SANDRA L BLOOD
“Music has the power to bring people together, and steelpan is no exception. It’s a tale of resilience, innovation, and a symphony of life.” (Akua Leith)
The name Akua Leith subtly sprung to fame when he defied all odds that confronted him during his childhood. “I saw it all, but told myself, no matter how dark my surroundings are, I must be a light,” he recalled.
With a burning desire to make, not only his parents proud, but his community and school, Leith made a valiant decision to be a beacon for his complexion, his hair, the male youth, school children, and for anyone who thought life is too hard, thought there isn’t a light, or thought they couldn’t be a light, or even reach a light. He said it was hard as he felt as though he was against an entire community or vice-versa.
He defeated every injurious temptation, stigma/ profiling of the ‘rasta’, learned, grew ‘up’, and absorbed Martin Luther King Jr’s statement: “I have a dream.”
“I began playing pan in 1994 as an escape; it was exciting! I made pans, composed, arranged, benefitted a lot of communities through pan.”
Akua became a pannist of the National Steel Symphony Orchestra (NSSO) for a few years, succeeded at UWI’s Bachelor of Arts Degree in Musical Arts and NIU’s Masters of Music in Conducting with emphasis on Steelpan Performance, is a Fullbright Fellow, was a musical director of the NSSO for six years (2018 - 2022); was a UTT tutor.
“I was exposed to pan from performance to manufacturing, and once you interact with the instrument and the steelpan jumbie bites you, it’s all over, but then, you wonder what’s next.”
Akua said apart from touching shores he may have never been otherwise able to touch without pan, one of the most beautiful and exciting experiences he cherishes that emerged from under his NSSO baton, is the historic version of the orchestra’s T&T anthem approved by the president of the International Olympics Association year before (2021).
Consequently, for the very first time the T&T-pan-version anthem was played for the medal ceremony at a world Games was last year (2022) – the 2008 upgraded men’s Olympics 4x100m relay presentation at the IOC headquarters in Louisanne, and this year at Carifta Games and the Commonwealth Youth Games.
Akua thanked the former president of the TTOC, Brian Lewis, for his initiative.
Big, sweet dream:
Akua said he continuously dreamt of having a pan factory, but one with a huge difference – to spread pan to the widest points of the world, teach and educate anyone on how it’s made, its history and its development. One that brings the greatest and sweetest meaning; significance to the instrument and artform.
“In 2018 I began penning information on an ecosystem around the steelpan industry, and on a particular day about 4:30 a.m., something happened which I viewed as a spiritual encounter – something that was perhaps channeled from what I was writing. I was very protective of the idea until I felt I could have collaborated with a reputable team that shared the same vision and values as I did.”
The dream team:
“I then identified Mario Joseph, David Hackett, and Hadad brothers Robert, Joseph and John, who have been long-time supporters of steelpan, and together, they created a dynamic team to my vision.”
The Hadad brothers of their self-owned business, HADCO, said there was a time when they knew nothing of pan more than enjoying the music, but they learned, and as angel investors, they firmly believe in encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship and any new ventures with potential for viable growth.
Akua explained that the unique blend of pan artisans and successful entrepreneurs embarked upon a mission to build a brand committed to good governance and the distinguished business of steelpan, with the belief in collaborating to compete and entering the joint venture with a genuine desire to promote the instrument globally.
A dream came true; a child was born:
Four years after the dream was revealed, on August 11, 2022, a child was born – Musical Instruments of Trinidad and Tobago Company Ltd (MITTCO); a dream came true that gladdened Akua’s heart, he said. “We will be the best music makers.”
Akua underscored that T&T is the home of the steelpan, and without a doubt, the nation has the best artisan steelpan craftsmen worldwide, and the time came to establish a world class company with far-flung international reach.
“MITTCO aims to keep the authenticity of steelpan manufacturing – the real magic – alive; where it belongs, in its country of origin, T&T.”