March 5, 2013 - Volume 1, No. 16
Planassing the Carnival
This carnival year 2013, the national festival of Panorama turned 50 years of constant rhythms. It was in February of 1963 that the steelbands held their first panorama to showcase their musical talents to the nation and the world. But, if a panjumbie was in Trinidad for this year’s panorama they would not know that it is a 50 years celebration. For the 50th anniversary of panorama, panists, pantrinbago, steelbands and the nation were silent and decided to ignore 50 years of steelband history. I hear you silently asking: “How can it happen when pantrinbago is the world’s governing body for steelbands?” Again, you are asking answers: “Doesn’t steelbands care about their history?” As you seek answers you continue to ask: Doesn’t panists feel any emotions about their panorama festival?” I leave you to answer your own questions.
It is not that pantrinbago forgot or didn’t know our history because I have been reminding the former president of pantrinbago, Mr. Patrick Arnold and the current president, Mr. Keith Diaz of the event to come and their responsibility to celebrate our 50th Panorama. And, most of the executive board members are former panists, including the current president and belong to different steelbands. But, pantrinbago and the steelband movement chose to ignore such an historical event. Instead, pantrinbago offered to hold a World Panorama in 2014. That was the extent of their 50th Panorama anniversary celebrations.
About five years ago, I asked both presidents to hold an International Panorama for the 50th Panorama anniversary in 2013. I outlined to them how it could be done and its importance for promoting our national instrument. The blatant refusal of the steelband stakeholders to hold any celebration for Panorama’s 50th anniversary this year shows the level of dysfunction and incompetence in the local steelband movement. Of course, it is also a reflection of matters in many other parts of the society. Carnival 2013 will be remembered as a year of infamy for Panorama 50th anniversary. We await the World Panorama in 2014.
This year, I did not depend on pantrinbago to post early announcements (April so that panumbies can plan and check for cheap air flights by booking early), for the date of the panorama semis. I worked it out on my own. I think I now have the formula for most steelband events during the carnival which for me is the semis, finals, jouvert and Hugh Borde’s Pan Pioneers annual gathering. As a result, I was on time for the semis at the Queen’s Park Savannah on the Greens. In the madness, each steelband took their spot as the panjumbies gathered to hear their fav steelband. I wanted to hear Birdsong and Skiffle because of their arrangers. They hired Andy Narell and Ray Holman respectively. It is now known that both arrangers compose their tunes, not to win Panorama per se but to showcase their music to the world being played on our national instrument. So, it was likely that they would not make the final cut since their music does not conform to the Judges’ usual and acceptable panorama arrangements. I liked Ray’s tune better than Andy’s. Ray’s combination with African and Indian rhythms was telling a story. I found that Andy repeated bits and pieces of some of his former arrangements for past panoramas. The tune suited the jouvert competition more that panorama. He had nothing new to excite me. Skiffle got into the finals while Birdsong didn’t make the cut.
Oh, those Tobago steelbands! It is time that Katzenjammers and Buccooneers join the large band category. Even at medium size, they have the power and music to give the other bands a run for their money. And, watch Xplosion Steel Orchestra too.
I am openly asking pantrinbago and the steelbands (have they no shame or pride in their festival?) to get their government to remove those posts and build a proper Panorama Hall to hold their national festival. The current grand stand is a disaster for panorama and panjumbies. They have to remove those 6 posts in the front that block proper viewing of the stage and the bands. I had to depend on the three TV screens they put up on the bottom of the roof of the stands, to see the steelbands. This year the panorama finals ticket costs $450.00TT for the grand stand. Crapo smoked your pipe if you went to the VIP stand. Dog ate your supper if you went to the VVIP stands. Surely, panjumbies deserve a better view of the stage for that kind of money. So, I may boycott the grandstands next year and spend my money on doubles and blue food.
This year’s panorama music did not move me like before. Except for the winning band Phase 2 and Skiffle, the panorama music was dull and repetitive. I know how hard it is for panjumbies to support a panorama boycott to get a proper view in the grandstand as it may not be a major issue for panjumbies who have grown sedated by the incompetence of the show. After all, panorama is a senior attraction and their only musical outlet as the young people continue to take up the rest of the nation’s space.
Many would say that North stands can remain as is because the people there go to lime and play their own music. They are not interested in the panorama. They just come to lime, drink and play their own music. For many of them, the panorama is a distraction and an interruption of their fun. But, the grandstand must be rebuilt with a proper seating view for panjumbies. Those posts make the place look like a cow shed.
