The concept of a cultural exchange program has always been to gain a mutual respect and understanding of new cultures. But for Trinidadian steelband Panexcel, visiting and performing with Xalapa Steel Band transcended even their wildest dreams of the concept.
From August 2 through 16, 2016, Panexcel, led by Ronald and Sherene Matthews, took its 12-member steelband to Xalapa, Mexico, located in the southeastern state of Veracruz. The group, formed in April of 2011, was created with the sole purpose to promote steelpan music both within Trinidad and Tobago and globally.
The trip came to be thanks to contact between the director of the Xalapa steelband and the Matthews’ own steelpan manufacturing company, RS Sweet Pans, Ltd. “The director has been a client of ours for some years. We are also the tuners for their band,” Sherene Matthews said. “We visited Mr. Lalo Tellez (director, Xalapa Steel Band) in Xalapa in 2014 after connecting with him through the Internet. Mr. Tellez is learning to make and tune steelpans with Ronald. Lalo made a set of six-bass for the band for this tour with Panexcel. He did a wonderful job. Lalo started a steelpan workshop with Ronald in Xalapa in 2014 and continued in Trinidad in 2015. It was through this relationship that the idea of a tour was born.”
Watch Panexcel and Xalapa Steelband perform Canon in D together: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_EeEOupBqw
Once the idea of a tour came to be, Panexce then needed to raise money for the trip. The band raised funds by staging a concert called, “A Trini Mexican Fiesta.” The remaining funds were provided by RS Sweet Pans and the band members themselves. No government aid was provided. The Xalapa steelband also assisted with some of the expenses.
The trip consisted of rehearsals, musical collaboration between the management of the two bands, four performances, including one at a senior citizens’ home, a master class on steelpan history and tuning that included demonstrations, and sightseeing tours to La Cantona and Nace El Rio.
“It was a very rich cultural exchange. The meshing of the two cultures was fabulous,” Matthews said. “We did a two-week trip to ensure that there was sufficient time to knit the two teams together, both culturally and musically.”
Aside from the cultural and musical exchange the two bands experienced, Panexcel is said to be the first outside steelband to ever perform in Xalapa, Veracruz. Matthews believes exchanges like this are just the beginning and hopes other groups can take part in the joys that these two bands experienced.
“We can safely conclude that the Xalapa Steelband enjoyed the rich cultural interaction with Panexcel. Plans are afoot for another tour in 2018. It will involve more cities such as Mexico City and Veracruz,” Matthews said. “We would certainly recommend other steel orchestras do a trip such as this. This is Panexcel’s fourth international trip. It is always a challenge if you are an unsponsored band. This trip was the most challenging because of the huge cost factor. It is important for the management of any band to prove itself to be progressive in the community and to be committed to its goals and objectives. We may not have received financial aid, but our fundraising Concert attracted much more support than in past years. We took that as an indication that we were doing something right and the general public had gained confidence in us. It takes time for a band to achieve that level of confidence from the public.”
The trip took the band about one year of planning, but thanks to the special category the band was able to use to book the flight, called “Group Travel,” the airline took a deposit on the airfare, giving the band time to pay off the remaining balance. Today’s technology always played a part in helping the band coordinate the trip, thanks to the use of social media apps like Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook and traditional email.
“All in all, the key to planning such a trip is good management. The formula for success lies in creating a value-based environment for oneness and unity of the band,” Matthews said. “When each member buys into the vision of the band, then it becomes easy for the band to go forward to achieve positive goals.”