Jit Samaroo (1950-2016) lived in the valleys but has scaled the heights of steelband music and competition to write his name into the history books as the most successful arranger in the 50-year history of the Panorama competition.
Jit Samaroo was born in Lopinot Valley in east Trinidad, miles from the steelband milieu of Port of Spain. In Lopinot Village, the music came from his mother’s dholak drum and from parang groups around him. At age 10 he played pan briefly with the transient pan-round-the-neck group Village Boys. He was just 11 when his mother died, leaving him and his siblings to look after each other. Jit found the solution in music. With two sisters, two brothers and himself, he started a family combo side, playing parang at first. At age 15, he had a life-changing encounter with Landig White, the musical director of the Lever Brothers Canboulay Steelband in Tunapuna. He joined the band, quickly mastering all the instruments while trying his hand at arranging for the band. The family band got into the act when he took home some discarded pans and taught them to play. After its debut at UWI in 1967, the Samaroo Kids Steel Orchestra became the perfect showcase for Jit Samaroo’s talents, prompting the Pan world to take notice.
In 1971, Bertrand “Butch” Kelman, tuner for both the Samaroo Kids and Renegades Steelband, introduced Jit Samaroo to Renegades, launching one of the most fertile Pan partnerships of all time. Together they have won the national Panorama competition a record nine times, including a historic hat-trick in 1995, 1996 and 1997. In 1984, they romped home with an astounding victory margin of 17.5 points.
Jit Samaroo has also been a prolific composer whose work captures the cross-cultural influences of his life. In 1997 and 1999, the family band, by then known as the Samaroo Jets, put on two full-length concerts consisting solely of his work. In 2007, Jit Samaroo retired from Renegades, having sealed his reputation as one of the most successful, accurate, clinical arrangers ever. On the basis of his body of work, the University of the West Indies awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2003. Earlier, in 1995, he was awarded the Chaconia Medal (Silver).