The panorama finals had ten steelbands competing for panorama supremacy. But, over the years, only four steelbands (Phase 2, All Stars, Silver Stars and Exodus) stand any chance of winning the panorama. It seems that Starlift is going through some changes. Some people say it is their new rum sponsor. This year their arranger felt that it was better to strip off his jersey to conduct the band. Their arranger conducted the band bareback. A first in panorama history. It’s been hard for them to get it together since Ray Holman left. They had a better bomb tune this year than their panorama piece.
Much respect to Desperadoes. They had a beautiful and much improved arrangement this year and made it to the finals. Robbie Greenidge did a superb job to bring them back into the panorama mix. They sounded like the old Despers and their panists gave Robbie their all unlike last year with another arranger. I hear you saying tribalism. I would have placed them in a higher position. The word out is that Despers will not return to the Hills as the crime and murders are getting worse and probably becoming a permanent activity. Laventille is now the home of a permanent underclass, created by years of benign political neglect. So Belmont, you now have a band.
Renegades is getting back slowly in the panorama winning mix. It will take a few more panoramas but their arranger Duvone Stewart is trying his best to restyle the band away from the Jit Samaroo (the band’s former arranger) sound. But, not too far. Jit’s sound is still the signature of the band. Invaders just can’t finish. Arddin Herbert, their arranger keeps knocking at the door but the judges cannot hear him. Invaders is the only steelband from the 1940s that is still around but has not won a panorama or music festival competition. Do they still have the other steelbands like All Stars, Renegades and Despers have all won their share of panoramas.
Exodus continues to hold fast to their no canopy for panorama. I applaud them for that innovation. They are a model steelband orchestra showing the future of a steel orchestra’s panorama stage presentation. They played well. Those shanty town canopies have to go. Phase 2 was great. Their arranger Len “Boogsie” Sharpe showed that he is still supreme in his arrangements for panorama. His win was well received. I hope that pantrinago will list all the finalists for panorama finals on their web site with relevant scores for each steelband. All Stars seems to be relying on their tried format for their panorama music using plenty tempo. They presented nothing new.
Silver Stars opened the panorama with their fancy conductor. This year he placed less on the theatrics and focused more on leading the band. That is the trouble with some bands which tend to use one format in their panorama arrangements. They placed very low. Skiffle continued to baffle panjumbies with their arrangements from Ray Holman. Over the years, the band has been playing great music. I found their music exciting. Ah, Redemption Sounds, our Tobago band. They were not up to it this year. Their arranger Winston Gordon, a former Trinidad All Stars and Boston Symphony arranger tried his best. I was one of the panjumbies who followed him and the Hilton All Stars players to form Boston Symphony when they broke away from All Stars in the 1960s.
Fonclaire’s arranger is still pursuing his dream. He almost won in 1990 with “Pan by Storm” which many people felt won the panorama. The band placed second to Renegades who played “Ironman,” a Kitchener’s masterpiece. For me, it was his greatest panorama masterpiece, followed by three other great arrangements: Pan Ecstasy, Pan in de party and Pan in Manhattan. The judges did not find his music impressive enough so they placed second to last. I urge Mr. Philmore (arranger) to stick with Fonclaire, one of Sando’s best steelbands.
This year’s panorama music was not impressive. Except for Phase 2 and Skiffle, the music all sounded the same. While Despers repeated a few pieces from their old music, their music improved immensely from last year. The sweet steelband melodies of yesteryear are gone. Today, it is soca music which is not geared for the steelbands as years gone by. But, the steelband arrangers will have to be innovative and create their own pan music. Boogsie, Andy and Ray are in the forefront of doing that. The musical contributions of Sparrow, Kitchener and other calypsonians of the 1960s pan music era are gone. Also, there have been no serious innovations in the steelband movement after Anthony Williams and Bertie Marshall. Steelbands still cover their bands with those tin canopies with their shanty town looks. Many set up their bands the same way since 1963 and continue to take up too much time setting up and getting off the stage.
The Camera people need to take a course in how to feature the bands properly for the viewing audience. In the panorama DVD they got it right with Exodus. And, orchestras other than steelbands still do not have a steelpan as a permanent part of their orchestra. The steelpan as an instrument is fully developed today. It is a full pledged instrument. The Epan and Gpan can only duplicate it but not surpass it. The problem is with the management of the steelband movement as a national brand. After the carnival, many of the steelbands return to their panyards to rest until next year. The panyards become graves where the dead orchestras are buried until they are resurrected for next carnival. During and after carnival, I wish the radio announcers would tell the listeners the names of the calypsonians and steelbands that they play on line.
