Dance again Mr. Bojangles
Written by Simeon L. Sandiford
Thursday, 21 July 2011 21:44


“I knew a man Bojangles and he’d dance for you in worn out shoes. With silver hair, a ragged shirt and baggy pants, he would do the old soft shoe. He would jump so high, jump so high, then he lightly touch down. He told me of the time he worked with minstrel shows traveling through the south”. These lyrics form the first few verses of that famous song Mr. Bojangles, written by Robbie Williams and epitomized by the late, great Sammy Davis Junior; although many, including me, prefer Nina Simone’s version.

The question is not whether Bojangles danced in these shoes because he was poor or whether he liked them for the comfort they provided, or whether he wore them out because he danced so much. Whatever the issue, one thing is clear, Bojangles just loved to dance. “I dance now at every chance in the Honky Tonks for my drinks and tips. But most the time I spend behind these country bars. You see on I drinks a bit”.

It is not difficult to establish a link between Bojangles and his local counterparts the Fancy Sailor and Fireman, traditional Carnival characters. The piano may be replaced by the Steelpan, the Honky Tonks by the streets of Port of Spain. The obvious common factors that remain are revelry and dancing. But what has become of these characters?

One of my theories is that they have fallen victim to the fact that Panorama music is no longer sweet. Over the years it has gradually become more and more technical. The spirit of Carnival has been usurped by a fetish created from the obsession of bands wanting to win the competition at all cost. Piracy has had a deleterious effect on the quality of our repertoire. Additionally, the steelband fraternity has not yet fully recovered from the loss of Lord Kitchener. We all recall how his melodies made an invaluable contribution to the longevity of the Steelpan arrangements of yesteryear. Finally, electronic music has almost completely replaced steelband music in fetes and on de road for Carnival.

Consequently, the Fancy Sailor, Fireman and other veterans of masquerade have all taken off their shoes and vanished into the wilderness. The majority have retired to frequent bars and night clubs throughout the country. They postulate that modern audiences seem to prefer listening to sophisticated Panorama arrangements played at breakneck speed, rather than chipping to good music while enjoying the subtle nuances of Carnival. They claim that today’s arrangers do not understand or appreciate the concept of intertransient silence - the space between musical notes that maestros Ray Holman and the late Clive Bradley learned to exploit fully, using it with such great effect in their work.

Consider my ‘Seven Wonders of Panorama’, namely Dan is the Man by Pan Am North Stars, Rebecca by Desperadoes, Woman on the Bass by All Stars, My Band by Tokyo, Pan in A Minor by Renegades, Du Du Yemi by Starlift and Birthday Party by Phase11. I would bet top dollar that any steelband aficionado can spontaneously hum and tap the feet to at least four of these arrangements. Add Penny Lane and Mr. Bojangles by Starlift and you have the ultimate collection of pan music for dancing. Who can remember a few bars of any of the Panorama arrangements of the past ten years?

The song continues “Then he shook his head. Oh Lord he shook his head. I could swear I heard someone say please. Mr. Bojangles, call him Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, come back and dance please. Come back and dance again Mr. Bojangles”.

Definitely food for thought!

Simeon L. Sandiford
04 October, 2007