Women of Steelpan

Meet the women of Notting Hill Carnival

By Notting Hill Carnival

Debi GardnerNotting Hill Carnival

Debi Gardner

Debi is an Executive Officer of the British Association of Steelbands (BAS) and a Director of the Notting Hill Carnival. Debi's achievements have been widely celebrated. She has received two achievement awards from BAS and was privileged when, in 2013, she was invited to attend an inaugural event honouring the UK's most influential black women.

What are the challenges of being a woman in Carnival?

"Being involved in Carnival, and particularly steel pan, has never presented any real challenges for me – although this could be because  I was raised in a single parent household and my dad always encouraged me to be independent, focused and strong willed..."

Debi GardnerNotting Hill Carnival

"...I have also been surrounded by incredible people, some of whom are involved in pan, some of whom have touched other areas of my life, but all helped shape me to become the person I am. Hopefully, I’m now doing the same for others."

Any advice for a young woman trying to get involved?

"Do it! Being involved in a steel band is like having an extended family. It’s never easy but it quickly becomes part of who you are. You make lifelong friendships, visit amazing places and will laugh (and cry) uncontrollably. I wouldn’t swap a day."

MangroveNotting Hill Carnival

"The number of women in the steel band movement globally is increasing but, like society generally, we are not in positions of influence or management. I am part of the management team at Mangrove Steelband and the Director, Matthew Phillip, trusts me to make decisions, but I know it’s not the same in every band. For the most part, women tend to be the ones who deal with t-shirt designs, catering, admin and the like."

"As a community, we need to move away from this. We can’t want social equality but be hesitant to take steps to correct those same inequalities in our own community."

Debi GardnerNotting Hill Carnival

"I have so many incredible memories of Carnival it is impossible for me to pick just one. However, the feelings they generate – pride, happiness, warmth, family bonds, community, love, strength – are consistent and always present. Playing pan also gives me a strong sense of self and of my cultural identity. As someone of mixed heritage, knowing myself and my heritage has become increasing important to me over the years."

Notting Hill Carnival (2011)Notting Hill Carnival

Name a woman who inspires you and why?

"Dr Bishop. I met her on my first trip to Trinidad. She was drilling Phase II Pan Groove (this was before they built ‘The Village’). I remember her sitting in the middle of the band, lighting a cigarette and then tapping the lighter just twice on a pan. The band immediately went quiet."

"...After practice I asked how she had done it she simply said “If they want to hear me, they will”. I haven’t always been able to carry her spirit and confidence through life, but I definitely try."

Notting Hill Carnival (2013)Notting Hill Carnival

Debra EdenNotting Hill Carnival

Debra Eden

From an early age, Eden became involved in Notting Hill Carnival as a masquerader and pan player. After travelling and teaching steelpan for 25 years - her focus now is the evolution of carnival arts.

Any advice for a young woman trying to get involved?

"Believe in the spirit of Carnival! To succeed in this role, respect for all arenas is key. Understand the history of carnival so you can really enjoy the experience. If others are to enjoy it under your leadership, you need to be equipped with knowledge."

What's your favourite memory of Carnival?

"My favourite memory has to be winning my 1st junior queen competition in 1979. Once a year, children gathered to ‘portray a mas’. Each costume had a title, a story and you had to tell it."

Debra EdenNotting Hill Carnival

Siobhan MitchellNotting Hill Carnival

Siobhan Mitchell

A multi talented musician, playing piano, flute and most importantly the steelpan. As a current member of the Ebony steelband and upcoming soloist, Mitchell believes that it is important to inspire the next generation of steelpan players.

What are the challenges of being a woman in Carnival?

"There are quite a few. Firstly, being overlooked by male counterparts and having to work twice as hard to be recognised and valued as a woman."

"Secondly, not being respected or taken seriously when it comes to bringing forth new ideas either within the pan community or as an individual."

"Thirdly, not having the confidence to take lead on projects especially in the pan world."

What are the challenges of being a woman in Carnival?

"Finally, female masqueraders being seen as sexual objects rather than a work of art when wearing costumes on the road."

Siobhan MitchellNotting Hill Carnival

Any advice to the upcoming young women in your field?

"I’d say do what your heart desires, believe in yourself, network and always remain open minded. Talk to individuals who have the expertise in the field, have a vision and most importantly do not give up."

Siobhan MitchellNotting Hill Carnival

Name a woman who inspires you and why?

"Oprah Winfrey. I'm inspired by her trials and tribulations that she has conquered throughout her lifetime in order to be the woman she is today. One thing that I have learned from her is that no matter where you come from there is no success without struggle."

Winfrey, OprahLIFE Photo Collection

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