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May 1, 2006 - Volume 1, No. 1

Panjumbies, thanks for your readership in my other forum “From the Rendezvous of Victory”. In honor of the historical occasion that took place on February 25, 2006 (It was the last panorama to be held in the ‘big yard’ at the Queen’s Park Savannah) I have decided to establish THE INTERNATIONAL STEELBAND HALL OF FAME (TISHOF).  So, I want to welcome you to TISHOF which shall include all my future and former articles on the steelband movement and will induct pioneers, steelbands, tuners, panists, leaders, composers/arrangers and contributors to the growth and development of the steelband movement. TISHOF will endeavor to give recognition to all those who have had a significant impact on the evolution, development and continuance of the steelband movement by inducting them into the hall of fame. To the heroes and heroines who have contributed with their goodwill, reputations, money and status TISHOF will enshrine their memory in the hall of fame. TISHOF will continue in the tradition of ‘Rendezvous’ to bring panjumbies the stories and histories of the steelband movement. “The Last Panorama” is my first article for TISHOF.


THE LAST PANORAMA

On February 25, 2006 Trinbago witnessed its last Panorama in the big yard at Queen’s Park Savannah. This national music festival held in the big yard, since its inception in 1963, will not be held there in 2007. The Minister of Culture announced recently that the government decided to break down the grand stand and rebuild a new cultural center. The Minister of Culture stated that the rebuilding could take two to three years. For carnival 2007, Panorama may be held at the Jean Pierre Sports Complex in the western area of Trinidad. What does this mean for the steelband movement and Pantrinbago? Does this mean that the Panorama will see changes when it moves to its ‘temporary’ site? Is this a time to implement some changes to the Panorama? Should Pantrinbago rescind the permission for steelbands to play calypsos of yesteryears and return to current tunes? Will Pantrinbago develop a state of the art festival with proper recordings and visual to market the Panorama?  These are some of the questions that panjumbies should be asking as the steelband movement reaches a milestone in its history. From 1963 to 2006 there have been a few changes to the Panorama, namely the introduction of canopies by the steelbands, acceptance of arrangers composing their own tunes for the Panorama, recordings of the festival (first on vinyl, then Cassette, next CD and finally to DVD), the division of three steelband categories (Large, Medium and Small), enlarging the panists for the large category to 120 panists and an increase in the prize monies.

In order to understand the Panorama one needs to get an historical hold on the literature about the steelbands. I would recommend Mr. George Goddard’s (past president of the then Steelband Association) excellent book called “Forty Years in the Steelbands” (1991) where he outlined his experiences in the steelband association and the many obstacles he faced as president of the association, which was the precursor organization to Pantrinbago. I read the book and found it to be very useful and instructive history about the steelband movement and the various characters involved. It is interesting to note that Pantrinbago does not sell or promote this book (the only one published by a Steelband president) on its web site. But, I urge panjumbies to get it and read it carefully, especially now that the Panorama will be ‘temporarily’ removed from the Queen’s Park Savannah. The steelband movement is now at a crossroad where it can determine what kind of Panorama it wants to give the world. This golden opportunity gives Pantrinbago space to reinvent the Panorama for the 21st century.

On February 22, 1963, the first steelband Panorama took off with the preliminary under the auspices of the National Association of Trinidad and Tobago Steelbandsmen (NATTS). It was held in the big yard at the Queen’s Park Savannah. The first prize was $1000.00. It was called “Steelbands’ Panorama” by Mr. Ronald Williams who was the chairman of the new Carnival Development Committee. The steelbands that participated included: Casablanca, City Syncopators, CityKids, City Symphony, Crossfire, Invaders, Crosswinds, Desperadoes, Dixie Harps, Sundowners, Merrytones, Metronomes, Nocturne, Merry Stars Metronomes, Modern Sunland, North Stars, Prodigal Philharmonics, San Juan All Stars, Renegades, Sputniks, Starlift, Steel Stylers, Tropical Harmony, Wonderland (Port of Spain) and Wonderland (Chaguanas). There were no semi-finals. Ten steelbands were chosen for the finals: Casablanca, North Stars, Wonderland, Starlift, Modern Sunland, Desperadoes, San Juan All Stars, Invaders, City Symphony and Sundowners. The winner at the Panorama finals in 1963 was North Stars with Sundowners and Desperadoes placing second and third respectfully. Among the steelbands that participated in the first Panorama in 1963, only Desperadoes, Starlift, Invaders and Renegades remain in the large band category for the last panorama 2006 in the big yard. Most of the other steelbands are now defunct. In 1971, NATTS changed its name to Pan Trinbago with Arnim Smith and Owen Serrette as the two presidents before the current president Patrick Arnold.

