WEDNESDAY WOMAN: From accounts clerk to steel pannist
FROM THE DAY she heard the sweet strains of steel pan music coming from her neighbour’s house, Nakita Wilfred was smitten.
Immediately, the then nine-year-old sought and secured her first lesson on the instrument.
“I heard it, I liked the sound, so I went over and [the pannist] taught me and from there it was history, I guess.”
She hasn’t looked back, and, now 27, she is a full-time pannist.
“I don’t know what it is, but I just love how it sounds, I love the feel of it when I am playing. I just love everything about it,” Wilfred said, almost in tears, “Steel pan is my life.”
She has performed with the St Barnabas Steel Orchestra, the Israel Lovell Steel Orchestra, the National Youth Steel Orchestra and Mosaic Steel Orchestra, with which she still plays. Still, she craves formal music training and plans to go to the Barbados Community College (BCC) to pursue the fine arts degree.
Wilfred has been a self-employed steel pan soloist for about a year and works extensively on the hotel circuit.
“It is going really well for me,” she said.
“I never expected it to go so well. Steel pan in Barbados is seemingly not that recognised and people are not into it, but in the hotel circuit the tourists really love it so I do a lot of hotels, weddings and receptions. I work every day so it is working out very well for me.”
Previously she worked as an accounts clerk, but was let go because of the economic downturn and then she moved for one year to St Lucia, “where I found myself and knew that pan was what I really want to do”.
She said the love for music was carved as a little girl as she was surrounded by it. Her mother loved singing and would have the radio blazing several genres of music. Additionally her grandfather played guitar in a band.
Thankfully, the music was there to help her through rough times.
“I see it as life-saving,” she said. “I lost my mum when I was 13, and steel pan was how I was able to get through.”
After pausing to gain her composure, she continued: “Everybody tell me when I am playing I am like a totally different person, the music and the sound and the feeling is just euphoric. I feel free and like I am fully me. Steel pan is my everything.”
Expounding on the benefits of playing music, Wilfred said it helped with being focused and disciplined and she recommended that parents use it to help their children in those areas.
She has travelled to Brazil, London and across the Caribbean playing steel pan, though she would like to see greater interest in this indigenous Caribbean instrument.
“I get a lot of males asking to learn, but most of the time it is because of them wanting to get to know me personally,” she said.
“I have had some people ask and follow up. At the hotels the guests are interested but there is no way to teach them since they leave the island soon after.”
Nakita Wilfred said her love affair with steel pan began when she was just nine years old.
The pannist said she hoped to see the steel drum given more pride of place in the entertainment landscape of Barbados, noting that Pan On the Sand at Crop Over was the one major event that gave it pride of place.
She also expressed hope for more competitions to push players to get better and spread interest in the genre.
“There is really nothing to look forward to,” she said, adding that Mosaic Steel Orchestra had hosted an in-house competition and has been trying for many years to have a national contest.
“There are definitely not enough shows out there or ways it is being pushed. There are a couple of schools that teach it as an extracurricular activity or their music programme but to me it is not enough.”
Wilfred said she heard that years ago when there were no music trucks for Kadooment, revellers used to jump on the road to the sound of the steel pan.
“That is something I would like to see,” she said, “but it calls for dedication from people who love steel pan and want to see it grow. I also want to see it taught in every school.”
With that in mind, Wilfred is keen to start her studies at BCC and intends to teach steel pan when the course is finished. She said it would be great if plans by Mosaic to develop steel pan music materialised, but they would need to find sponsorship.
Ultimately, Wilfred said she would like a gig on a cruise ship to travel and do what she loves. “What more can you ask for?” she asked.