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July 21, 2005 - Volume 1, No. 2

As the summer rolls along the steelbands in Brooklyn are getting ready for the Panorama, Jouvert and the carnival. And as expected, some of the steelbands are busy looking for panyards to house their orchestras. This begs the question as to why, after so many years, some of the steelband in Brooklyn are still facing the dilemma of looking for a panyard for the labor day carnival season. In London about four steelbands have lost their panyards. In Washington DC this year the annual carnival was stopped around 3 pm in the afternoon when things really heat up. Again, the Baltimore carnival was a wash out as the rains roll down on the paraders. There is even talk of a split in the Baltimore committee responsible for the carnival. Another question is why after so many years in North America the steelband and the carnival cannot get their act together? I know that a lot of people work very hard to organize the steelbands and the carnival. And they should be given credit. But, as we move along the 21st century and in this era of globalization the steelbands need a permanent home (panyard) and, the carnival committees need to come to grips with the authorities for more time on the road.

So, I called my friend Trevor and asked him about the above situation and he suggested that the Trinbagonain community in North America, especially in the United States, must realize that they cannot reproduce the Trinbago carnival or panyard situation like in Trinidad. They have to get the larger community involved as Canada has done. There, home grown Canadians participate in the annual Toronto Mas and Montreal carnival. No, they don’t have many steelbands like Brooklyn but they seem to have the carnival down pact with financial assistance coming from the City. Years ago there was a problem in Toronto where tow organizations were claiming authority and putting on two carnivals. The City stepped in and decided that they could only give one organization funding. So, no one got any money until they returned to one organization.

In Brooklyn, the steelbands are without any organization to negotiate their financial interests. They face many problems as interruptions from the Police to stop practicing at an early time due to claims of complaints from neighbors about ‘noise’ from the steelband. Also, the Jouvert Mas is facing many changes. First, the time is now limited to end at 10 am. Second the steelbands cannot play on the road returning to their panyards. They have to push their pans many miles to their respective panyards. Sometimes you see idle pans on the road as the panists leave their pans and head to Eastern Parkway or other places. Last year, I was asked to push some pans back to the panyard. I was amazed because when I asked the panists” “Where are the other panists?” he said to me: “They gone home.” I said to myself: “this could not happen in Trinidad in the 60s” because in those days the captain of the steelband controlled the panists’ every movement on carnival day. No panist dared to leave their instrument (and that’s how the pans were perceived) idle or he faced the wrath of the captain. And it was not pretty. You had to take care of your instrument. I remember one carnival year in Desperadoes Steelband a panist left his pan with his girlfriend while the band played on Henry Street. Rudolph Charles noticed that the panist was missing. He asked if anyone knew where he went. When someone told him what happened. Rudolph spent the day looking for the panist. He found him and chastised him. It never happened again.

The steelbands are facing some serious challenges among which is, how to come to grips with the new land of the steelband, America. In Brooklyn, there is no steelband activity after the labor-day carnival. As a matter of fact there is hardly any steelband activity during the summer before labor-day. Some of the steelbands organize a jamboree in their panyards where four or five steelbands get together in one of the steelband’s panyard. But that poses a problem as it starts too late at night and can be stopped by the Police for permits or too large a crowd. There is a large park called Prospect Park where all the steelbands can gather every Sunday afternoon and jam. But, for some reason(s), that is not happening as yet. In the 1980s steelbands used to gather there on the Sunday after labor-day. It was a last lap for the steelbands and the visitors to get together one last time. That was stopped due to some mismanagement and misunderstanding with the Police. The steelbands have not mastered the marketing of their orchestras. Perhaps small ensembles may be the answer with concerts throughout the year. Also, every year some of the steelbands have to be searching for a ‘yard’ to house their band.

Another issue is standardization which is becoming more an issue now that the steelpan is being played world wide. Why hasn’t the pan builders (tuners) of the instrument standardized the steelpan? Why are they so reluctant to do so? What will make them want to do so? These are some of the questions that panjumbies must ask the tuners who guard our national instrument’s future. Sure, there are tuners outside of Trinbago but most people will agree that no one tunes a steelpan like the local pan tuners. Trinbago top tuners must tell us what the problem is. After years of debates about which model to adopt there comes a time when one has to accept a model so that we can have uniformity. I can be sympathetic with the tuners because I believe that they are trying to protect their special tuning-skills that give them an edge in securing work. After all, in a free market economy one has to protect their intellect labor in order to profit from said labor. You won’t get any argument from me about that. But, I believe that there is something more at stake here. Standardization allows any panist to play any steelpan regardless of who builds it. The notes on one soprano instrument will be found on any other soprano instrument. A panist should be able to travel to any country that has the steelpan and play whatever pan he or she chooses without having to go through a rudimentary practice to learn the pan. 

The steelpan is not unique in the standardization struggle. Years ago the two videos companies Beta Max and VHS had the same problem. VHS won and today many people do not remember Beta Max. Maybe the modern steelpan is too young (only 55 years old) and still has to work out these problems. Whatever, I urge Trinbago pan builders/tuners to take a serious look at this issue and come up with a standardized model fast. Otherwise, others may do it for us and we may not like it. The older pan tuners may not mind because they are on their way out. And, since they have not passed on their inner/secret knowledge to others it will be up to the younger pan tuners to take the initiative and standardized the instrument. Or, with Europe expressing serious concerns about standardizing the instrument maybe they will be the first to standardize and then others will follow. The steelpan is the only instrument that was created in the 20th century. It is also the national instrument of Trinbago. Why isn’t the instrument standardized? While it would be appropriate if Trinidad lead the way to standardization, others may do it. Does it really matter? What do the panjumbies think?

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.

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