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March 3, 2008 - Volume 1, No. 9

The Pan In Me

There is something about Panorama that captivates my imagination and attention like no other steelband event. I have attended the local jazz, hosay, better village and classic concerts. But, Panorama is unlike any other musical event. Panorama displays inclusiveness like no other musical event. In Panorama, everyone can participate as long as you can play the steelpan well enough to qualify for your favorite steelband. Panorama is a true meritocracy. There are locals and foreigners included. If you attended the panorama or look at your Panorama DVD you will see Japanese, whites, men, women, Indians and Africans all playing and enjoying the national festival. There is also camaraderie between the panists and the audience that transcends any differences that may exist outside the Panorama. Of course, after Panorama people return to their race and class. It seems that the only thing that brings them together is Panorama. I have been following Panorama since 1963 when my band City Syncopators entered. Oh, those early years! Gone but not forgotten. In those days arrangers did not complain about judges. The steelbands did disagree with the judges which sometimes resulted in fights on carnival days. But, arrangers were only too happy to have local judges adjudicate the Panorama since the music festival was adjudicated by foreigners. It is with regret to hear calls from a two arrangers (Boogsie and Professor) for foreign judges to judge our national festival. Do those arrangers really believe that foreign judges can judge our national festival better than our local judges? If it is a question of fairness then Pantrinbago can make the process more transparent.

This year eight steelbands (from a list of 14) were selected for Panorama finals: All Stars, Phase 2, Silver Stars, Tropical Angel Harps, Redemption Sound Setters, Exodus, Renegades and Desperadoes. It was the second time that the national festival was held at Skinner Park in San Fernando due to the new construction of a new Carnival Center in the savannah. There is word from the cultural minister that work on the new center will begin sometime in September 2k8. But, I believe that Panorama will be held at Skinner Park for the next few years. Not a bad idea in my opinion. The southland deserves as much Panoramas as they can get. Since 1963 through 2006 all Panorama preliminaries, semifinals and finals were held at the Queen’s Park Savannah. I see no problem with sharing the event with San Fernando. Again, this year (like last year) it was not much of a problem. Some steelbands left for the southland as early as Thursday afternoon making traffic on the road less cumbersome. For those who took public transportation it was easy to get to San Fernando from City Gate, which was a mere half-hour ride up the priority route.

On Panorama Saturday, I stayed at a friend’s home (she and her family were very generous and kind) in the southland. I spent Panorama day visiting the stores on Coffee and High Streets. I love south people. They are so courteous and friendly. The house in which I stayed for the night did not have iron gates. Amazing! However, Trinbago is now a security state with most houses and businesses secured with iron gates. More and more gated communities are being built. People don’t lime anymore or hang out in their galleries or verandas. The corner lime is a thing of the past. In Port of Spain, I did not see young people liming on the corners like I used to as a young man. An exception was at the top of Nelson Street. As a Nelsonian I visited the block daily. Nelsonians who returned for the carnival spent their days liming on the same spot that we limed before this new Trinidad came into existence. I spent some of my days and nights time liming on Nelson Street with the guys from Grissom: Sharko, Otis, Joey, Sam, McCollin, Zolupe, Emery, Sam Dopey, Little Talent, Desmond, Merlin, Blacks, Mike and Audra. I enjoyed the friendliness and hospitality of the remaining local Nelsonians. Some of the guys are really trying to keep themselves away from the hard drugs. While I was there we raised some money to paint a few benches (strictly for liming) and the wall to give the place a fresh and bright look. One night Emery and a few Nelsonians cooked and had a calypso show with a few drinks for all. As I looked at the guys it was like old times. Only, they all paid a heavy price. A few fell into the drug malaise. Some did not age well. But, many are bouncing back as they take their lives into their hands to recover from that deadly scourge. I admire their strength. I wish all the guys and the block the best. But, Nelson Street may have seen its best days. Soon, urban development will tear down the Plannings to make way for new buildings. Nelsonians will have to move to other far and distant places. I took pictures. Nelson Street will always be dear to my heart. My navel string bury there.

