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March 28, 2012 - Volume 1, No. 15

Pan: The hunt is on Mr. Director, run the clip

Last year, I decided not to say one word about Panorama because, let’s face it, Pantrinbago believe that they are doing their maximum. After all my observations and analyses throughout the years, I believe that they have reached their peak. The future of pan today lies in the international arena where panists, arrangers, tuners and steelbands are trying new innovations. But, Trinbago will always have Panorama. Sometimes, Pantrinbago will tweak the Panorama here and - like charging $60.00 to be on the drag a few years ago and allowing the North stand crowd to go wild interrupting steelbands during Panorama. Apart from those innovations, they have not produced any real grand ideas to improve the steelband movement and the national festival.

Take the Grand Stand for example. I have been trying to get the stakeholders to remodel it so that it will accommodate the national steelband panorama festival in a more fitting manner. At the moment, the building is not a fit place to hold the nation’s premier steelband festival and should be remodeled. For example, there are too many steel beams in the grandstand. If you don’t have a front seat or sitting close to the stage it is difficult to see the bands as you sit higher in the stands. If you want to take a picture of a band you have to go up front because the steel beams will block you. The national instrument needs a building that takes into consideration the viewing and seating arrangements of panjumbies who pay top dollar to see the national festival. Panorama tickets costs a lot ($300.00TT) but no seat is guaranteed. It is general admission, which is first come first seated. Pantrinbago should number the seats so that after standing on the long lines (See my carnival pictures in the GALLERY), you will be able to save your seat because your ticket will be numbered to your seat. We pass that stage when people had to argue or fight for their seat at Panorama. Some say that we should just be thankful that there is a Panorama.

Anyhow, this year I decided to say something since I am dedicating this article to the memory of two steelband pioneers: Kelvin Hart and Junior Pouchet. Kelvin died a few months ago in Florida where he lived. It is alleged that he fell from his battle with cancer. Kelvin was a member of the now defunct City Syncopators Steel Orchestra from behind the bridge. He was also the band’s music festival soloist in the 1950s. As soloist, he won the first prize in the steelband music festival by playing the unforgettable “Stardust.” He was also a tuner for the band in the sixties when it was situated behind Morgan’s Club at Fromager Street in East Dry River. A good friend once said to me that wherever Kelvin lived he formed a steelband. Years ago when he lived in Jamaica, he formed a steelband. He also had one in Florida when he moved there. His deceased brother Kenny was the captain of City Syncopators in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The last time I saw Kelvin was in the 1980s at Prospect Park in Brooklyn at the last-lap steelband jump-up.

Junior Pouchet died on or about March 22, 2012. It is alleged that he too was ailing from cancer. Junior was one of the founders of Silver Stars Steel Orchestra. He was also the band’s arranger and leader for many years. While he was at the helm of the band, it was known for its sweet bombs and heavy bass chords on Jouvert morning with tunes like “You Made Me Love You” and “Put on a Happy Face.” In the 1960s, the band was also the Carnival resident steelband at Breton Hall Hotel for its Carnival fetes where most of the local whites, Syrians, Chinese and a few of the African middle classes and elite feted. I used to party with them on Carnival Sunday night, but would leave early in the morning to look for my band (City Syncopators) on the road. In 1963, Silver Stars became the only steelband to win the band of the year title for Carnival with “Gulliver’s Travels.” In those days the band was seen as a majority white and Chinese band. My, my how things have changed. Kelvin and Junior are real steelband pioneers.

