The Pan We Play

I have listened to pan enthusiasts all over, since Panorama’s inception, and the theme seems to be the same –
“we should ah’ win boy, but dey’ thief we!”,
“de’ judges was bias’!” and
“dey’ favour x, daiz’ why dey’ win!”

These arguments have been going on since the birth of Panorama in 1963, and in this year 2015, it was no different. Steel band men and women, continue to chase down shadows and ghosts every year Panorama comes around.

It is unfortunate that steel bands like Invaders, All Stars, Desperados, Renegades or even Tokyo, bands that have been around for so long, fail to see the damage that Panorama is doing to the artist, as well as the art form! True, the competition brings a sense of joy, happiness and heightened excitement to both members and followers, but it, at the same time, stymies their capacity to a greater vision and meaning for all Trinidad and Tobago, and by extension the wider Caribbean.

Steel bands spend nights and days, practicing a Panorama tune, the very evil that is responsible for keeping them where they are for so many years without any further progress, since the development of steel pan from the biscuit tin to a twentieth century gem. The music has been hailed as the twentieth century musical find, which puts us in the category of true musicians.

As a people coming out of slavery, indentureship and colonialism, we can boast of one thing we did not borrow or rent, and that is the steel pan. Everything else we either borrowed or rented. We have no claim to anything except the steel pan. Nowhere in the literature can be seen a statement coming out of the Caribbean, that belongs to us. We are mortally afraid to reinvent the wheel.

Heather McIntosh, in the Calypso Monarch Competition of 2014, in her calypso rendition, described how we in the Caribbean viewed things made in the Caribbean. She said, once the product did not come from outside the Caribbean, whatever we made could not be good. And that is the disrespect she believes we have for our own. Heather McIntosh, by my judgment should have been made Calypso Monarch that year. It was the most significant and important statement, in the history of Calypso. No other statement made, was as significant, or came as near in meaning, as it relates to an independent and free people.

We fail to understand that we are neither Africans, Indians, Syrians, Jews nor Gentiles. For that matter, we are nothing more than Trinidadians and Tobagonians, with the same history and the same culture. The only difference is somewhat in the religious aspect of life and even that makes little difference. In any case, few Trinidadians care anything about religion!

It was Dr. Eric Williams, the first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who reminded us that there was no mother Africa, no mother India, no mother Syria, no mother China, only mother Trinidad and Tobago. There is no doubt that colonialism has taken a toll on the senses of our people and our scholars and has left not a single thread of the ability to think for ourselves.

It took the unschooled and unlettered to avoid the trappings of colonialism and control, and to pull us out of the tangled web we found ourselves in, which led to the creation of the steel pan. And yet we failed to give the respect that is due to the steel band man who has been pointing the way to true independence and freedom of the individual since in the 1930s.

In the Newsday of February 23rd 2015, souvenir postage stamps bearing the images of President Anthony Carmona, Pope Francis and a steel pan between them were released last year March 2014 in Ghana. Does this not tell us something about ourselves, and the respect and homage paid to the steel pan by the outside world? Still we feel that steel pan deserves nothing more than scraps of dollars or a million here and a million there for the Panorama winner.

And that is why Smooth, Boogsie and the others must understand that Panorama is a device that stunts their thinking and that makes them prisoners of their own competition and enjoyment of winning year after year. The truth is , Panorama does nothing to the artist, neither the art form. And if not careful their children are likely to grow up doing the same foolishness as their predecessors, with the same quarrel of “who play better dan’ who”.

The government this year, weeks before the carnival, launched a programme in Starlift pan yard, where they agreed to put a model of the Lloyd Best “Pan in School”, in every steel band’s yard, in Trinidad and Tobago. Highlanders Steel Orchestra understands the model, as they have made it an addendum to their by-laws in 2013. And that is why I feel strongly that the efforts of the government to use the model in pan yards will do a tremendous lot to the artist and the art form. Without a doubt, both player and steel band will benefit from such a move.

The model seeks to challenge the schooling system that has been passing here for education. The model is more aligned to a system that sees education as the internal working of a society – that form of activity that creates living and social mobility for the citizens. The model is an effort to create a new world order in industry and commerce that is going to bring tremendous gain and success, not only to the artist, but also to the communities at large. The model speaks of a number of activities going on in the pan yard and to borrow a line from the model, in other words, we are looking at steel band yards in which industry and business, schooling and training are going to be taking place.

Since the government is going to make the model available to all steel bands, there is no need for me to spell it out in its entirety. To say that, what is important in all this, is that we are talking about millions and millions of dollars to see this thing through. Clearly, what we are looking at is a new society in which business is going to be conducted and seen in a different light from what now obtains. What is fundamental is that the steel band will be leading that thrust – the new society for which our graduates fail to bring about. Even with all the PhDs and Masters coming out of the system, we still fail to do what is necessary to make Trinidad and Tobago the place it should be.

The president of PanTrinbago Mr. Keith Diaz, some one or two years ago, thought about pan as in instrument in the cure of youth violence in Trinidad and Tobago. President Diaz could not be more correct, since the model designed by Lloyd Best, took into account that social problem, which is a growing and dangerous menace to our society.

Mr. Mendez, chairman of the northern region on the other hand, had grave concerns that the organization will not be able to stage Panorama in the future, as funding was becoming more and more scarce. The programme that the government has in mind is a multimillion dollar one, and I see no reason why some of that funding cannot spill over into Panorama.

The government is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in jobs that are unproductive and that are of no serious benefit to the individual or the society. These monies can be better spent in the pan yards, since the gains will be of financial benefit to the country and its citizens. The workers who would be displaced by this exercise would now be drafted in a reconstituted local government system that would provide them with security and sustainable jobs.

As far as PanTrinbago is concerned, I see no reason why the programme cannot generate a level of income that can put the organization in a financial position of some worth. I feel satisfied that the preliminaries, semifinals and the finals of Panorama, if properly and professionally handled, can be sold as an export product in generating millions of dollars in foreign exchange for the organization. The whole point of the Lloyd Best model is that while initially the government will be pumping millions of dollars into the pan yard, after a while the steel bands as businesses and as part of the onshore economy will be able to generate their own funding by the many activities they would be involved in. Some may even have subsidiaries depending on management skills.

In the final analysis Panorama will not go away. It creates fusion but it will not be able to destroy the initiatives of steel bands it the way it does now. PanTrinbago will be able to breathe easier, with more time to change their model which is viewed by many as a state of confusion.

Hamlet Joseph
Success Village Laventille

Highlanders Steel Orchestra