Steelpan musician Jamani
A life of Pan
By Sarah Loat
Jamani Stewart was born to play the steel pan. Now at just thirteeen years old he has released his first solo album.
Surrounded by music from birth, Jamani has grown up listening to the sound of steelpans played by his father. By the age of three he performed with him in front of two and a half thousand people at the Midlands Arts Centre.
Jamani - born to play pan
Jamani started putting clusters of notes together on the pan and creating short melodies. Eventually he taught himself his first tune on the steelpan, 'Happy Birthday'.
"When I was younger, three years old, I used to play the drums, my dad thought I had talent and moved me up to the pans. Pan makes me feel happy because it brings a good vibe to the community and the audience that are listening."
A young Jamani performs
I first saw Jamani as an eight-year-old boy playing the steelpans alongside his dad The Mighty Jamma, an already well established steel pan musician and national champion.
Jamani's enthusiasm and skill at such a young age is incredible to watch. At Artsfest in September 2007, he confidently took to the stage for the closing ceremony in front of thousands of people, bringing a sunny calypso vibe to an otherwise gloomy day.
"It feels exciting and sometimes stressing," says Jamani "but it is exciting and joyful. When you play it it makes you feel relaxed, it doesn't bring a bad vibe, just good and mellow vibes. I play at carnivals, birthdays, weddings and I love making people happy."
Jamani and dad Jamma in Trinidad
The steelpan is an unusual instrument, originating in Trinidad and Tobago and traditionally made from an oil drum, fired and beaten into shape. Jamani's own 30 note steelpan is professionally made and tuned in Trinidad.
When he's not immersed in the traditional sounds of the Caribbean, Jamani's musical tastes are like that of many other teenagers. Using the instrument he loves he remixes RnB tunes, and these form the basis of his album 'Party with Jamani'.
"I listen to MTV Base and hum it and work out the notes on the pan, tunes like Sean Paul, Akon, Cassidy, Mario Winans. When I was at home I was always dancing if I heard a beat.
There are 30 notes on the steelpan
"I was playing steelpan one day and rapping to Bellydancer by Akon. Me and my dad sat down and I started writing lyrics, I read it to my dad and he liked them. I practised in the mirror and started rapping and then wrote songs for my album.
"Not a lot of people get to play or hear the pan, so I like bringing it to people. Most people sing or rap, you get noticed more when you play the pan because it's something different."
Once a week Jamani plays with the Birmingham school of Pan and finds time to practice every day. "Sometimes I wake my mum up, apart from that it's all good."
Having a champion pannist for a father means Jamani sometimes get to travel with him around the world, including to the Caribbean and Africa.
Practising at home
Sound from heaven
"I went to an orphanage in Ghana and the kids had never seen the pan before they were like 'wow' because it was shiny as well, they were like 'woah, this is a sound from heaven' - they were amazed.
"It was good because I showed my talents to another country, talent shouldn't stay in one country."
Growing up in the limelight is something Jamani takes in his stride, "I went to Guernsey and when I started playing everyone enjoyed the music danced. People wanted my autograph, especially when I rapped too, they thought I had double talent!"
Father and son
Barely into his teens and with a first album under his belt, Jamani has aspirations to be a full-time professional player, studying music as he grows up and forging a career with his father.
"My friends think I'm gonna go far and my life is gonna be a success. They like what I do because they know the songs I'm playing. When I was younger it was just a hobby, now it's gonna be a career for me, teamwork with me and my dad."
Party with Jamani is available at www.jammasteelpan.net
last updated: 25/04/2008 at 16:15