Mr. Director, run the clip back to Panorama. I missed the semi-finals this year because Pantrinbago still refused to put up an early enough Panorama schedule (some of the mas bands already put up theirs) on their pan site. As a result, I figured it out (I think it is 2 weeks before the finals). Anyway, I missed it by two days. I was unwilling to pay the extra $250.00 plane fare to make I, like I did the year before. However, I was able to catch it on the internet. In my opinion, the semi-finals gives panjumbies a better look at the bands’ music as they prepare to enter the finals. They play the tunes slower, so panjumbies can deconstruct the tune much better. Pantrinbago should start recording the semi-finals on DVD so that more steelbands would get exposure. Panjumbies miss a lot of good music at the semis from steelbands who don’t make the cut for the finals. I believe that it is time for Pantrinbago to put on their pan site the complete list of finalist steelbands with their tunes and arrangers so that panjumbies can have the total list of the bands that appeared at the finals. Too often, the other finalist bands are forgotten. Presently, Pantrinbago only lists on their pan-site the winner and two other bands.

Anyway, I caught the finals at the Queen’s Park Savannah. Most of the steelbands’ music didn’t impress me this year. As a matter of fact, for the last few years I have not been impressed with the Panorama music. For some reason, the mics don’t pick up the background music from the bass, cellos and double seconds. The focus is on the front line instruments, the tenors. Should the bands try arranging their instruments differently? But, I liked Boogsie’s composition but felt that his Jouvert rendition of the tune was better than the Panorama version. As I listened to Phase 2 on Victoria Square I wondered if there was anything else Boogsie missed in the tune. It was real cool. Arrangements for so! Although All Stars won the Panorama, I was not too thrilled with their arrangement -except the last few minutes of the tune. But, it was good for the judges. For those who think I don’t like the band, I grew up in All Stars when they were on Charlotte Street at the Garrot. To date, the band has won over $4 million in the Panorama. Some people are wondering what the band is doing with their winnings (have you seen their panyard lately?) It is time for them to improve their panyard. Silver Stars has to slow down. Their conductor has to reduce some of his theatrics which might have been good two years ago. But, now he has to focus on conducting and the band has to focus on playing.

Renegades improved from last year. But, they still have that botay sound from Jit Samaroo days. All said and done, I like the way they are evolving and I expect their new arranger Duvone Stewart to find his own identity soon. They should stay with him. I was happy to see Harmonites back in the large band category and at the finals. This band won four panoramas in the 60s under the arrangements of Earl Rodney. They settled their disagreement with Panknights, who spilt years ago, and now they are one. I give much kudos to their manager Owen Serrette for bringing them back together again. Their arrangement was smooth but light. But, they are improving. I was disappointed with Exodus. Somehow the arranger Pelham Goddard seems to be missing it more and more every year. Is it the choice of tune or fatigue? I liked Deltones arranger’s music Carlton Alexander but for some reason the band members are having internal problems, which show in their playing and their execution of the music. I liked Invaders, but they needed more bass chords and background music. So far, they are the only band from the 1940s which is still around that have not won a Panorama or music festival competition. Someday they will win a Panorama. Their arranger, Arddin Herbert is a good mix, but he has to get away from Boogsie. The others bands needed more players and better instruments.

Oh, Desperadoes! Something is amiss with the band from the Hill. This was one of their worst years in the Panorama, as they failed to make the finals. Since Master Clive Bradley passed on to his ancestors , the band has been searching for a new direction. After Master Bradley’s passing, they tried Eddie Quarless, Beverly Griffith and Robbie Greenidge. Robbie and Beverly are successes since they won Panoramas or got them into the finals. But, today’s Panorama is a different kittle of fish. The music is not always suited for pan, so most arrangers (unless they compose their own tune) have to make do with what they are getting, which is soca music. I like Andre White‘s arranging skills, but he may need a little help from Robbie Greenidge. After all, this is not a Brooklyn steelband. Maybe winning Panorama in Brooklyn and Noting Hill still does not qualify an arranger for the big yard. But, Despers should keep him because he is a work in progress. It is alleged that the band is having some internal problems between the Elders and the young panists. And yes, the question about the band’s presence or absence from the Hill for Carnival is making the panyard rounds. After the Panorama, a good friend of mine explained Despers dilemma in this way. He related that that many years ago, he was in Despers’ band and felt a little scared. He was told that he was “in the government band and nothing will happen to him.” A few years later, he was in the band and was told to “be careful.” Recently, he asked a band member why the band was not practicing on the Hill for Carnival. He was told that the band cannot control the Hill anymore, so moving was not an option. A few years ago everyone on the Hill would tell you: “Desperadoes and Laventille is ONE.” Today, that is no longer true. Sadly, the bad boys ran them from the Hill. Will the band decide whether to relocate permanently? I have to catch the semis so that I can hear them play. I wish the band well.

