Duvone restores vintage Renegades sound

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

IN 1991, at the age of 15, Duvone Stewart left the comfort and security of his Scarborough, Tobago, home, and arrived in Trinidad with the single-minded ambition to pursue a career in the demanding and capricious world of the steelpan. Armed with little more than purpose and passion, the blessing of his parents and the prophetic advice of music tutor Gwenette Armstrong, the teenager went to worship at the temple of BP Renegades and ace arranger Jit Samaroo.

“It was no fly-by-night decision. Since I started playing pan and learning music with Gwenette Armstrong, I dreamt of becoming a full time professional musician. Arranging for the steelpan was what I always wanted to do,” said Stewart, who took time off from his pressing Panorama duties on Monday night to accommodate this interview.

It was Armstrong who steered him to Jit’s doorstep. “She told me to go to Jit Samaroo. She said he was not only qualified but was also humble and a true leader. Today, I am grateful for her advice,” said the laid-back Stewart.

Two decades later, Duvone Stewart is following in the footsteps of his mentor, taking BP Renegades to the 2012 Panorama finals on Saturday night, looking to reclaim past pan glory for the nine-time champions.

Stewart is of the firm belief that Renegades will bring home the elusive 10th championship title this year. Its last victory came in 1997, too long ago for Renegades diehards. His arrangement of Destra Garcia’s Vibes earned the band a creditable fifth place in the semi-finals on February 5. “We are well poised for the finals. We are putting some new things to the arrangement. We will surprise a lot of people on Saturday night,” he explained at the pan yard on Charlotte Street, Port of Spain.

Among the highly-touted ‘young’ arrangers competing for Panorama glory in 2012 with the traditional giants, Stewart has emerged with the best credentials. Only former winners, Leon ‘Smooth’ Edwards (Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars), Len ‘Boogie’ Sharpe (Petrotrin Phase II Pan Groove), Edwin Pouchet (PSC Nitrogen Silver Stars) and Pelham Goddard (Republic Bank Exodus), stand taller in the lead-up to the finals.

Despite his relatively long apprenticeship in the pan world, Duvone Stewart’s name only came to national prominence when he was selected by the BP Renegades management to arrange its 2012 Panorama tune. He admits that 2012 is a benchmark for him. A look at his resume, however, reveals an impressive portfolio of successes.

He has been a playing member, on the tenor pan, for Renegades when the band copped its 1993 title and followed up with the only hat-trick among bands in 1995/96/97. 

Stewart began to gain notice, and respect, as an arranger of note with La Horquetta Pan Groove with a succession of victories in the competition for single pans during this decade. He carved another notch in his pan arsenal in 2004, taking Diego Martin-based Merrytones to winner’s row in the Panorama small band category. In 2009, he began to climb the mountaintop, arranging for a large band - Pan Knights - for the first time in his short career, for a pan arranger, that is.

Stewart’s passion and talent was evident from early, having won the popular Twelve-and- Under talent show hosted by the late Hazel Ward-Redman, in 1986. He won the judges’ acclamation playing Fire & Steel on the tenor pan.

Fast-track to March, last year, when he was ‘summoned’ to revive the slipping fortunes of the champion band. “When I got the call in March, I knew exactly how I was going to handle it. I felt the band needed to sound like the Renegades of old. We had to bring back the energy, the self-motivation of the players. Renegades has its own unique, joyful, energetic sound,” Stewart explained.

Cagey, like most pan arrangers, Stewart said he would introduce ‘some new things’ for final night. “Of course, I held back a few tricks at the semis. We will increase the tempo,” was all he would offer.

Stewart is a ‘hands-on’ arranger. He places particular attention on each panist, each section, repeating drills until his discerning ear is satisfied.

Who knows? Judging by the response and enthusiasm of its management, players, supporters and objective pan aficionados, BP Renegades may yet return to the top of the heap in 2012. 

One thing is certain, though, with Duvone Stewart restoring the ‘true Renegades sound’, the future of the band is in good hands.