THE SORZANO FAMILY AND THE EARLY STEELBANDS IN ARIMA
Francis Morean @15th January 2019
(This is the thirteenth in a series of articles being published here by Francis Morean with the focus upon the history of Arima.) It is based principally upon an interview with the late Mr. Lawrence Sorzano, of Calvary Hill, Arima, who himself was a panman for a short period. Mr. Sorzano passed away on 29th May, 2008.
My last piece about Hosein in Arima triggered a number of emotional comments, which expose the fact that when history is not properly documented it leaves room for a lot of misunderstanding.
So before sharing this short piece I need to make a few brief comments. Firstly, my information is derived from 2 sources, both of which can be wrong for a variety of reasons. One is oral, the other is archival. Both can sometimes be very unreliable. In fact, it has been well established that even eye-witnesses accounts can be very unreliable for a variety of reasons. Newspaper reports can also be very untrustworthy
A classic example to me – because I personally ensured that many details were recorded with photography and videography – has been the article last February in the #NewYorkTimes about #MorugaHillRice. In that article the journalist or someone she dealt with, repeatedly lied through their teeth to create a story with a slant that was totally false. In fact, even historical documents, which are described as primary sources can also be false but I would not want to go into that today.
There has been a lot of debate about the birth and early history of the steelband in Trinidad and Tobago. I do not imagine that Arima is exempted from that debate. It is also very easy for people to make claims about “firsts”. So I am kindly asking persons who wish to comment upon this article to please bear in mind that when Mr. Sorzano spoke to me about first and second steelbands and so on in Arima, he was only going from his experience. Others may have other information, which they are invited to share. Let us please keep the discussion simple, factual, and respectful.
This interview with Mr. Sorzano was conducted at his barber shop on King Street in Arima in late 2006 or early 2007.
“The first steelband in Arima was called “The Rogues”. They later changed their name to the Vigilantes. They were based at Calcutta Street. A house in on the spot now, however in those days it was only bush. There were only a few houses near the junction of Eastern Main Road and Calcutta Street. The band was on the left hand side in going into Calcutta Street. The band was there when I was six to seven years old. I used to run away and go with my brother.
The man leading the band was called Gillis. He was the first tenor pan player in Arima or what they called the first pan. He lived on Calcutta Street. Other men in the band were Little Forde, my cousin “Bits” or Sonny Etheline. His mother was Etheline. I cannot remember her surname. It may have been Bovell or Boville. There was Allan. I don’t know his surname. There was Dalgo, Jetsam, Alligator Teeth, Big John and about ten others. I can’t remember all the names. I don’t think anyone alive today. The band stayed on for a while but at age eight my mother took me to Coryal and I was back and forth.
Melodians was the second band in Arima. They are still on the same spot. They started about two to three years after the Vigilantes, but I did not know them.
Then Crossfire came in Carmona building on the left hand side right on the corner after the cemetery. This band was inside the building. The house was called the “Room of Doors” because it had plenty doors. One room, every room had several doors. The owner was Carmona and he had been the captain of All Stars. All Stars was in a place called the “Garrot” up on top a building. Carmona encouraged the boys in Arima led by Lenny Marcano to start a band. That was how the band started.
Abby Carmona teached Marcano how to play the pan. I lived nearby at #6 King Street, Arima, about a quarter mile away, by the mechanic lodge down by the Anglican Church there. At that time I was eleven to twelve years old and still going to school in Coryal. Whenever I was in Arima, I started learning the pan with Crossfire. Marcano is still alive. Crossfire lasted many years.
Melotones Syncopators was a band that started in Coryal when I was eight years old. The band crashed after a while. It had been started by Perez in Talparo. Marcano still tunes pan. His children started Arima Nu-Pioneers.”
I should point out that I believe that Mr. Sorzano was born on 23rd October 1930. Maybe I am wrong, but I am not in a position at the moment to verify that. Maybe someone from Calvary can investigate that for us. But from most of my notes from him I calculate that he was born in 1930. So right away there the interview touches upon a jep nest. Because he has in fact suggested that by 1938 “The Rogues” were already in existence.