Today, in the land of steelband, Trinidad is a new society with new dynamics, conflicts and energy. There is also a culture of fear which was new for me. I noticed that people were suspicious and not very open like before. I was warned not to ask for directions so as not to arouse suspicions that I was a visitor. As if I needed any directions. There may be new buildings but the streets remain the same. I must admit that in the day time it is more crowded on the streets with people selling everything. I noticed that around four-thirty in the afternoon you can see crowds of working people and school children at the corner of Nelson and Duke Streets stretching down to St. Vincent Street (and other parts of Port of Spain) waiting for taxis to get home. At six o’clock all the stores on Charlotte, Henry, Pembroke, Abercrombie and St. Vincent Streets are closed. The streets become dark and lonely. And, the nights belong to the young. I saw young people in the hundreds in large crowds walking the streets. I did not see anyone selling coconut water around the savannah. Strange! I was told that the sellers were moved to City Gate.

I was front and center at the Panorama in Skinner Park. The rain threatened the Panorama for a short while but it held up. I was disappointed that the first two steelbands’ music were not played because the DJ for got the music. That DJ should be fired. The atmosphere was friendly and panjumbies roamed the field meeting and greeting each other as the bands played. I listened to Phase 2 Steel Orchestra performed musical vengeance while Len Boogsie Sharpe conducted his steelband to first place at the annual Panorama competition. I sat next to Trinidad All Stars panjumbies who kept saying after Phase 2 played: “That can’t beat All Stars.” “He come with the same music again.” But, beat All Stars they did. And, it was a supreme performance both by the band and its conductor. Now, I am a panjumbie and love all steelbands (my first love will always be for my band City Syncopators which is now defunct). So, I pay particular attention to every steelband that plays at Panorama because there can be surprises. After all, All Stars led by 8 points after the semis. But, I have to say that I got goose pimps when Phase 2 struck the first note. I never heard so much arrangement in one tune. What can I say, Boogsie is a genius. He is possessed with new music and very innovative. That is the difference between him and the rest.

As far as the judging goes, I only wish that Boogsie would take his case regarding the judges to Pantrinbago and not gallery after each Panorama. But, I will still acclaim Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe as the panist (arranger, composer and soloist) of the 20th century. I still reserve the title ‘arranger of the 20th century’ to Master Clive Bradley. Although All Stars won the bomb competition, I found Phase 2 ‘Blessed Assurances’ to be the best bomb tune for the Jouvert Bomb competition. For my money they outplayed All Stars. I have never heard such sweet music since hearing Ebonites play “Roses from the South” on Henry Street, Hilanders playing ‘Let ever’y valley be exalted’, Desperadoes playing ‘Czardus’coming up Prince Street on carnival Tuesday night going home, City Syncopators playing “Theme from Ten Commandments’ for jouvert, City Symphony playing ‘Night & Day’ going round Piccadilly Street to their panyard on St. Paul Street and Starlift playing “Penny Lane’ or ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ coming up Tragarete Road in the golden steelband years of the 60s.

The preliminaries and semifinals were held at the savannah. I missed prelims but caught the semis and finals. At the semis, it was a spectacle to see all the bands (14 large and 14 medium) on the drag playing their favorite tune getting ready for the stage. I was able to hear all the bands. Saw lots of old friends, local and foreign. I was disappointed that most of the steelbands did not pay attention to clean pans and stands for their panorama presentation. Bands must realize that they are seen by the world on the internet and can no longer ignore having clean pans and stands. Those rusting pans, strings and dirty stands like the canopies have to go.

