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March 29, 2007 - Volume 1, No. 6

HOME FOR THE CARNIVAL

When the government announced in 2006 that 2006 was going to be the last year for the use of the Queen’s Park Savannah for the carnival celebrations, including the Panorama, I decided that 2007 was the right time to go home for the carnival. I wanted to see what the new carnival would look like. For me, it was a new beginning. Mas would be played on the streets and the bands would not have to wait on the 5000 members bands to go on the stage. All judging will be held on the streets and a new venue (San Fernando) will be the place for Panorama 2007 until the Carnival Cultural Center was built to replace the grand stand.

I left New York JFK airport early on Valentine day excited and in great anticipation of what to expect for carnival 2007. JFK was a breeze as I did not experience any problems with security. I arrived at Piarco airport in Trinidad around 3pm in the afternoon. It was sunny, as many visitors and returnees like myself, crowded the airport waiting to be permitted entrance to our beautiful island in the sun. My friends and I rented a car so that we would have transportation night and day to visit many of the local sites and travel to the Panorama and other festivities without problems.

As I traveled from Piarco airport and passed through Trincity, I noticed what has become the symbol of an unfinished art form, namely the unfinished headquarters of Pantrinbago. As I passed this unfinished building it reminded me of what is wrong with the steelband movement lodged in Trinbago’s unfinished society. The unfinished concrete building also said a lot about the future of the steelband movement in Trinbago, which is still to be completed. I wondered how Pantrinbago and the steelbands could tolerate this mind blowing unsightly structure.

I was anxious and excited to see the new carnival since the government’s intentions to rebuild the grand stand (Carnival Cultural Center) permitted the carnival to return once more to the streets of Port of Spain. Also new was the venue for the national Panorama competition. It was held at Skinner’s Park in San Fernando, the nation’s industrial capital. It was the first time that the Panorama was removed from its traditional venue, the Queen’s Park Savannah. Some people predicted transportation problems and much delay. But, they were proved wrong in every step of the way. Instead, the new carnival, including the Panorama was the best. In the future the Panorama should be rotated between Port of Spain and San Fernando bi-annually. 

My friends Steve, Colleen and I stayed in Pax Vale at Santa Cruz. On carnival Saturday in the early evening we left Port of Spain at City Gate (Big up for the Port of Spain Museum at City Gate) for the Panorama at San Fernando as we wanted to catch the large steelbands practicing before the competition began. The trip took only about 30 minutes with no traffic problems. As we arrived in Sando (San Fernando) the evening atmosphere was calm as the breeze blew cool air and panjumbies stood listening to their favorite steelband warm up for the finals. Eight steelbands (Exodus, Renegades, Invaders, Tropical Angel Harps, Starlift, Phase II and All Stars) participated in the finals. The neighborhood businesses opened their space to the steelbands to practice and the community was out in full force. I saw Africans and Indians supporting their various steelbands.

This new Panorama was more inclusive for the audiences as they were able to walk throughout Skinner Park and still see the bands. The stage was better suited for video taping and the banner declaring “Panorama 2007” was larger. And, although all the bands used canopies, this time it was pretty to the eyes. I was a little disappointed with the Panorama music this year but All Stars arrangement of Defosto’s Pan Lamentation was impressive and won the Panorama 2007. But, the band that captured my imagination was Desperadoes. This musical icon of Laventille did not fail to live up to expectations as it captured 4th place in the Panorama coming from last place in the semi-finals. The band’s improvement was no surprise as everyone knows the skills and determination of the panists from Laventille. Thanks to their arranger Robbie Greenidge they maintained their reputation as a most formidable band in the competition. I would have given them 3rd place. Some even said that if Robbie had started the tune earlier they might have been more competitive.

I was disappointed by Phase II because I heard some parts of last year’s arrangements in this year’s tune. Renegades was predictable as usual as Jit did his Latin interpretation that he has played over the last ten years. Although I loved Jit’s arrangement I believe that it did not capture the judges as in the past. Invaders was very good and I hope that Ardin Herbert keeps trying because one day he will win a Panorama and I hope it will be with Invaders (who has never won any pan competition). Exodus was too fast. For some reason Pelham Goddard’s music is not memorable after carnival. There are no sweet lines to sing as in arrangements of Rebecca or Woman and the bass. I liked Angel Harps whose arranger Clarence Morris is a favorite of mine. Starlit must decide what to do with Ray Holman as their arranger. While Ray’s music is very intricate and interesting to hear it is not Panorama music. I call it post-Panorama music. That makes it very difficult for Starlift to win a Panorama with his arrangement. But, I loved it.

I played mas both days (Hawaiian on Monday and Sailor “Fleets In” on Tuesday) with All Stars and was able to see different mas bands. Most of the mas bands were large and had many young people. It seems that mas is or the youth these days. I liked the route chosen for most bands. It started at Queen Street near the Mosque and went around the bridge on Piccadilly Street to Park Street and then into Charlotte Street to the savannah (Memorial Park) and then left around the savannah to Cipriani Boulevard to Tragarette Road and then left on Carlos Street and another left on Arapita Avenue to Independence Square.

There were judges at certain main points on the carnival route. On both carnival days All Stars hired a rhythm band that was awesome. It kept a steady tempo beat and people enjoyed its rhythms. The Bomb competition was held in front of Renegades panyard where the steelbands performed for the judges. A few steelbands were absent. All Stars won the bomb competition and became the first steelband to win the $1 million dollar prize for Panorama in the new Panorama. It is indeed the million dollar band.

