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April 3, 2014 - Volume 1, No. 17

Panorama Pool Party

This year, pantrinbago decided to add a pool party to the panorama competition. According to an executive, it was time to make some money and bring back the young people who have drifted away from the steelbands. Yes, many of the young panists are only interested in their 15 minutes of panorama fame in the big yard while a few are real panjumbies. But, after panorama night, many find themselves in younger terrains like Legend, Legacy, Tribe and Bliss. I don’t have any problems with pantrinbago trying to make money from the panorama. After all, they have been criticized for receiving annual financial subsidies from the government to run the panorama and not making any money on their own. But, blaming the young people is a loud denial of pantrinbago’s irresponsibility over the years to realize that nature hates a vacuum.

So, pantrinbago decided that in order to get the young people interested in the steelband they would build a giant pool, fill it with water, charge $700 to enter it and allow the young people to have a good time while the elders enjoy the panorama. The panorama pool was placed behind the North Stand, which is known for its noisy and unruly patrons who misbehave while the panorama is in session. You remember how Renegades Steel Orchestra’s playing was interrupted while they tried to play their tune of choice at a recent panorama final. Not satisfied with that disruption and others over the years, this year pantrinbago decided that, not only will they allow the North Stand to disrupt the panorama, but they will further permit a pool party behind the North Stand to accommodate those not interested in the panorama. How inclusive? Meanwhile, not a panist/steelband complained except the usual suspects like Ray Holman and Boogsie Sharpe. And so, all the steelbands showed up for panorama semi-finals while the young people swam in pantrinbago’s pool. I see you laughing and saying that only one person went to the pool. I cannot say that because I was in the grand stand enjoying my panorama music.

From 1963, the steelband movement took young panists for granted because there was always a constant supply of young panists in every community for every steelband. That was a time when most steelbands got many of their panists from their respective communities. Also, it was a time when communities supported their steelbands and most steelbands were community steelbands. All that changed in the 1980s. The oil boom years delivered disposable income to many working young people. A new class of panists arrived who saw culture and entertainment from their own lens. Many of them were either middle class or aspiring to the middle class. With their own money, they dictated their own participation in the steelbands. No longer did they feel obligated to support any steelband for life. If the steelband in which they played for panorama won the competition, they returned the next year to play with that steelband. If the steelband placed low in the competition, it was no big deal to change steelbands the next year. That was something unheard of in the sixties.

Thus, a new class of panists entered the steelband movement. Pantrinbago ignored them at their own peril, leading to the dislocation we see today among steelbands. No longer are steelbands community bands. Added to that was the increase in crime and murders in certain steelband areas (hot spots) which decreased the level of participation by some young panists in those steelbands. One of the results was Desperadoes leaving the Hill because they were not attracting young panists who were afraid of the Hill.

And so, over the years the steelband movement never did anything to attract the young people, taking it for granted that if they build it they will come. They lacked the foresight to understand that every generation seeks its own musical outlets, unless they are targeted at the beginning before they bolt from the barn. For those who remember, the first sea of change was when many young panists (yes, this is how it is correctly spelt) with skills to behold, started to play for more than one steelband for the panorama competition. You saw them changing steelband jerseys/shirts and go to other steelbands to play, sometimes playing for about four steelbands on panorama night.

Another example of some steelbands’ failure to change is that while many of the panists in steelbands today are female and between fifteen and twenty-five years old, the management/leadership does not reflect that. The leadership is still in the hands of the elderly males. What is needed is a joint leadership with young trainees. A few steelbands like Exodus, Skiffle, Renegades and Silver Stars are trying innovative things to keep their young panists attached to their bands.

Panorama final night was not too exciting. Pantrinbago charged $450.00 TT to enter the grand stand. Can panjumbies tell me if they got their monies worth? All Stars won the semis and Phase 2 only played part of their tune for the semis. All bets were on All Stars. But, real panjumbies know that on final night the panorama slate is cleaned and every steelband starts from scratch. And so it was. Phase 2, All Stars and Renegades were the three last bands to play. As a result, all panjumbies stayed until the end. It was old format v. new format. All Stars, Renegades and Desperadoes represented the old format and Phase 2, Exodus and Skiffle the new. I don’t know what Andy Narell was thinking by playing “We kinda music,” a tune he wrote for Our Boys Steel Orchestra many, many, many, many years ago. But, he too represented the new style. He arranged for Birdsong Steel Orchestra and did not make the finals. But, Phase 2 and Skiffle were at the finals doing their best to change the panorama. The judges heard Phase 2 but did not listen to Skiffle. I like Ray’s music because it lasts after the carnival. But, Ray must understand that the panorama is a competition and every band for which he arranges wants to win. Therefore, any steelband that hires Ray to arrange their panorama tune is agreeing to Ray’s vision of panorama.