I loved the courage of Pelham Goddard who removed the canopy and racks from Exodus steel orchestra for Panorama. Exodus looked great on the Skinner Park stage and the Panorama DVD. They even removed the canopies and racks on the road for the carnival. No more talk about protecting the pans from the heat of the sun. Exodus defied tradition. I maintain that the canopies and those steel racks have outlived their usefulness for Panorama, now that Panorama is viewed by millions of panjumbies on the internet. I predict that steelbands will soon follow the Exodus look (no canopies or racks) and Boogsie’s music for the Panorama future. All Stars was great until Phase 2 played. I also loved Desperadoes rendition of ‘Ten Commandments of Pan’. Robbie Greenidge is keeping Despers alive. I visited Desperadoes panyard (they come down from the Hill for carnival practice) at the savannah. For the last few carnivals Desperadoes have been moving their pans to the savannah at Jermingham Avenue to practice. I guess the killing scene up the hill is causing that.

I traveled to most of the finalist steelbands panyard and made some observations. First, the steelbands are still struggling in the land where the steelpan is the national instrument. I wish that steelbands return to the Pan Theatre model of the 70s. Most of the panists are young and female except in Desperadoes steel orchestra. For some reason most of the panists in Despers are old and male. Some of their panists have been playing since Panorama inception in 1963. I hope that they reach out to younger panists and females who can carry the band in years to come. Bands like Exodus, Phase 2, Silver Stars, All Stars and Invaders are attracting more younger, female and foreign panists. The steelbands are still the most inclusive institution in Trinbago. Although most of the panists are of African descent, each steelband practices a meritocracy where a panist is chosen for their skills only. As Dr. Kim Johnson said “If your iron good you is king.” The steelbands have to come back on the road for carnival. Except for All Stars, Exodus, Phase 2 and Starlift, it is not a pretty site to see other steelbands as they struggle to get panists to play on the road.

I loved the carnival mas on the streets. It reminded me of the time my grandmother used to take me to see mas. She would take a bench so that she and I could sit and watch the mas players as they traveled along Frederick up to the Memorial Park. In those days, most mas bands traveled up Frederick Street to enter the savannah for competition on the big stage. I believe that the organizers should keep mas on the streets. It was so refreshing and dynamic to see mas players walking in the streets without the dust and the long wait to get on the savannah stage. I also saw rope tied around some of the mas ‘exclusive’ bands. That was new for me. The last time I saw rope around a band was when local white masqueraders used to play mas on trucks. It was used to exclude then.

On carnival Monday night, I attended Monday Night mas at Adams Smith Square. There were about ten or twelve steelbands but few of the large bands attended. It was a night of young people enjoying pan music. No incidents. Last year, I played mas both days with Trinidad All Stars. This year I decided to play on Monday and leave Tuesday for walking through the streets of Port of Spain. I enjoyed the walk with some friends and saw many of the mas bands on the road. Also, I decided to skip the fetes and take in the cultural shows. I attended Paul Keens-Douglas show at Queen’s Hall. It was sold out. The show was one of the best. Next, I attended David Rudder’s show at Normandie Hotel “Under the Tree.” The cast was made up of Black Stalin, Kernel Roberts, Bungi Garlin, Superior and Boogsie. Another great show! It would have been great to see different steelbands performing under the tree each night. Next, I went to Vintage Calypso Tent at Little Carib Theatre. Another packed show. Good calypsos too from Duke, Explainer, Poser, Funny, Mudada and Superior. Then, it was on to Yamatang and Klassic Russo at City Hall. Sold out! Great comedy and kaiso! The MC was funny with his often changing of suits after each performance. At one time he even wore a short pants suit. The nuts (Nuts landing) man too was a blast.

I walked everywhere behind the bridge by myself and was not afraid. I walked up Duke Street to Belgrade Street. Then I traveled to Siparia Hill to see a friend. I walked up Jackson Hill and that was a task. I wondered how I used to climb that hill as a young boy without stopping to catch my breadth. The four posts are still there at the top of the hill. Laventille Road is still narrow. I often wonder how the cars navigate that road. As they say: “Stay on your side.” While I recognized that there were dangers as the youths engaged in their killing spree without discrimination, I felt pretty safe. People said good morning and asked how I was doing. Some were familiar with me while others just knew that I belonged there. There are still many descent people living behind the bridge as their world disintegrates before their very eyes on a daily basis. As a result, many elderly people seldom go outside, especially after dark. Even in the days of riots between Marabuntas and Desperadoes people’s lives were not disrupted. I can’t remember one old person killed or harmed by those riots. Once during the steelband riots, I witnessed a fight between some members of Thunderbirds and Lawbreakers in progress. Suddenly, it stopped as an old woman walked down the street. Not anymore! No one stops for the very young and the elderly.

