Ramajay is a folk word that originates from Trinidad and Tobago. The term is used loosely meaning to let go and break away.
Pan Ramajay is an annual steelpan competition founded in 1989 by members of the Exodus Steel Orchestra who wanted to create a competition outside of Panorama and the Steelpan Music Festival. This alternative competition would allow small ensembles of up to 10 members to show their talent in the art of improvisation coupled with their virtuoso performance on the pans.
Unlike the traditional larger competitions, Ramajay does not focus on the arranger, the tuner or the aura of the steelband as quite often many of the pannists do not get the opportunity to play to their full potential. Ramajay sets a platform for individual members to explore their instrument and display their musicianship within their ensemble by ‘letting go and breaking away’.
The first competition was won jointly by Fernandes Vat19 Fonclaire and the Samaroo jets. Each band played a calypso and a tune of choice, and the music played had to be jazz orientated based on a calypso rhythm.
In 1993 the soloist competition was introduced to Pan Ramajay. As soloists they are accompanied by an in-house band and take centre stage to display their skills. The winner of the first soloist competition was Dennis ‘Smithy’ Smith from Saint Madeline Village, South Trinidad.
In 1994 Natasha Joseph became the first female to enter the competition, playing the double tenor, and was placed as runner up.
Ramajay has been an ongoing pursuit since the steelpan’s inception. Pan Ramajay has evolved into a prestigious competition which has been the foundation for some of Trinidad’s top arrangers. Many variations of Ramajay have been adopted around the world.