This organization is considered to be – “more than just a Steel Band!”
Picture yourself at the poolside of one of the hotels on the island’s south coast. It is a splendid evening with the surf gently kissing the shore and the sea slowly dancing in the moonlight. The evening would not be complete had it not been for the steel band providing the background music.
Yes, they are known as the best beating steel band on the road.
The St. Paul’s-based steelband was formed “officially” in 1967 by Mr. Denis Phillip who was inspired by the enthusiasm of some young boys, namely: Oliver ‘Dolly House’ Charles, Leslie ‘Doctor Fats’ Robinson, Harold ‘Old Post’ Charles, Julien Phillip, Cissy Bird and Adrian ‘Shakey’ Hayes who actually renamed the then Tin Tots Combo to Commancheros.
Although the band has gone through many transformations, namely membership, in terms of the quantity and age and sex of players, and instruments from ¼ gallon oil cans to the oil drum and now to the chrome pan, the orchestra has definitely grown in membership, stature, ‘panmanship’ – skills and techniques, repertoire, quality and quantity of instruments. Having gone through all those changes over the past Forty-six (46) years, Commancheros continues to be one of the leading steel orchestras in Grenada.
“One of the main contributing factors for the success and development of this band is that it was started as, and still is a very strong community oriented group. Although we refer to Commancheros as a steelband, it is a lot more than that. ‘It is a feeling, a home for many and an institution which trains and nurtures its members in a holistic way’, Says former Manager and Musical Director Cecil Noel. “We do a lot more than just playing pan,” he said.
The orchestra is managed by an executive committee, which is charged with the responsibility of overseeing its affairs. The band is involved in many community-based activities including but not limited to, the City of Lights Festival, Independence Extravaganza, other sporting, cultural, community development and church activities.
Commancheros Steel Orchestra has won all major steel band titles including Musical Festivals, Bomb Tune Competition and Junior and Senior Panorama held in Grenada. Commancheros has been the champion ‘band on the road’ in Grenada carnival.
In 1994 history was made when for the first time the orchestra won The National Panorama competition in both the Junior and Senior divisions playing ‘Cheros Express’ composed and sung by Cecil ‘Flyin Turkey’ and arranged by Cecil Noel.
In 1995 the Junior Orchestra went on to win the National ‘Festival of the Arts’ pan competition playing Nocturne in E Flat. The orchestra was nominated for and presented with the prestigious award for the performing art in 1997. This award, given by the Grenada Board of Tourism, was given to the cultural group, which worked most consistently promoting Grenada as an ideal tourist destination in the English speaking Caribbean.
An important force in the life of Commancheros is the communications giant LIME formerly Cable & Wireless, who has been sponsoring the band for the last 24 years. The company sees this as part of its social mandate, in giving back to the community.”
The Musical group (Commancheros) has taken Steel band music to four continents across the globe including Dhaka and Morocco in Africa; Las Palmas (Grand Canary Islands) and Italy in Europe; Mexico and Panama in Central America; Brazil and Colombia in South America and most of the Caribbean Islands during the 1970’s and 1980’s while travelling aboard several cruise ships such as Ivan Franco, Taras Schchenko, Archille Laro, Maxim Gorki and Stella Oceanic.
The orchestra represented Grenada in the 1981 Musical Festival in Varadero Cuba, successfully participated in St. Lucia’s Carnival in February 1994 and in November 1997, performed in the USA thrilling audiences in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Connecticut and Maryland.
It (Commancheros) is very much involved in the ‘social and cultural life’ of Grenada. The orchestra performs year round providing entertainment at some of the leading hotels on the island, as well as at other public and private activities.
Performing at social and national events such as weddings, Independence celebrations, Carnival, other festivals/concerts, funerals, and charitable functions is definitely a hallmark of the orchestra.
Call it what you may, Serenade or Parang: For as long as one can remember, this band thrilled and continues to thrill the neighbourhood and other villages with sweet Christmas music every Christmas morning from since the early 1970’s up to present.
It has a regular compliment of about 30 members. This extends to as much as 110, comprising males and females aged between 7-78 for the Panorama competition and Carnival held in August of each year.
In 1999, the band was awarded The Silver Jubilee Certificate of Honour ‘for outstanding service in the field of Steel Band Music’ for more than 25 continuous years of service and cultural advancement to the nation, presented by the Independence Celebrations Committee.
We could not end this feature and not tell you that since its formation in 1967 the Commancheros Orchestra has done three official recordings, two on vinyl – ‘Play Mas’ recorded in Barbados 1972 and ‘Variation in Tempo’ in Trinidad 1976 and one on Compact Disc – ‘Commancheros In Concert Live in New York’recorded in New York in 1997.
The repertoire of the orchestra varies ranging from Calypso to classic. The recordings are testimony not only to the varied selection but also the virtuosity in panmanship of the arrangers and players.
In 2006 and 2007, the band was again in winners’ row capturing the National Panorama championship “back to back”. The Junior band placing 2nd in 2006 and 1st in 2007 in the Junior competition respectively and went on to retain the title in 2008.
Keeping the culture alive is one of the main objectives of the band. Towards this end this steel band, far more that any other band, under the banner “Commancheros and Associates” has successfully and continuously organised Mas Bands which participated and performed on the street St. George’s for the past 31 years (1982-2013). In 2008, the Steelband was recognised and presented with a Plaque in honour and appreciation of this outstanding contribution.
The organization celebrated its 40 anniversary in 2007 with a Dinner and Awards honouring those who made sterling contributions to the life and development of the band and by extension the community and the Steelband art form in Grenada.
With an invitation and assistance from the former Grenada Ambassador to Cuba Mrs. Vyra Mc Queen and the Government of Grenada, the band returned to Cuba in 2007 for the Cuba Caricom Conference as the only cultural representative for the sub-region. The band performed in six (6) concerts at different venues and districts in Cuba, with the highlight being the live televised concert to close off the conference, where it received a standing ovation.