As I walked up Laventille Road I realized that there were few people on the streets. This was around 4leven o’clock in the morning in the middle of the week. I remember how the Hill used to be bubbling with people and activity. People would be seen liming or playing sports in the roads. I walked across Schuller Street down to Basilon Street. Empty! No one limes on the corner anymore. In a community where there is no lime or sports it is certain death for the residents. No lime breeds any life. One night I stood on Piccadilly Street at the corner of Duke Street and looked up at Laventille and it was pitch dark. Where did the lights go? Now, people behind the bridge have instituted a self-imposed curfew. People rush to their homes after dark. As a young boy living behind the bridge I remember that people protected you from harm, even in the days of steelband riots. Young children and old people were immune from harm. If you did not belong to a steelband gang (Lawbreakers, Warlock, Applejackers, Thunderbirds, Silkhats, or Navarone) you were seldom harmed. Not so today!

It seems that everyone behind the bridge is exposed to being killed in this new state of murder and mayhem. Although I must say that the murder and mayhem seem to be contained in areas like Laventille, Morvant, Egypt, First Caledonia, Second Caledonia and some areas in the East and West (Diego Martin and Petit Valley). How did a community (behind the bridge) that nurtured me become this way? Why has life become so meaningless? Who is to blame for this new nihilism? Was it destiny, class, poverty, neglect or unemployment that created this killing field? When will it end? How will it end? Why this deafening silence from government authorities. I struggled to get answers and concluded that those areas have always been violent when I was growing up. Also, as now movies had a great influence on the violence. Many imitated the violence from the western movies at the time. Today, gansta movies have replaced westerns with its easy violence streaming from guns. But, guns were unavailable at that time (even the police did not carry guns) so weapons like cutlasses, knives, iron bolts and big stones were used. As a result, people who were attacked lived most of the times. I often wonder if removing the moral restraints in 1970 that provided a moral compass to young people led to a vacuum which was replaced by nihilism among the young.

While walking up Gloster Lodge Road, I remembered how we (Mauvais Lange) used to have great limes on Gloster Lodge corner where, as young people, we only thought about school, girls, movies, sports and games. While Gloster Lodge School is still going strong, Rose Hill School is now closed due to the mayhem up the Hill. Everywhere, I saw people who adapted to the new atmosphere of death. I said to myself: “They don’t deserve this”. The stress showed. One of the things that struck me was that some people were building walls that closed up the gaps people used as short cuts to get to other areas. No longer can you pass through a short cut. People are more cautious, suspicious, fearful and scared. There is no leadership again. There was a time that you could get people in the community to resolve problems among the young people. No more! Now, everyone keeps to him or herself to avoid being targeted. The stress of having to be always on your Ps and Qs must be painful for many who remember how free life was on the hill. I feel particularly concerned for the elderly who are literally locked inside their homes fearing to venture outside.

