Tribute to a master pan-man and musician
In Trinidad and Tobago the entire nation is joining the steelband fraternity in mourning the passing of Dr. Jit Samaroo, one of the greatest panmen in the country’s history.
He died at his home in east T&T following a ten-year struggle with Alzheimer’s and a series of complications that accompanied the disease. He was 66-years-old.
In his 48 years as an arranger and composer, Samaroo attained the highest level of success with the steelpan in Trinidad and Tobago and around the world.
For decades, starting in the early 1980s, he was a dominating figure for the Panorama competitions, which pit steelbands from across T&T against each other, playing intricately arranged calypso compositions.
With the Renegades Steel Orchestra that originated in the hardscrabble neighborhood of northeastern Port of Spain, Samaroo won the competition on nine occasions, a feat that is yet to be duplicated.
Born and raised in Lopinot, a little village tucked in the eastern end of the Northern Range Mountains, Samaroo’s early childhood was steeped in music: parang from his many Spanish neighbors and East Indian music from his parents. His mother played the doula, an instrument that originated in India.
His early exposure to pan led him to the Camboulay Steel Orchestra in Tunapuna where he played alongside some of the best panmen in Trinidad and under one of the nation’s best arrangers, Lundig White.
It wasn’t long before he established himself as a credible arranger, first with his family band The Samaroo Kids, which evolved into the Samaroo Jets, and then with other bands.
He joined Renegades in 1971 and placed himself firmly on the national steelband podium. With a formula that excited pan enthusiasts, Samaroo’s signature frontline arrangements and his bouncy musical style led the band to nine Panorama wins becoming the most successful steelband arranger.
In 1984 he set himself apart from all other arrangers when Renegades scored 476 out of a possible 500 in the competition, winning by 17.5 points, the widest margin ever.
Samaroo was also outstanding as a player. His skills on the tenor pan or soprano was second-to-none winning the steelpan soloists competition of the National Steelband Festival in 1972.
As an East Indian arranger, Samaroo was a rarity in the steelband arena, but he stood tall and was revered by his charges and by every player who knew him.
In recognition of his outstanding contribution to Trinidad and Tobago, he was awarded two of the country’s highest commendations: the National Hummingbird Medal of Merit in 1987, and the Chaconia Medal in 1995.
Accolades aside, as a friend Jit was kind to a fault and blessed with the true, true Trini talent to enjoy a good lime and talk nonsense, endlessly.
Go Brave brethren.