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March 1, 2006 - Volume 1, No. 6


“….the crowd is gone….
Not a Band, nor a Mas is around to perform
an indication the carnival is over.”


Now that carnival 2006 is over we can all begin to address to steelband movement in light of programs planned for carnival 2007 by the government. Word has it that the government intends to break down the grandstand and complete the Pantrinbago headquarters. Now that we have one year to plan before the above takes place I am send Pantrinbago this wish list of things that I would like to see happening in the steelband movement before Carnival 2007 and the completion of Pantrinbago’s new headquarters whichever comes first. After the death of Master Clive Bradley last year, I immediately emailed Pantrinbago and requested that they name the Panorama first prize trophy after Master Bradley. They chose instead to honor Master Bradley by dedicating Panorama 2006: “In Tribute to Master Clive Bradley”. So, maybe the time was too short (to get all the stakeholders on board) or the idea too revolutionary or non-tribal to consider my request which was to name the Panorama first prize trophy “Master Clive Bradley Panorama Trophy” in honor of the late Clive Bradley. But, now that the carnival is over I wish that Pantrinbago would reconsider my request and gather the stakeholders to discuss my request and see it fit to do the right thing. Those of us who saw the Panorama or heard from panjumbies who saw it attest that Pantrinbago did a poor job of honoring one of our pan heroes (I heard that Pantrinbago said that the person responsible was late with the posters). Even the steelbands did not pay homage to one of its own. Of course, Desperadoes Steel Orchestra did the right thing by displaying Master Bradley’s pictures all over the band. Since Pantrinbago failed to do the right thing I am giving them another year to rehearse and rename the panorama first prize trophy after Master Clive Bradley for carnival 2007.

Since the beginning of Panorama in 1963, the modern steelband movement of Trinbago has been evolving to the extent that today steelbands can be found in almost every country in the world. But, as the evolution continues there are differences in each development. Today, the primary steelband movement can be found in Trinidad under the auspices of Pantrinbago led by Mr. Patrick Arnold. This organization has the responsibility of seeking the steelbands’ interests and promoting said interests. Among the things it does is to negotiate greater prize monies from the government for the different steelband competitions it holds around the country. It also has a web site that gives a brief history of the steelband movement, carnival news and brief profiles of different panists and pioneers of the steelband movement. As the world governing body for the steelpan they successfully held the World Music Festival last year at Madison Square Garden in New York City. But, one is tempted to ask if that is the limit of Pantrinbago’s contribution to the steelband movement. So here is my wish list for 2007.

I would like to see Pantrinbago solicit the University of the West Indies (UWI) to create a University Chair for the study of the steelband movement. Monies could be sought from the local businesses and the government. Added to this Chair, I would like to see UWI house the National Steelband Library and bring all the artifacts, histories, books and recordings (video, DVD and cd) of the steelband movement under one roof. In the land of the steelpan this is not asking too much. If we are to take seriously the claim that the steelpan is our national instrument then we have to protect its legacy. People from all over the world should be able to go to the UWI Library for Steelpan Studies and get all the necessary information regarding the steelpan and the steelband movement. All articles on the steelpan and the steelband movement should be collected and placed in that library. UWI already holds symposiums on the steelpan and its history but more needs to be done. I would like to see all the schools in Trinbago implement compulsory music classes from primary level to college. In the land that created the only instrument of the 20th century we should be musically literate. Also, there should be more focus on the arts in schools.  The call for musical literacy is relevant now that panists and steelbands are traveling throughout the world. The steelpan and steelband is no longer restricted to the shores of Trinbago. As our panists travel around the world knowledge of music can greatly assist them when they meet other musicians or are called upon by the media to speak about the steelpan. Let me make this distinction. Perhaps exceptional panists like Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe, Ray Holman, Robbie Greenidge and the other great panists may not have the need to learn music having picked up some theory over the years, but, we should be preparing the next generation of local panists to be musically literate.  I believe that knowing music can greatly help them in the orchestration of the steelband orchestra.

The annual Panorama competition that is the most important pan activity in Trinbago provides the most music at any one time. But, most of that music is not scored although the competition produces some beautiful musical gems. As a result, only the tunes that are recorded (and that is few) last for prosperity. I try to collect all the steelband music from the preliminaries through the finals. I would like to see Pantrinbago record on their web site all the steelband statistics for each panorama. Such posting should remain so that panjumbies can review. We need to develop a true steelband culture like baseball, football, hockey or basketball. These popular American sports provide vast amounts of information on the web for their followers. The steelband deserves no less. I wish one day that I would be able to go to Pantrinbago’s web site and find any information I need about the steelband movement.

