By Shermain Bique-Charles
Steel band legend Victor ‘Babu’ Samuel will receive an official funeral, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Lionel Hurst has confirmed.
The decision was taken yesterday in Cabinet, just hours after former prime minister Baldwin Spencer – who has long been a part of the Halcyon Steel Band’s management – suggested that an official funeral would be a fitting sendoff for the accomplished musician.
Babu, as he was affectionately known, made a significant contribution to the steel pan scene in Antigua and Barbuda and was also a well-known and respected pannist in Trinidad and Tobago and further afield. He died on Tuesday after ailing for some time.
“He is recognised, not only in Antigua and Barbuda but throughout the world, as one of the leading pannists in the world and a great articulator of what the steel band music is all about.
“We have lost a Colossus and whatever we need to do to ensure we give him a great sendoff, we need to do it,” Spencer told Observer.
The former prime minister added that Samuel’s work should also be recognised due to his influence and involvement in the artform being second to none.
“He was involved at all levels. Babu must be seen as one who would have contributed immensely to the promotion and development of our art form,” Spencer added.
Meanwhile, the country’s police force became the latest to pay tribute yesterday to Samuel, who is credited with introducing the quintessential Caribbean instrument into the force’s marching band.
“And to date, it still remains one of the most highlighted features,” a statement said. “Prior to becoming a member, Babu could be seen with band members travelling on occasions to places like Montserrat, Trinidad and elsewhere in the region, while providing valuable support.
“He assisted in composing several pieces of music and was the first to introduce calypso music on the pan, which has helped to enhance the musical ability of the band.
“He brought a series of new beats and rhythms that are now used on marches and also placed a strong presence of musical culture on parades that can still be heard today,” the statement added.
Samuel was sworn in to the force as a special constable in 2009 and later became a member of the police band. Shortly after, he was elevated to the rank of sergeant and became the band’s assistant conductor and coach.
He was also the founding member of Law Enforcement Steel, the police iron band that currently holds the title of the reigning National Iron Band Champions.
Police Commissioner Atlee Rodney said, “I am thankful for his insights in bringing the steel pan into our police band. It is an addition that will remain in the band for years to come.
“His playing of the pan and his teaching and encouragement was very much appreciated by band members and the entire police force,” he added.
Rodney also spoke of the ceremony held in Samuel’s honour earlier this year and said he was happy that the force had the opportunity to recognise his contributions.
In March, Samuel was presented with a platinum award for outstanding contributions toward the development of the police band.