UCCI students take Toronto pan festival by storm

UCCI Pandemix provided a command performance at Toronto's police headquarters earlier this month. - Photos: Submitted

Earl La Pierre’s musical odyssey continues to expand his legacy in Cayman, Canada and beyond.

La Pierre brought his UCCI Pandemix band to Toronto for the 10th consecutive year earlier this summer, and they placed first in the Non-Calypso category of the Pan Alive competition. UCCI Pandemix played in conjunction with Afropan, La Pierre’s band that he formed in Toronto decades ago.

The competition took place on 2 Aug., and the group of 16 students and five former UCCI students spent two weeks in Toronto working on their music and soaking up the atmosphere.

“I’m really proud of the group. What I can say about that is, steel pan is in good hands in the Cayman Islands,” said La Pierre. “All the kids that went with me, they really did put on a good show.”

UCCI Pandemix and Afropan performed ‘Phantom of the Opera’ to win the Non-Calypso category, and their performance of ‘Savannah Grass’ earned a second place in the Calypso grouping.

Eight other bands were competing with UCCI Pandemix and Afropan for top honours.
“It was about half and half,” said La Pierre of the students who had made the trip before. “Half were seniors who had gone before, and half were juniors who were going for the first time.

“And it’s going to get bigger next year. Some of the other kids in other schools want to go too.”

La Pierre said that some of the bands competing in the competition had as many as 80 members. The UCCI Pandemix and Afropan combined band was more like 66 people, he said. UCCI Pandemix and Afropan also played a for the general public during Toronto’s Caribana parade on 3 Aug.

Earl La Pierre, right, shakes hands with a representative of the Toronto Police Service.

“We’re always in the top three,” said La Pierre of winning the competition. “I enjoy this because I’m always having the youth around me to compete. The youths can go to Canada a lot easier than Trinidad. In Trinidad, you have to book at least a year in advance to get accommodations for Carnival.”

Before the competition, UCCI Pandemix performed a lunchtime concert at the Toronto Police Headquarters for the Toronto Police Services Board and the Toronto Police Service. That concert marked the first time UCCI Pandemix has performed at an international venue as the sole entertainer.

The various students helped fund the trip by playing at various supermarkets and dedicating all proceeds from performing in the academic year towards the trip. UCCI provided a final financial push to make sure that the students would be able to go on their trip to Canada for Pan Alive.

“The types of experiential learning that they are encountering are life-changing and exactly what we hope each student at UCCI will experience,” said UCCI President Stacey McAfee. “The lessons about raising money to support a worthwhile cause and create the opportunities in your own life are also character building and essential skills.”

“The kids go by the grocery stores on a Saturday morning with a couple steel drums and a sponsor sheet,” addedd La Pierre. “They look for donations and that’s how they make most of the money.”

La Pierre said that Afropan is “his baby” and that it’s the “father of all the steel bands”. But while he lives in Cayman, his son runs Afropan in his absence. This year, it was especially noteworthy for La Pierre because he didn’t just have his two bands, he had former students flying in from far away.

“This year, I had students coming from England that used to go to UCCI,” he said. “They end up in Toronto every summer coming from England to join us in Afropan.”