As I traveled on Quarry Street I noticed that the street is now a street of the past as the houses and shops have deteriorated beyond repair. As I walked along Norfolk Street I noticed that Belmont was half of its former self. They can still save Belmont but it is dying a slow death. Norfolk Street is now strictly commercial with parlors and little shops everywhere. My trip to Mango Rose revealed a community locked down for the carnival. It was policed by the police and the regiment (8 to be exact) as they guarded the area from the gangs. It was a startling experience for this blogger. I don’t know what happens after carnival. George Street was still crowded and dirty with its numerous vendors. Charlotte Street was peopled with vendors hawking their goods on the side walk. Crown and Jardine bakeries are gone. So, is Hell Yard where Johnny Lee and the Hurricanes Combo used to practice in the 60s. Also, one of our past great soccer players Celerise and musician Desmond Marceil lived there at one time. Frederick Street is no longer the drag where young people limed in their best clothing. It has become the way Charlotte Street used to be. It is now crowded with vendors (young and old) on the sidewalk (and sometimes on the street) selling their CDs, DVDs, shades, fruits and clothing. Most of the large stores have innovatively closed their operations and opened booths. Observatory Street is also dying. The Catholic Hospice was locked up. Samaroo’s store was closed. Samaroo moved to Abercrombie Street and is still selling mas products. I remember Samaroo was the store that provided all Christmas products like Linoleum, curtains, paint, polish and toys for children. I bough my first gun and sack there. The Jellit factory is also gone. There is now a spot, next to the former Jellit factory, for the Elders to lime. There is a billiards table and bar inside and in the day time there is a lime outside among the Elders. Darcielle Lane is struggling to survive. I saw members of the Skeritt family who are trying to keep the Lane alive. The Chinese shop across from the Lane was boarded up and rotting.

There are still four Trinidads existing: 1. From Green corner to Carenage. 2. From Charlotte Street to San Juan. 3. From San Juan to San Fernando. 4. From Sando to the deep south. Green corner has become the symbol of the present situation in Port of Spain with the building rotting and locked up. No one lives anymore on Charlotte, Henry, Pembroke, Abercrombie, St. Vincent and Edward Streets. Now, there are only commercial enterprises on those streets. Cipriani Boul evard is now filled with restaurants and businesses. Tragarete Road (from St. Vincent Street to former Roxy, now a pizza parlor) is now strictly businesses. No homes! Cyril’s parlor is still there (but with barricades at the counter) in front of Silver Stars Steelband panyard. Everywhere I looked there were new buildings rising. It seems that someone believes that putting up buildings is development 20/20. There is a remarkable irony that while different parts of the country is developing other parts are dying. Soon, Port of Spain will be totally commercial. For some reason the authorities can’t seem to manage the country properly.

Also, I attended the book launching of “Music from behind the bridge” written by Dr. Shannon Dudley. Dr. Dudley’s book is an excellent and unique description of the steelband movement. Dr. Dudley is an American and has played with a few Trinbago steelbands at Panorama. I consider his book one of the best books written on the steelband movement. I read it once and intend to read it again and again. I particularly like his take on the aesthetics of Panorama. Panist stalwarts like Andy Narell and Ray Holman attended the book launching. Valentino (The People’s Calypsonian) was there and sang his controversial calypso “Pan in the West.” The crowd was small but I attest that to poor publicity. The Friday after carnival I attended my friend Don Procope’s daughter’s wedding at Pier I. It was a mixture of Trinidadians and Guyanese since the groom was Guyanese and the bride Trinidadian. I had a wonderful time. Everyone celebrated the new bride whom I knew since she was a little girl. The DJ played excellent music which had the guests dancing all night.

My holiday was soon up and I wondered what next year will hold for Panorama. As I gathered my things and packed I thought about the explosive potential of marketing Panorama. Steelbands from all over the world should be invited to participate in our national festival. Panorama should be the supreme competition for steelbands throughout the world. Pantrinabgo should look into this before the new carnival center is built. But first, Pantrinbago will have to sit down with the local steelbands and plan ahead. Otherwise, Panorama will go the way of calypso. Tolerated but boring. This year’s calypso monarch competition was one of the worst. Imagine, a calypsonian (whom I love) singing about his rivalry with other calypsonians and placing second. The young panists need to be embedded in the steelband movement. They should be taught steelband history as a requirement for joining a steelband. I watched young panists enter a panyard and go straight to their pans. There was time when panists used to belong to a steelband and spent most of their time liming in the panyard. It was unheard to see a panist enter a panyard and head straight to their pan. The steelbands will have to get serious sand move Panorama forward. Pantrinabgo has to modernize the production. Panorama is now the national festival of Trinbago.  That calls for study and planning to present to the world a first class presentation. America is the home of jazz where jazz musicians from all over the world rush to play jazz. Trinbago must be the place where steelbands come to compete for Panorama championship.

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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