Over the last ten years, the panorama competition has been between Phase 2, All Stars, Silver Stars and Exodus. Renegades and Desperadoes are no longer in the mix. In recent years, the battle has been between Phase 2 and All Stars. Renegades has been struggling since Jit Samarro retired from arranging for the band. And, since Master Clive Bradley’s death, Desperadoes has been struggling to even place in the panorama. They did not make the finals in 2012. However, this year like last year, Desperadoes was at its best since Bradley’s passing. The arrangement did not surprise me. It was Robbie in the old format. Renegades, under the new arranger Duvonne Stewart is finding its way. The band improved this year and is slowly moving away from the Jit Samarro format. All Stars is sticking to the same format that their arranger Leon ‘Smooth’ Edward outlined for them over the years. That format is predictable like Renegades was under Jit Samarro. But, losing by one point tells us that the judges still like the format. Fonclaire was in the dance but not that big. Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore, their arranger is still running after pan by storm but there was not enough music to create any whirlwinds. Silver Stars seems to be stuck in the mold of their two panorama wins There was plenty theatrics by their conductor but not enough music to capture another win. Yes, Invaders might be the oldest steelband in the panorama but age has not played them well in the competition. I still think that their arranger Arddin Herbert can win a panorama. Skiffle was led by Ray Holman’s innovations. Rays seems to be sending a message about the two races that occupy Trinbago’s space. Last year it was “The Dream“, this year it was “The Wedding.” Tropical Angel Harps had a nice arrangement of “In de minor.” It reminded me of panorama in the eighties. The tune’s composer, The Original Defosto Himself is continuing the Kitchener’s model for a panorama tune.

The panorama finals lasted for over nine and a half hours and ended around four-thirty in the morning. It started at seven o’clock in the evening and consisted of both medium and large steelbands. Some panjumbies found it too long. The word is that the medium stellbands cannot sustain their own panorama day or night so they are joined with the large bands on the final night. While I sympathize with them I too hold that the panorama is too long. Pantrinbago has to come up with a shorter formula. I still think that there are too many steelbands but it is a free panorama market and some bands attend the prelims to get appearance fees.

Oh! that cow-shed of a grand stand has to go. When will the steelband movement see it fit to have those steel beams removed from the grand stand? Don’t they have any pride in their craft? It seems that the steelbands don’t care about the panjumbies who turn up year after year to hear them play at panorama. If they could cover-up their orchestras with galvanize and tinning, why should they care about those lamp posts that block the audience view? I hear you laughing and saying who cares. I guess if the audience doesn’t complain there may be some truth to that. But, enough water in the pool. Some of the medium steelbands played well, especially the Tobago steelbands. For my money, they could be in the large steelbands category. The winning steelband Phase 2, arranged by Len Boogsie Sharpe was miles ahead of the pack. I liked Boogsie’s ending, especially the phrasing he took from ‘Poet & Peasant’ a tune my steelband (disclosure) City Syncopators mastered in the 1966 steelband festival.

I attended the Dimanche Gras which was really a calypso show. I liked Chucky two calypsos, one of which was Ray Holman’s panorama tune, “The wedding.” Chucky did a beautiful rendition and won the competition. The King and Queen show was taken out of Dimanche Gras show and put on another date. Jouvert was cold. Even the steelband jouvert competition was not up to par. I don’t think that Phase 2 attended. They played for Starlift for their Monday mas. The carnival has out grown the country. The space is too small to accommodate all the mas bands whose players number in the thousands with some bands having over five thousand players. Plus, each mas band has over ten eighteen-wheeler trucks to provide facilities for their players. You have the wee-wee trucks (toilets), the cool down trucks, the entertainment trucks, the play trucks for the young ones, the rum trucks, the food trucks, the beer trucks and the medical trucks. Even with the rope around the mas bands they still need more room to play. Soon, onlookers would have to stay home and watch the mas from their TV flat screens. The best thing from the carnival was Trinidad All Stars winning band of the year title for 2014 becoming the first steelband to win band of the year title. No, it was not Silver Stars. Silver Stars played music for the band that won the band of the year title for playing “Gulliver’s Travels.” All Stars played their own sailor mas, “Fleets In.”

This year, pantrinbago introduced another new item on carnival Monday: Steelband chip for the overweight for carnival Monday night. Onlookers were encouraged to chip behind their fav steelband and lose some weight. If it worked pantrinbago should get some royalty monies for the idea. Many steelbands appeared. It was great to see so many steelbands on the road carnival Monday night. The route was from Cipriani Boulvarde; down Tragarete Road to Carlos Street and up Ariapita Avenue to Adams Smith Square ending at Victoria Square. It was nice to see steelbands on the road at night. I remember when every steelband came out at night to give their supporters a las lap jump. Those were the years when All Stars serenaded the police at their headquarters on St. Vincent on carnival Tuesday night. Now, I hear some panjumbies saying that this is the final nail to cement the carnival in the West. Maybe so, because on both carnival days I walked from St. Vincent Street to Piccadilly Street and it was a ghost town. No Mas. The only steelband and mas to pass around the bridge was Trinidad All Stars.

