Two years ago, celebrated pan arranger Ray Holman tried something new. He released his first solo vocal album, appropriately named First Love.
Events that have unfolded globally, since then have convinced the veteran educator and musician that the album is just the type of musical therapy needed at this time.
Holman made history as the youngest steelband arranger at age 17 in the 1961 Panorama competition, when he composed and arranged Ray’s Saga for Invaders Steel Orchestra. He made more Panorama history in 1972 with Pan On the Move which earned Starlift Steel Orchestra, third place in the competition.
In 1973, 1974 and 1977, continued with his unique steelband arrangements—Pan On the Run, Super Pan and Panyard Vibrations. A handful of arrangers eventually followed suit.
Four decades later, after Holman set that high mark for originality, there is once more concern about the lack of original local music, this time from a younger generation of musicians.
Among them is the founder and director of The LightBox TT, Mikhail Gibbings.
In a recent television interview, Gibbings said: “I’ve realised since much younger, that in Trinidad and Tobago there aren’t a lot of spaces that exist for original music.”
Holman, 77, sees his latest musical offerings which feature his vocal talent, as a timely contribution to fill the void in original local content. Although he has produced albums before, this is the first where he displays his previously unknown vocal talent.
Pan Icon Ray Holman
Produced by Tom Miller with executive producer Jim Munzenrider, Holman said First Love was intended to be a therapeutic tool.
The title track, First Love, is a homage to his first true love, the steelpan. This and the other tracks demonstrate Holman’s musical range, which arrangements are accentuated by the use of a range of instruments including the dhantal, harmonica, violin, dholak, congas and bass.
Other tracks on the album include: Pan On the Run, You So Sweet, Heroes of the Nation, The Dream, Sweet Island Memories, Pan!, It Ain’t Go Wuk, Pan Woman and Pan On the Move—the latter a message to young pan arrangers.
Holman began playing steelpan in 1957 at the age of 13 with the Invaders Steel Orchestra and at 20, he became the youngest player to win the solo Ping Pong (an early version of the tenor pan) competition in the 1964 T&T Music Festival.
However, his greatest successes as a steelband arranger were with the band Starlift, with memorable renditions such as Mas in South in 1964 and Jane four years later. He led the band to victory in Panorama 1969, with his arrangement of Kitchener’s The Bull and the band shared the 1971 title with Harmonites with Holman’s arrangement of Queen Of The Bands.
Holman has also arranged for other top steel bands, including Phase II Pan Groove, Exodus, Carib Tokyo, Hummingbirds Pan Groove, Invaders, and Pandemonium.
A graduate of Queen’s Royal College and the University of the West Indies (The UWI) Holman taught Spanish and history at Fatima College and has taught pan in many higher education institutions, in the United States. He has conducted workshops at West Virginia University and was a commissioned composer in the California State University, summer arts programme.
He will be receiving an honorary doctorate from The UWI, St Augustine this year, for his “outstanding contributions to regional and international development.”