Now that the government decided to break down the Grand Stand at the Queen’s Park Savannah that housed the Panorama competition it may provide an opportunity for innovation. I wish that the new structure solves the problem of the long length of time it takes for each steelband to get off the stage and set up their instruments to play. Perhaps a revolving stage could suffice so that each steelband will be ready to go on stage as soon as one steelband completes their tune. The time it takes for each steelband to go on stage is too long. This calls for innovation from Pantrinbago to rearrange the panorama competition in light of their attempt to market the panorama. A new venue calls for new ideas. They should demand input as a vital stakeholder in the panorama competition. I urgently request that Pantrinbago not let this move to hurt the steelband movement. There are many who would like to see the steelband separate from the carnival. I hope that this is not the beginning of that route. We need to strengthen the steelband movement so that it can take its rightful place in the 21st century. This is the time for Pantrinbago to implement its “Strategic Plans for the Steelband Movement”.

The steelpan has long outgrown its narrow stage in the Panorama competition held each year. Today, the steelpan is used in other conventional orchestras where the reading of music is necessary to follow the various scores in those orchestras. In the past, some have questioned the relevance of knowing musical theory when it seems that local panists get along fine playing any type of music (from classic to calypso). After all, they claim that panists do fine at the Mecca of all pan competitions, the Panorama held at the Queens Park Savannah in Port of Spain, Trinidad. For the steelbands, Panorama is the high point of their musical journey. To win a Panorama championship is the dream of every steelband. And, having won a Panorama it lets the world know who is in charge.

For too long there have been suggestions for building a concert hall, teaching panists to read music, putting pan in schools, standardizing the instrument, making the steelband an employment engine for the unemployed panists and marketing steelband music. While all these ideas are very good the record shows that few of them have been realized. A closer look at Pantrinbago’s web site will not reveal any contribution to the enhancement of those ideas. I would like to see Pantrinbago produce better Panorama steelband CDs, Videos and DVDs. I would like to see steelbands rid themselves of those cumbersome and distracting canopies at the Panorama competition. They have outlived their purpose and are a distraction to the audiences who are looking at their performances on Videos and DVDs. They remove them for the Music Festivals so why not for the Panorama.

Next, I would like to see Pantrinbago reorganize their executive board to reflect members of the business community, professionals and civic organizations like the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce. They must bring the steelband movement into the 21st century and that means that Pantrinbago has to rearrange to face this great challenge. Another item I would like to see change is the membership arrangement that Pantrinbago instituted years ago. I believe that instead of registering only steelbands as members Pantrinbago should also register individual panists and charge them an annual fee for membership. Membership should bring such privileges as a minimum wages for playing at clubs and other places of entertainment.  Also, I would like to see Pantrinbago honor its founders going back to the 1950s when the first Steelband Association was established. Their stories should be told on Pantrinbago’s web site. Also, Pantrinbago should put up pictures of all the past presidents of the Steelband Associations. One president of note is the late George Goddard who worked hard in the interests of the steelband movement. Also, he is the only president that wrote a book about his experiences in the steelband movement. A laudable contribution indeed! I would like to see Pantrinbago make the public aware of the book and make sure that the book remains in print. One may disagree with some of the things Mr. Goddard said in his book but nevertheless it is an historical document and should be read by all panists and pan jumbies.

Most importantly, I would like to see the steelpan penetrate the musical culture of its adopted countries. Here, in America, you do not see the steelpan incorporated in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Detroit Symphony in Michigan, Philadelphia Orchestra in Pennsylvania or Boston Symphony in Massachusetts. Why is that so? One may not care anything about those orchestras but they do represent ‘high’ culture in America. I am sure it is the same for England and other European countries. Why should the steelpan be separate? After all, it is an instrument and with the proper pitch can fit into any orchestra. As the steelband movement takes root in America and Europe I would like to see them involve the steelpan in their musical culture by having their conventional orchestras incorporate the steelpan as a lead instrument. So far Europe has avoided competitions or Panoramas. They prefer concerts and that is okay. New York and London are following the Trinbago model because there is a large Trinbagonian community in those cities. Also, it was early Trinbagonian immigrants who established the carnival there. London’s Notting Hill carnival and New York’s West Indian Day Carnival are the largest carnivals outside of Trinidad.