As I reflect on the Panorama I believe that Pantrinbago should have chosen 10 steelbands (instead of 8) for the national Panorama finals since there were going to be bands from Port of Spain, San Fernando and Tobago vying for supremacy in the finals. It would have been good sense to include a South band since this was the first time that Panorama was being held in San Fernando and out side of Port of Spain. How to do it was the problem? Yes, the Judges’ decision is final but Pantrinbago should have been smart enough to anticipate the confusion and expand the bands to 10.

The steelband movement in Trinbago is going through many problems. For example, some steelbands are experiencing age differences as many of the younger panists don’t seem to know the elder members of the band. And, if they do, don’t want them in the band. I spoke to one Elder and pointed out to him that I blame the Elders for this gap because steelbands should have been holding history classes once a month to educate the younger panists about the history of their steelband. They should have been introduced to the Elders, some of whom are founders of the band. Also, the band should carve out a special place for the Elders. They should receive the respect from the younger panists who should be aware of their numerous contributions.

One of the things I noticed among the younger players is the way they approach the instrument. Some don’t seem to understand it. After all, the steelpan is a percussion instrument. As such, it should not be ‘beaten’ heavily but played smoothly. Bertie Marshall pointed this out a few years go. I remember the first time I went to learn to play pan in City Syncopators Kelvin Hart, who was our primary soloist, showed me how to hold my sticks and play the notes. He also taught me to never leave my pan unattended when practice was over. I don’t know if classes are held to teach the younger panists how to play and treat the instrument. Some of the bands have large panyards, so making room for a pan school in the yard is possible. Another problem I noticed is the usage of space in the panyards. Most of the steelbands have a bar and sell food and drinks. But, I did not see a store where panjumbies could purchase steelband books or the band’s recordings.

As a Nelsonian I traveled daily to Nelson Street and behind the bridge. It seems that Nelson Street is quiet these days. There is a Police Unit at the corner of Prince and Nelson Streets. The buildings are rotting and the maintenance is poor. There is rubbish between the buildings and the street lights are dim. Why? I asked someone. The response was: “The government don’t care about Nelson Street.” After spending three weeks (day and night) on Nelson Street it seems to be true because the lights were still not fixed before I left. But, I saw a glimmer of hope. The Nelsonians who returned for carnival spent much time liming on Nelson Street daily. The local Nelsonians came out well dressed to meet and greet them. At no time did I feel threatened or unsafe. No one begged me for anything. Those I knew greeted me and those I did not know said hello. For a brief moment I asked myself if those of us who migrated had not left and stayed what would have been the outcome. Nelson Street will never be the same and soon it will be torn down to make way for new development. I don’t think that the current residents will be invited back. So, I gathered my memories.

My next journey was behind the bridge. We drove up Laventille Road and parked the car at the corner of Schuller Street where the stand pipe continues to run water continuously as it was never fixed. I walked around and saw old friends. Some went the way of drugs and did not age properly. Others went the way of alcohol and suffered the same fate. But, they remembered me and gave me respect. Most of the houses behind the bridge were old and dilapidated by years of neglect. There were some new houses built. In Morvant, the government was building a new housing project. I also visited Maloney, another working class area. The houses were pre-fabricated and built for winter. There were hardly any windows but large slabs of concrete. It was not pretty.

One day I walked from the breakfast shed on Wrightson Road to Belmont. It was quite a trek but I saw a lot. Belmont was always a middle class area mixed with working class. But, today most of the buildings are run down due to lack of maintenance. I visited a few friends at St. Francois Valley Road and Franco Lane. I just had to see Darceuil lane where I used to party in the good soulful days of the sixties. Some of the houses were torn down. The Casablanca Steelband, which is now at the corner of Belmont Circular Road, seemed to be on its way back (Years ago, they were reduced to a small band status) as the band practiced in their large panyard. One Man (remaining Elder) must be proud. Gone were the badjohn days when Blanca, as they were known then, was a force to be reckoned with.

During my travels around the country, I discovered four Trinidads:

1. The West (Woodbrook, St. James and Diego Martin etc.), starting from Green corner where life is not too stressful and there are lots of commercial development taking place.

2. The East, starting from Charlotte Street, (Laventille, John John, Belmont, Gonzales, Morvant etc.) to the Croisse in San Juan where poverty reigns supreme like always. No development at all. The houses are old and lack maintenance. The roads are still very narrow. Some of the buildings I knew are gone, all broken down with nothing to replace them. In their space nothing but bush.

3. Central, starting from Chaguanas, (Arima, Sangre Grande, Tunapuna etc.) where people are employed. New houses are being built. Lots of businesses opened.

4. The South. All those areas are experiencing development where space seems to be a bad word. One can live in these three areas (West, Central and South) and never have to visit the East for anything, except the steelpan. So you had large crowds visiting All Stars, Renegades and Desperadoes. The hills are certainly not alive and are in desperate need of rebuilding.

My visit was memorable and enjoyable. Everyone I met was friendly, courteous and always ready to help. I saw hope in the eyes of young people but I am somewhat apprehensive about their future. The two major political parties have ruled Trinbago since 1956. There is much work to be done but it will take a new group with a wide vision to turn things around.

Stay Blogged

P.S. If readers don’t understand any of the carnival or steelband terms used here, please go to the
Port of Pan ABC at pan-jumbie-com. Otherwise you may contact this writer. Thanks for reading.

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