July 21, 2005 - Volume 1, No. 2
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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?
P.S. If readers don’t understand any of the carnival or steelband
terms used here, please go to the
of Pan ABC at pan-jumbie-com. Otherwise you may contact this writer. Thanks.