Another thing I would like to see is the standardization of the instrument whereby a panist from anywhere can play a steelpan from any steelband without having first to learn the position of the notes from each steelband. More so, I would also like to see Pantrinbago involve the Trinbago government and businesses to build a concert hall dedicated to pan music. The concert hall should be named after a prominent steelband person or early supporter of the steelband movement. Many people have contributed to the growth and development of the steelband movement and their names should live in memory. A few names come to mind like George Goddard, Beryl McBurnie, Rudolph Charles, Ellie Mannette and Anthony Williams. Each contributed to the development of the steelband movement. Mr. Goddard dedicated his life to improve the lot of the steelbands, at times putting him at odds with the late Prime Minister Dr. Eric Williams. Ms. McBurnie put her status and reputation at risk by supporting the steelband movement at a time when it was not popular to do so. Mr. Charles was a role model of a captain who taught the steelbands that they could use the courts to settle their disagreements with the judges instead of fighting on carnival days. He also led one of the premier steelbands of Trinbago, Desperadoes Steel Orchestra. Under his leadership, Desperadoes used outside tuners like Emanuel Jack, Ellie and Birdie Mannette from Invaders which was an innovation in those days. Mr. Mannette gave the modern steelband its voice with his method of pan tuning. He changed the tone of the steelpan by rearranging the notes and added more notes to the instrument. Anthony Williams introduced the fourths and fifths concept to the steelband orchestra and was captain of another leading steelband of the 1960s, North Stars Steel Orchestra.

Most importantly, I would like to see the government of Trinbago follow up on Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s speech a few years ago when he acclaimed the steelpan to be the national instrument of Trinbago. Now it is Mr. Manning’s turn to put legislation where his mouth is. The government should pass an Act of Parliament making the steelpan the true national instrument of Trinbago. I believe that Pantrinbago should put that item on the top of their 2006 agenda after carnival and petition the government to pass the Act before the next election. I know that every Trinbagonian believes that the steelpan is the national instrument of Trinbago but it is not a legal claim. An Act of Parliament would tell the world that the steelpan is a creation of Pantrinbago and that the people of Trinbago take that claim seriously. If the present government has trouble formulating a resolution here is my suggestion. The resolution should be signed by all parliamentarians and could read:

“Whereas the steelpan has achieved prominence all over the world as an indigenous Trinidad and Tobago art form bringing the nation outstanding artistic expression and has made it a unifying force for all Trinbagonians bridging cultural, religious, ethnic, age and gender differences in our diverse society, it is resolved that it is in the nation’s interest to preserve and celebrate this unique art form known as the steelband. Therefore, we declare that the steelpan is designated the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago to which we will devote our attention, support and resources to ensure that it is preserved.”

The reason for my above wish lists is because I believe that the steelband movement in Trinbago seems stalled. The overall accomplishments since 1963 has been the improved prize money for the various competitions: Panorama, Pan in the 21st century, Pan down memory lane, bi-annual Music festival and Pan Jazz. Yet, the steelband movement does not own its concert hall dedicated to the instrument. The bi-annual Music festival is still being held in a sports arena (Jean Pierre Complex). The majority of local panists are still from the working and unemployed class. The top 5 steelbands of the nation: Trinidad All Stars, Phase II, Desperadoes, Exodus and Renegades are still the ones who win the Panorama competition since the 1980s. That means that only one of the top 5 arrangers: Smooth Edwards, Len Boogsie Sharpe, Pelham Goddard and Jit Samarroo stands a chance of winning the Panorama competition. The problem is that Pantrinbago has taken a back seat in moving the steelband movement in other directions. So the real questions may be: Has the steelband movement reached its pinnacle in Trinbago? Can we expect more of Pantrinbago? Is Pantrinbago doing all it can for the steelband movement? Should we expect a small country like Trinbago with over 100 steelbands and many more panists, especially at carnival time (when each of the competing 13 bands has 100 panists), to be able to manage and provide for such a large quantity of steel orchestras? I don’t know the exact budget for all the steelband competitions but if the 1st prize for the winning steelband is $400, 000.00 and all the appearing steelbands receive some appearance fees then it is costing quite a large sum of money to operate. Is this money being put to good use? Are the large sums of Panorama money being spent improving the steelband movement? Is the steelband movement providing jobs for local panists after the carnival?

