's a live performance at Champs in Concert.
Their tune has changed to soca artiste, Destra Garcia's, "What's M y Name" and Sanechika picks up her key and starts to play on her tenor right next to another Japanese woman who she identifies as her friend. "Pang, Pang, Pang," one of the veterans in the yard hits the side of the pan with his sticks and gives a cue for a groovy soca king, Kes ' 2013 Carnival release.
The Japanese pan mistress gets into music yet again, playing with an intrinsic Trini swagger. "You could dance steelpan music too?" I interrupt shouting. "No!", she says above the loud the tenors. "No dance just play music!" I see her fellow pan compatriots looking at her in admiration. They are astonished by her choice of profession and grace with the pan sticks. Her tiny eyes mirror a sense of pride at playing T&T's indigenous instrument. Her euphoric movements illustrate her desire to be a part our culture. A culture which so many natives ignore and chastise, this foreigner finds delight in mastering.
"You like our food?" I am trying to learn as much as I can but I am competing with Kes on pan. "Doubles!" Case closed, she is a fan of Trini Indian cuisine. I conclude the interview with her personal credo (more and more players are coming in and the music is getting louder, too loud for back talking).
"Keep smile on face always and play steel pan," she shouts and with that I leave Yurie Sanechika to play her sweet steel pan music. I will see her again, perhaps at Panarama Finals, in all her glory and I know that she will be an ambassador for our Trinbagonian culture even though she is Japanese!
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