I went to my usual place at Victoria Square (opposite to pantrinbago’s headquarters) to listen to the steelbands for the jouvert bomb competition. Invaders, Harmonites, Starlift, Phase 2, All Stars, St. James North Stars, Renegades, Harvard Harps, Music Gems, Woodbrook Playboyz, Exodus and Desperadoes appeared and played their bomb tunes to the delight of panjumbies gathered at the Square. It is the only time during the carnival that you will see so many steelbands on the road. Like everything else in the nation, the competition for space on carnival Monday and Tuesday is fierce. The Mas bands with over three thousands mas players in each band rule the roads. The steelbands have forfeited their space on the roads for carnival. Except for All Stars (Monday & Tuesday) and Starlift (Monday) who still play mas and command large supporters, the roads are filled with mostly mas bands with their dozen or more eighteen wheeler trucks. All Stars placed third for the band of the year trophy. MacFarlane won band of the year. He said that it was his last year bringing a mas band. We shall see.
From Fantastic Friday when the international soca monarch was held, it was Superblue all the way. He tied with Machel to win the power soca monarch and won the road march by himself by a very wide margin, (He received 511 to Machel’s 51) almost 8 to 1. Wherever I went, it was Fantastic Friday being played on the radios, shows and in the bars and clubs. The music was consuming. In spite of Superblue’s demons he commanded the island with his fantastic tune. My words of advice to Superblue: “Stop while you are ahead.” You have nothing more to prove. You will always be the king of soca monarch. Take a year off and get your health back in order. Use your earnings to remake yourself. Addiction is a disease that needs treatment, rest and care. Otherwise, water and power will destroy you.”
The calypso monarch this year was not impressive. I cannot understand why so many calypsonians feel that we are paying them to hear their personal problems. Some of the calypso tents are the same except for the ones I attended like La Joya in St. Joseph, Klassic Ruso at City Hall, Kaiso House at Queen’s Park Savannah (where the audience was graced with the presence of Sparrow). After 56 years and not too good health his voice is still superb. We wanted more. I found calypso alive in those tents. Plenty picong. And a lot of double entendre.
Alas, I went to the carnival village which is still one of my fav spots for carnival except for one night when a musician believed that we should hear his old songs. He played two ballads: “Oh my Papa” and “Impossible Dream.” And it was carnival. But, the other acts were good. Soca for so. The school children who attended went wild. The village opened daily around ten in the morning and closed around midnight. I hope it becomes a permanent site every year at carnival. It was an innovative idea whose time came. The annual Rapso Explosion held at the national library on Abercromby Street was a splendor to behold. The artists were great, especially Karenga Mandela and Brother Resistance. We shall never surrender! Water Master!
As usual, I took my annual trip to Tobago. I like Tobago because unlike some places in Trinidad there are still communities where people still know their neighbors. I hope they don’t get the oil out to spoil the island like it did Trinidad. I went to Pigeon Point beach. My childhood friend drove me around the island and showed me some of the beautiful sights. Yes, I saw the Sunday school and the goat race course. When I returned to Trinidad, I had a treat at Point Lisas where my other childhood friend took me. I saw one of the twin engines of the nation’s economy, the gas fields. It is one of the better managed institutions on the island. Then, we drove to Marabela where I had a chicken roti lunch with mauby at House of Flava. I thank the waitress Janecia Rampersad who was very hospitable and made my lunch pleasant. The next day I was off to San Fernando to see my elderly friend where she prepared my fav dish of curry bodie, saltfish and smoke herring with white rice and some home-made pepper sauce. Of course, I had mauby to wash it down. What would I do without my Mom?
Next, I walked around the City of Port of Spain to see how the locals were handling the security issues in spite of the carnival. My visit took me to Nelson Street, Hellyard, Belmont, Morvant, St. James, Woodbrook, Cascade, St. Ann’s, Westmoorings and behind the bridge. Every year at carnival, Nelson Street becomes alive as the former residents who live abroad return to the Plannings. As you pass by you can see them liming with the locals. This year Nelsonians like Alvin, Judy, Carol, Andrew, Emory, Smally, Joey, Nick, Little Talent, Judith and Brenda made the trip. My liming spot was at Grissom on Upper Nelson Street. There were about ten of us. We limed there every day and night in the safe bosoms of that little block (between Duke and Prince Streets). A big shout out to Nelsonians! There were no incidents. We encouraged a cleanup and held a party to celebrate Sharko’s birthday. It was nice to see the children playing. They were very respectful to all and remembered their manners as they passed by. They all said good day.