Now, here are some of the things I would like to see the steelbands do. Every steelband should have a pan web site with its history and achievements. Every steelband should put up pictures of their founders in their panyards. For example, one should be able to go to the Desperadoes steelband panyard and see pictures of Rudolph Charles, Speaker, George Yeats, Beah on their walls. Steelbands could organize once a month classes for their members to talk about the founding of their steelbands. All steelbands should make sure that their members read Pantrinbago’s constitution and bye-laws to see if their interests are being represented by Pantrinbago. They should get more involved in Pantrinbago and settle their disagreements according to the process in Pantrinbago’s constitution and bye-laws.

I would like to see steelbands demand that the government spend some of the oil boom revenue to build a first class concert hall for the steelband where Trinbagonians can be proud of their musical contribution to the world. Steelbands should demand jobs for their members who are jobless or training for their members who lack the skills to seek employment. Steelbands should petition the government to own the land upon which their steelband stand. The title to the land should afford them the opportunity to use it as collateral for investments if they chose. Also, the steelbands should take a second look at the concept of Pan Theatres. They were popular in the late 60s but are no longer around. Each steelband should have their own Pan Theatre where they can sponsor shows with the steelband as the main attraction. In this age of globalization where space is getting smaller and smaller I would like to see the stelbands encouraging their panists to take the lead and learn music.

During the 1960s the government organized sponsorships for the steelbands in exchange for tax right offs to the businesses. Under the sponsorship arrangement steelbands were able to get monies to pay arrangers and tuners to prepare for the annual Panorama competition. But, I don’t believe that the steelbands earned any monetary gains from that arrangement. I would like to see the sponsorship arrangement replaced with a new financial arrangement for the steelbands by proposing a steelband fund to be developed between the government and local businesses to support the steelbands. This fund will allocate monies to different steelbands according to their needs. The steelbands will be required to submit a budget proposal to the fund committee outlining their financial needs for the coming year which will include monies for arrangers, tuners, conductors, concerts and building maintenance. Since the major event for the steelbands is the annual Panorama held in February or March the budget should be submitted in July or August of the previous year. Each steelband would have to give an accounting of monies spent the previous year before being considered for funds for the coming year. This arrangement will provide transparency and accountability for the steelbands which will teach them independence and self-responsibility.

Of course, steelbands should be required to keep books and records of expenditures subjected to annual inspections by the fund committee. The fund committee should be comprised of members from the business community, the Minister of culture, Pantrinbago executive member of their choice and a member of the legal community to keep everyone honest. This should not be seen as a replacement for the government’s financial contributions to Pantrinbago but an attempt to give the steelbands financial responsibility for their orchestras. If a steelband is found to misuse or abuse their allocation from the fund without a meritorious excuse then like all business arrangements they should go out of business. There are over one hundred steelbands in the country many of which struggle to survive so if they squander their monies they should go out of business. The steelbands must begin to see their music institutions as businesses that must be responsible to the taxpayers who will be providing their financial resources.

Lastly, I would like to see the Trinbago government use the steelbands as a catalyst to provide real jobs and social improvement for the steelband fraternity in the areas where there is high unemployment and poverty. Also, the government should build a national steelband museum to house the history and artifacts of the steelband movement. It is reaching a time when all the steelband pioneers will not be around for us to hear their stories. The history of the steelband movement should be included in the nation’s schools curriculum. Surely, this will produce a sense of national pride in our national instrument.

In keeping with our love for music and the arts I would also like to see the government build the Beryl McBurnie Performing Arts Center where the nation’s best music and artistic endeavors can be displayed. Ms. Burnie was our first diva of dance and staunch supporter of the steelband movement. I would like to see the Freddie Kisson Performing Arts Center in San Fernando, the nation’s second capital. Mr. Kisson was one of the first male Trinidadian dancers who made our nation proud. The diverse nature of Trinbago has produced chutney soca, best village, picong, calypso, soca, steelband, parang and a multiple of different sounds. Certainly, these artistic models should be given an arena the nation can be proud of to display their talents. In the colonial era we had Queen’s Hall but nothing compared to it has been built since. Why not? The government has money to buy guns from foreign countries why not spend a few dollars on building a proper performing arts center for the nation. I call on all panjumbies to reach out to Pantrinbago so that discussions can begin now that the carnival is over.  

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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