Most serious pan historians would dispute that possibility. I suspect that he made an error about his age at the time when the band started. Alas, it was only in July 2008 that I came around to typing this interview and discerning the possible discrepancy. This was unfortunately 2 months after he had passed away. Whatever the case, it is evident that steelbands in Arima have been around from the early days of the movement.
I should also point out that in the interview Mr. Sorzano repeatedly said Calmona as if the surname was spelt with an “L”, however I spelt it with an “R” because I realize that many elderly Trinidadian cocoa panyols, (especially those who speak Castillian) tend to pronounce surnames like Carmona and Marcano in such a manner.
And without a doubt, the high point of the steelband movement in Arima was in 1998 when Nutones became the National Panorama champions with an amazing arrangement by the late Clive Bradley. On page 124 of his book Renegades, The History of the Renegades Steel Orchestra of Trinidad and Tobago, author and pan historian anors incorrectly in my opinion recorded it as 1999.
At the time when Bradley was arranging for Nutones, I lived at Guanapo Street, just a stone’s throw away from Nutones’ panyard and it was pure joy listening to the band when they practised. Sometimes it seemed as if there was no noise whatsoever as the different sections focussed upon practicing their parts. I was inspired to write the following poem.
Nu-Tones, You Sweet
Every night as I make my way home
The sounds of the steel ring out
Over the bridge,
But not a bridge on Sorzano Lands.
Panorama is coming
And Bradley’s Boys and Girls
Are at it again
But these aren’t in Port of Spain
These are the boys and girls from the east
Right there on Guanapo Street.
I’m talking ‘bout Nu-Tones
Oh Lord they music sweet.
Any of the bands in town
If they don’t take the Crown
I don’t know why.
You sweeter than Wally’s snocone.
Sweeter than Rosanna’s sweetbread
And sweeter than Bhopa’s too.
There’s no way those town bands can touch you.
Nutones won indeed with their rendition of “High Mas” by David Rudder. It was an amazing victory with a band comprised mainly of school children, one of who was an eight year old relative of Mr. Sorzano.
For the uninitiated I need to emphasize that in this article and in this poem I have juxtaposed the Sorzano family name to the steelband movement to connect a number of historical dots.
The Gunapo Street area in Arima is known as “Over The Bridge” and has a very interesting social history that is tied in with what was sometimes considered as the underclass of Arima.
In fact, the term “Over The Bridge” (which refers to a bridge that was located at a ravine on Guanapo Street close to what is today Massey Stores) was up to not too long ago used to define one of the boundaries to determine who was to be considered a true Arimian or a member of the ‘gens d’Arimes’ as they were originally called by the descendants of the early French settlers in the area and subsequently by other groups.
In Port of Spain, the areas of Laventille and Gonzales, East of the East dry River are known as “Behind The Bridge”. Many of the early steelbands originated in that area. Many of the residents “Behind the Bridge” also live in an area historically known as “Susano Lands” by the elders. Those lands are in fact “Sorzano Lands” and can be seen on some of the old maps of Port of Spain where they are cited as Sorzanoville or Sorzano Lands.. In fact, many of the residents are land tenants of the descendants of the Sorzano family. Those areas were once well known for their “barrack yards”, out of which much of the Carnival culture emerged. In fact, the residents of those areas were also treated as social outcasts by the leaders of the society at that time.
In Arima the Sorzano family has deep roots. One of the earliest Spanish settlers in Arima was Don Manuel Thomas Sorzano the Contador de Real Exercito de Tejado the Contador,or Intendant of the finances under the Spanish Government of Governor Don Jose Maria Chacon. The family was settled in Arima many years before the capture of the island by the British in 1797. The first patriarch was the Corregidor of the Amerindian Mission of Arima from before the cession of the island until his death, in 1815. He himself had played a major part in the development of the Mission.
His son, Martin Sorzano was Corregidor of the Mission for seven or eight years.
Sorzano Street in Arima was one of the earliest streets to be laid out in Arima. It takes its name from the Sorzano family and extends eastward from the very heart of the town to Columbus Street, which some may consider to be the northern boundary of the area called “Over The Bridge”.
In some future posts I would say more about the Sorzano family and their contribution to the history of Arima, as well as about Mr. Sorzano himself.
I however find it very striking that Bradley won Panorama with bands from across bridges in 2 major urban centres and thought it useful to share that historical titbit.