Debra Ann Romain – Trials of a Woman
Debra “Pandiva” Romain is a UK steelpan arranger, soloist and tutor. She was born in Notting Hill, London of Jamaican and Trinidadian parentage. Debra began to play steelpan with Ebony Steel Band (now Ebony Steel Orchestra) at the tender age of nine. Along with playing the steelpan Debra was also learning to play various orchestral instruments and also aspiried to develop her vocal abilities as a singer. Much to her credit she received a scholarship from the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) for music tuition up to the age of 16.
At age 13 Debra left Ebony to join Stardust Steel Band to develop her steelpan skills. However, she left Startdust four years later, ironically to rejoin Ebony. This move gave her the opportunity to gain a totally new leap of experience travelling and performing throughout Europe. This was partly due to Ebony dominating the British steelpan scene throughout the 1990’s. Her time with Ebony had sown the seed for her desire to be an arranger for steelpans. She was now ready to continue on her steelpan journey.
In 1992, Debra’s teaching career began at Burlington Danes Secondary School where she once attended as a pupil. It was not long before her quest for pan was much greater because of her continued success.
In 1994 she took a leap of faith and decided to form her own band; New Creation Steel Band. This steelband was a feeder band for the Burlington Danes School steelband. That same year, she re-wrote the UK steelpan history by becoming the first British female bandleader /arranger to take a band to the National Junior Panorama competition. Unsatisfied with the result of that competition, Debra entered the band into the Notting Hill Panorama Champions of Steel competition. Steelbands entering this competition would normally benefit from sponsorship. However Debra’s steelband was undeterred by only having the support of family and friends.
In 1996 Debra began to teach pan at Colville School stepping into the footsteps of the late, great Philmore Davidson.
In 1999 Debra became a member of the Mangrove steelband. Impressed with her awareness of steelpans Debra became a resident tutor and arranger at the Tabernacle, Powis Square, London (now Carnival Village) for the Mangrove Steel Band’s education programme. Mangrove Junior Steel Band won Junior Panorama titles in 2000, 2002-05 under Debra’s leadership. In 2006 they were runners up in the British Association of Steelbands’ Pan Explosion Competition. During this time the steelband performed on television in documentaries for the BBC, ITV and Disney Channel and performed for The Dioceses of Trinidad and Tobago.
Debra’s “on off” relationship with Ebony and Stardust resurfaced in 2008 when she became the arranger for Stardust. True to her form she entered Stardust into the Champions of Steel competition, as the only female arranger. In addition to arranging for Stardust and Mangrove, Debra is tutor for the Cambridge University Steel Pan Society, Twyford School Steel Orchestra (Tune In), Glissando Steel Orchestra and the all female Ladies of Steel steelband.
Debra showcases her talents around the world as a main and supporting artist. One of her resounding successes is playing at the Tabernacle for the Caribbean Dinner Jazz evening. This is an event that has seen many great pan players from England and abroad, including Andy Narell who is also an arranger and composer.
Since 2007 she has taken part in Trinidad and Tobago’s National Panorama Competition as a member of Phase II Pan Groove Steel Band. This can be considered to be some mean feat as this steelband is led by the iconic Lennox Sharpe.
The British Association of Steelbands has also enlisted Debra as a judge for many of their steelpan competitions. In 2011 Debra’s co-written song 'Trials of a Pan Woman' won the UK calypso monarch title. In addition to penning the lyrics, Debra played the steelpan for the accompanying music.
What’s next for Debra?
Debra takes grace from being known as the 'Pandiva'. The name comes from her love of both classical and steelpan music. As an operatic soloist Debra has sung many arias and studied the art of composition, which has given her a ‘diva’ attitude. As a pannist Debra is known for always seeking perfection and looking for new ways to promote the steelpan instrument.
Taking pan to a new level for Debra has been in the format of helping students of all ages who wish to develop their pan playing skills. The lucky students will gain from her wealth of experience by getting her support in writing their own compositions for GCSE & A-Level music.
Today, Debra is living ‘The Trials of a Panwoman’: searching for equality in a male dominated arena.