Focus on a personality : Aldric Benjamin
Interview of Aldric Benjamin, Gunslingers.
Please tell us who you are ?
I am Aldric Benjamin, and i handle press relations for The gunslingers steel band.
When were the gunslingers created ?
The gunslingers steel band was established in 1954 and we became an association loi 1901 in 1999.
Can you tell us how pan playing began in St Martin ?
In the early 1950’s a gentleman by the name of Fredrick Walwin migrated from Antigua to Trinidad and Tobago. In those days people would migrate a lot between the different islands. From Trinidad where he learned to play pan, he came to St Martin. He taught one of our famous musician Edwin Charbonnier how to play as well as some other gentlemen, that went by the name of the Jamboree Boys then. In 1954, a few of them had to leave to further their studies or to work and they passed on the legacy to my father. That’s basically how pan got to St Martin.
How long have you been playing pan ? And how did you start ?
I’ve been playing for 25 years. Pan was mandatory in my father’s house. You didn’t have a choice, some people may not agree but i am happy that it was mandatory.
There are different pan groups and schools on the island, what distinguishes the Gunslisngers from the other groups ?
First of all, Gunslinsgers is seperated in two : a band and an academy of steel pan music. Basically we teach you all the basics of musique, solfège, notes and chords for example. Everything that a music school would teach you, we teach you. You have to learn the history of the pan.
We work very close with the schools, if you don’t have an average of 62.5% on your report card you don’t play pan. We are very strict with that, we have a lot of rules and regulations, rules of conduct. You don’t follow them, you don’t play pan either. No smoking, no drinking until a certain age …it’s the old time way but the best way in my opinion. We try to keep the kids focused on education. During the past 8 years we have taken close to 40 kids off the streets.
The gunslingers can be seen performing for different events, private parties, open air street fairs with the Tourism Office around the island. What striked me is that you play a lot of contemporary songs. Where did that idea come from ?
It goes way back. We try to identify the pan with vocals, guitars, piano. People don’t always see pan as an instrument so we decided we are not going to play classic music anymore but we will play the hits. From the 60’s straight into the 21st century. And it makes it more attractive for the younger generation. We even play dancehall sometimes. Once there is a melody, we play it. Mr Vegas did something very good a couple of years back and we played it very often.
Tell us about the 6th edition of pan revolution.
Preparations are going very well, we can’t complain. We struggled a lot more the previous years, every year it’s getting easier. It’s a prestigious event now. So we are more relaxed. Pan revolution is going to be even more fun this year. The group that is coming is really excited.
What would you say to someone to convince them to visit St Martin ?
Come to St Martin expecting something different from the other islands. As you set foot on our soil you are family, that’s what makes us different. We are the friendly and family Island.
Your favourite local dish ?
I have so many different favourite dishes but chicken leg and journey cakes hold the number one spot and the locri !
Your favourite hang out spot ?
The beach, Galion in particular, it has kept it’s natural and wild side.
Your favourite local event ?
Fish day is my favourite. Everyone comes out and supports everyone, you see people you haven’t seen in a long time. That’s my favourite day !
Any last words ?
A big Thank you to everyone who helped the Gunslingers thus far and all the sponsors of Pan Revolution : the St martin tourism office, Delta petroleum, Raddisson Blue St martin, Caribbean Airline, Mad Designs, Youth Radio, Sos Radio, Radio St Martin, MSR Cable TV, FCDSM , BGD, ATeam, Flamboyant Party Maniacs, GBA Photographie, Donny Photographie, Lock and Loaded Print, PANEXCEL, Gunslingers Parents Association, Sound 2000 and Renttasound
A special thank you to The Saint Martin Tourism Office for having the focus on us this month !
Photos by Gunslingers and Malaïka Maxwell.