I came in two weeks before panorama finals just to catch the semis. I like the semis because I can walk the drag and hear all the bands and see my old friends from Despers, Renegades and All Stars who are now elders in the bands. I understand this might be Despers last year on Cadiz Road. We shall see. But, they are not returning to the Hill for panorama. Until the Mr. and Mrs. Bigs are captured, convicted and jailed that won’t happen. Also, it is at the semis you hear the tune at its best as steelbands play their tune in a slower format. They have to get in the finals so preparations are vital.

I made my usual trip to San Fernando to see my elderly-friend who always prepares a local meal for me. This time she out did herself. Her cuisine was excellent. My daughter and I took the bus at City gate and traveled to San Fernando to visit her. It was my daughter’s first carnival trip. As usual, the bus was an hour late. I like to travel with the buses but they are never on time, unlike the water taxi which is always on time. But, we had nowhere else to go so we stood their observing the vendors and how they negotiated with their customers. You never touch their product unless you are sure that you will buy it. I remember touching a vendor’s fruit when she exclaimed: “But look meh crosses, the man feel up meh fruit and not buying it.” I smiled and paid for it.

We caught the Sando bus and headed back to Port of Spain where I made my annual trip to behind the bridge. We traveled up Laventille Road and stopped at Belgrade Street. We walked across to Duke Street. My daughter was amazed to see such decadence in a land of so much wealth. Nothing had changed from my trip last year. It is still decay and decline. I saw Vilma, Yancy, Malika and Allan, the four families that still reside there.

One of the ventures (apart from panorama) I enjoy while in Trinidad is going to the cultural events. I attended a play at the Little Carib Theatre in Woodbrook. It was a one woman show called: “Gene Miles.” The play captured Gene Miles’ childhood, adulthood, destruction and demise at the hands of the then government. In the 1970s, Ms. Miles, a white civil servant exposed a gas station racket with rampant corruption among a popular government minister and other prominent citizens. It is the story of a local white woman who believed in justice and was left to fend for herself after she exposed the corruption. Even her ‘whiteness’ could not save her from the wrath of the government and its political leader. For the na´ve ones, it showed that corruption has always been in government since the inception of self-government starting with the Caura Dam racket which was exposed by Ms. Miles’ father. By the way, my dear friend Carlo took me to visit the Caura site to see for myself. Of course, no dam was built there, but the space is being used by the community to picnic near the river which is close by.

One of the things I enjoy is to take in the small calypso tents outside of Port of Spain. I had a thrill at the Kaiso Karavan calypso tent at La Joya, St. Joseph. I saw Young Creole (76 years old) who performed his rendition of Sparrow’s Slave. He was marvelous and true to form dressed like a slave with chains and all. The Original DeFosto Himself and Kenny J were there too. I must make a special note of a young lady who happens to be blind and sang a beautiful calypso. She had the tent jumping with her antics. The crowd loved her. Singing Francine was also on the show. I love her voice but that night it was not up to par. I always enjoy this calypso tent for its humor and M.C. who is very funny.

Next, I made my daily visits to two creole restaurants where I bought local foods like plantain, green fig, dasheen, sweet potato, cassava, callalloo and stew chicken and drank the local drinks like mauby, soursop, grape fruit and orange juices. This time I added home-made ice-cream to the menu, rum-raison. For good creole food, I recommend the Zion restaurant at the corner of Abercromby and Park Streets and Cheryl’s on Henry Street after you cross Duke Street heading north. Another of my fav restaurants is Tropical around the savannah. They have great vegetarian meals and a tasty callalloo with a delicious crab sauce. Later, my daughter and I visited Hott Shoppe on the Western Main Road for our fav roti. Their roti reminded me the famous “Parker” roti of the sixties. For those too young to know about “Parker” roti, ask your parents or grandparents.

This year, I visited Maracas and Las Cuevas beaches with my friend Barbara. She is from Oregon but moved to Trinidad and has been living at Las Cuevas for the last ten years. We had the traditional bake & shark at Richards. I was lucky because when Richard saw me with Barbara he said: “I can’t charge you, you are with my friend.” He knew Barbara. What a friendly man. There are still many great Trinis who know how to treat a customer. I bought four bakes and sharks to take with me. The next day I was in Port of Spain where I saw my childhood friend Jennifer whom I had not seen since we left high school. Later, I saw another childhood friend Vincent whom I did not see since 1970. That is one of the benefits of visiting for carnival where you may see people whom you have not seen for years.

After carnival, Carlo and I traveled to the countryside where we visited Sangre Grande, Mathura, Valencia, and Salybia. Trinidad has beautiful beaches but they are not managed well. All the buildings are unfinished. There is so much waste. I did not go to Tobago this time because the boat was not returning the same day. Maybe next year! Also, we went to Chagaramus where there is now a board walk. And, we visited Macquaripe beach. It is nice and secluded. I like the steps they built to get you to the beach. There is so much that the government can do with Chagaramus to develop it into a tourist attraction. For many reasons every government has failed to improve the area.

I just saw Khalick taking a taxi on Nelson Street heading up to Fatima Church at Laventille.

Stay blogged,


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