For me, the Kiddies’ Carnival is the real mas. This year the costumes were marvelous and they still using wire. The large bands were more of the same. McFarlane tried, but it is still Minshall continued. All Stars was big as usual for their Tuesday Sailor Mas. As usual, they played “US Fleets In”. Plenty powder! I saw some old friends and took a jump in the band until they reached the savannah. No more will I stay in the same band all day. Shout out to Margaret who played sailor with the band. I have not seen her since 1975.

More and more, the mas is moving to the West. Carnival is now more displayed in Woodbrook and St. James, as some bands decided not to travel too close to behind the bridge, and ignored the judges at Piccadilly Street. I saw the Harts mas band which was 95% white, consisting of local and foreign mas players. What is it about these very dark security officers in these mas bands? I was shocked to see so many local whites in one band. At least for Carnival they are not invisible. Legacy was colorful and large. Yes, Big Mike was there but he did not show his muscles this year. He was all business. But, his wife/partner played her usual see-through skimpy mas while dancing on Victoria Avenue. Tribe had their many trucks, as they provided comfort and ease for their mas players. Yes, they are still using ropes around the mas bands. It seems that the roads are too small for the mas bands so they are extending the ropes to the pavement, leaving onlookers little space to stand and look at mas. Next year, I intend to hold my own group, and prevent bands from taking over the streets with their ropes and pushing people to the sidewalks.

I liked the Carnival Village in the savannah. They had several nightly shows, which included steelbands like Desperadoes and Skiffle (they dropped the “bunch” from their name). There were also calypsonians, including Sparrow. I wonder about our beloved Sparrow and his health. Is it time for him to gracefully bow out of the singing part of calypso and enjoy his senior years, maybe coaching younger calypsonians? We have to find a place for our pioneer artists so that they can continue to contribute to the art forms. The Carnival Village is a good idea from the Ministry of Art & Multiculturalism and the honorable Minister. At last there is a free space to display mas and pan. Every day I saw school children attending workshops. Good way to introduce them to the art of carnival.

During the days before Panorama night, I made my customary trips around the country to see and feel the pulse of people. The Botanical Gardens is still well kept. I walked through the gardens, took pictures and admired the flowers. My fav tree is still there with my name and former girl friend’s name embedded in the bark of that large Sycamore tree on the hill. I was pleased to see that the Hollows’ is still being properly landscaped. I wonder who is responsible (CEPEP) for doing such a wonderful and beautiful job keeping the spaces green and clean. Even the two pools have clean water. I took many pictures of the flowers in the Hollows. Then, I walked down to City Gate and took the bus from City Gate to Carenage, and then caught another bus back to town. Actually, I wanted to walk around Carenage and catch the next bus to Port of Spain. But, the driver told me that the next bus may come in an hour or so. Well, I know Trini time and what that means. There seems to be no plan to keep buses and the water taxi working around the clock to accommodate visitors. One day I traveled to the southland by water taxi to see my friend’s mother. Since the visit was short, I decided to make another trip. This time I took the bus to Sando and back to Port of Spain. I like the buses. They are clean and air-conditioner friendly (not too cold, just a gentle breeze). I saw the bus driver scolding two elderly women who started to eat on the bus. He immediately stopped the bus and told them they would have to stop eating or get off the bus. It was good to see an enforcement of the rules. I recommended the driver for a raise and two days vacation. I was fortunate to visit the country side, where I saw remnants of the “good old days” when people sat outside and limed through the night.