The Nelson Street community steelband City Sun Valley made it to the single pan finals and placed fourth. Grissom hired a bus to take the supporters to San Fernando at Skinner Park where the finals were held. Mr. Dane Gulston (All Stars famous tenor player) arranged for the band. There is hope for Nelson Street if they get good leadership and employment instead of the dependency handout by the various governments. I passed by Hellyard on Charlotte Street, next to the Salvation Army headquarters where my friends Julian, Desmond and Johnny Lee (Hurricanes fame) resided in the 60s. It is also the place where Trinidad All Stars was founded as a steelband. The barracks yard houses are no longer there, all torn down. The space now houses a flea market and a parking lot with a fence and gate.
Belmont is hanging on. The out skirts like the Valley Roads, Belle Leau Road, Hermitage Road and Booth Hill are still hot spots. People no longer lime on Gloster Lodge Road near the school. The area becomes dismissal and lonely after dark. This once middle class area is now crime ridden with gangs. The Belmont Park is still clean. The CEPEP is doing a great job maintaining it. Many thanks to CEPEP workers for the great job they did keeping the city clean for carnival. The URP program should be demolished and merged with CEPEP where the work ethic is still alive. You could see the workers on the highways cleaning.
I visited Coconut Drive in Morvant. That is one of the other hot spots. There are gangs, drugs and high unemployment in all these hot spots. St. James is still vibrant. Woodbrook, Cascade and St. Ann’s still house the wealthy. I passed near Coblenz Gardens. The gate is no longer there but the community is still exclusive. Westmoorings is a scene to tell your children about. In the midst of a nation fighting against crime and murders, it is large, rich and well kept. No, I did not see any fast boats bringing in any drugs or guns. The streets are lined with nice palm trees and well-kept lawns.
Behind the bridge is at a standstill and locked into a poverty syndrome with its permanent underclass residents. From Piccadilly Street to John John, the residents live in a state of fear and hopelessness as they cry out for good leadership. The former government failed to empower them. Now, they look to the present government to bring them out of the malaise in which they find themselves. Regardless of what the newspapers say, they know that shutting down a few criminals or police and the army patrolling through their neighborhoods with guns will not reduce or solve the murders. Any fool knows that the government has to focus on the people bringing in the drugs and guns into the country. Since the drug and gang wars started back in the 1990s not one Mr. Big has been arrested. Many believed that a change of government would have remedied the problem. No one behind the bridge believes that anymore. The Masonic Brotherhood Lodge is still on Piccadilly Street amidst the poverty and crime there. Amazing, no bandit or criminal enters its closed yard.
Further up the Hill is still under a self made curfew. Many of the residents work and try to get home before dark. Since the murders began twenty five years ago, people learned new habits and their limits for outdoor pleasures. Now, they make sure that they and their children are inside after dark at night when the streets become lonely and isolated. Even in the day time its streets are usually empty except around four or five o’clock in the afternoon when the employed are on their way to their homes from work downtown. At times, you can see them waiting for a taxi by the bridge at Piccadilly and Duke Streets. People line up on both sides of the streets. By five or six o’clock they are all in their homes never to see daylight until in the morning when they leave for work. In the morning, people enquire about who was murdered in the night. That is the life of the residents and the employed who still reside behind the bridge.
At the closing of this writing I saw a frightening article in the newspapers by Seventh Day Adventist pastor Clive Dottin. He said that assassins from Latin American have joined forces with the local (Trini) mafia to create ‘schizophrenic monsters’ out to kill and maim local citizens. Pastor Dottin further said, “There exists in our little country, a four level pyramid of crime. The top level is the international narco agents. The second level is the local managerial elite. The third level are the gangs and the bottom fourth level, are the students who are being brought in to do the groundwork.” I hear you asking, what about the crooked police.
The response from the National Security Minister was, “Pastor Dottin has made his statement. I guess he would have gotten that from some credible source but I can’t make any statement because I am not aware of what he is speaking of. I am not aware.” That my beloveds, is where the country stands at this critical moment in its history. Unaware!
I just saw Khalick heading up Quarry Street looking for City Syncopators Steelband.