I decided to try some bake and shark by Richards at Maracas. My friends and I drove to Maracas which was a scary drive. As we drove up to Maracas I could see the danger in the narrow road and the soft metal fences put up to prevent cars from going over to the bottom of the mountain. I lined up to taste Richard’s bake and shark, but the line was too long and I was in a hurry. Maybe next year I will taste this true Trinbagonian cuisine from Richard. We drove down from Maracas to my liming spot on Nelson Street at Grissom. As usual, the guys were liming. I gave my respect and sat on the bench. It was ole talk for so. The visiting Nelsonians reflected on how the area changed and how it was unsafe these days. The residents went about their business. The children are still respectful as they said “good morning” and “good evening” as they passed. I have to give my former police friend Carlyle a big-up for serving me my first pelau meal with mauby. I was liming at Grissom and felt hungry for a pelau. I told him that I was feeling for some home food and said: “Come go by me, I have some pelau in the fridge.” He still has his apartment in the Plannings. It sounded like old times when sharing was a normal activity. Next, I decided to visit All Stars panyard where another lime was in session. This time it was the elders who was liming. I saw Neville Jules, captain emeritus of All Stars who was seated talking to his friends. He was visiting with his wife. It was good to see a pioneer who started his band and is alive to see its rewards. The Ali family was also there. They have been supporters of the band from its inception in Hell yard on Charlotte Street.

The State of the steelband movement in Trinbago is not good. Many pioneers are getting older. Some are sick, while others are still poor. There is no pension or health plan for the local steelband pioneers. The young panists are having fun playing pan, but not interested in managing their bands. Many steelbands are not part of the community anymore. Most of their players come from other areas. There are few remaining community steelbands. The steelbands don’t come out on Adam Smith Square on Carnival Monday night for Monday Night Mas as they used to years ago. Steelbands cannot get the young players to play pan after Panorama is over. After the Panorama many of them play mas and are tired. Most of the steelbands pack up their instruments after the Panorama while very few of them come on the road for Carnival.

Lastly, I cannot recall any sweet lyrics from the calypsos this year , except maybe Contender and the calypso monarch. The extempo show was more of the same from last year. The soca music was very good this year. Lyrics for so! I applaud Machel Montano for his entertaining skills. He is a great entertainer. Bengi was his usual self as he told his own story. I want to thank Mr. William Munro and his supporters once again for bringing a classy show to the nation. Again, the Standup Tent was boss this year. I enjoyed the calypsos there and the skits that were put on. I strongly recommend this show for stress release. Mr. Lee Sing, you were fantastic again this year. I am looking forward to attending it again next year. I missed 3 Canal but won’t do so next year. I heard they put on a great show at Queen’s Hall.

This year I chose to comment on two of my steelband inductees as pioneers who have contributed immensely to the steelband movement in the international arena: Cliff Alexis and Monika Nicoletti-Tung. Cliff is a pioneer who started in his birthplace Trinidad and brought his steelband skills to North America and the Northern Illinois University. Here are Cliff’s words: “My intention was always to take steel pan further in terms of the educational part of it,” “I want to see a kid come to NIU, or any other (U.S.) university, and join a steelband with a knowledge of music that’s coherent. I want to see them be competitive.”

Monika is from Switzerland and has given the steelband movement a window on her web site (pan-jumbie.com) where panjumbies can go to daily for steelpan news and information about the instrument. She is also an excellent panist and steelband leader. Both are giving a voice to a new instrument so that the world can have a better understanding of it. The last time I saw Khalick he was liming with Calvin, Gubby, Bulb, Molly, Mentone, Dianne, Audra and Merlin on Prince Street upstairs at Luck Jordon Club. If you have any comments, you may contact me at wilsibo@verizon.net.

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