In the beginning, this national steelband galore was held on carnival Friday night but later moved to carnival Saturday night. Through the years, Panorama has had its ups and downs with a steelband-boycott in 1979 due to the steelbands’ dissatisfaction about the small amount of prize monies they were being paid in the competition. That year, after the preliminaries were held, all the steelbands voted to boycott the Panorama after the preliminaries. One steelband, Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, decided to break the boycott. On the day of the semi-finals, Desperadoes was the only steelband to cross the stage. Rudolph Charles, then captain of Desperadoes, explained the breaking of the boycott by stating that Desperadoes played for their fans who expected to see them at the semi-finals. Even though many steelbands did not agree with Mr. Charles’ explanation the matter was put to rest. For the first time in 1979 there was no Panorama finals in the big yard. The Panorama resumed in 1980. Pantrinbago continued to lead the steelband movement under Arnim Smith, Owen Serrette and currently Patrick Arnold. Some will question the quality of development for the steelband movement under each president. Recently, Mr. Arnold requested from the government a first prize of $1 million for Panorama 2007. If Mr. Arnold gets his wish Panorama 2007 will provide the steelbands with the largest prize monies since the Panorama began in 1963. As a result, some will argue that Mr. Arnold has delivered the financial goods to the steelbands. Others may argue that Mr. Arnold has not delivered enough for the steelbands. Recently, Phase II lost their sponsorship because they refused to vacate their panyard which the government demanded for development. Most steelbands do not own their panyards and are subject to sporadic demands to vacate. The marketing of the steelband is yet to be achieved as less steelbands travel abroad. The annual trip to New York City by the Panorama winning steelband was discontinued. The last steelband to visit New York City was Phase II Steel Orchestra.

The 1980s saw a change in the type of music presented for the steelbands to play. By that time, Len "Boogsie" Sharpe of Phase II Steel Orchestra was already composing his own calypsos for the Panorama. After several attempts by Boogsie, the judges finally accepted the new music from Phase II with the band winning back to back Panoramas in 1987 and 1988. Ray Holman was the first panist to compose a tune for the Panorama. In 1974, Ray composed “Pan on the move” (a favorite tune played often by panist Andy Narell) for his band Starlift Steel Orchestra.

Next came, the rise of Soca music which placed less emphasis on melody and more on tempo (dance music) causing steelbands to complain that the source of good music was drying up. The 1990s brought more confusion in the music as steelbands complained that there were fewer good panorama tunes to play for the Panorama. After the death of Kitchener, who wrote calypsos strictly for the steelbands, The Original Defosto Himself, a popular calypsonian, took up Kitchener’s mantle and began writing calypsos for the steelbands to play at the Panorama competition. But, that was not enough as steelbands struggled to discover good panorama tunes. Pantrinbago’s answer to that dilemma was to permit the steelbands to play old calypsos previously played in past Panoramas, as long as a steelband did not win the Panorama with that particular tune. Some steelbands returned to tunes as Pan Night & Day, Jericho and This Music Sweet, all tunes with great melodic lines. But, for this year’s 2006 last panorama all the large steelbands played a current tune. Again, The Original Defosto Himself dominated the stage with three finalist steelbands playing his music.

As the steelbands prepare for the new Panorama in 2007 they do not know if the new site for the Panorama will be accommodating as the big yard. There are no acoustics in the Jean Pierre sports complex even though the Music Festivals are held there bi-annually. Maybe this cool off period is a time for the steelbands to asses their 43 years of competing in the big yard and ask whether there needs to be changes in the Panorama. One change I would like to see is the removal of the canopies from the steelbands and all those ‘silly’ contraptions that distract the viewer from seeing the panists performing. It is time for new and beautiful stands for the pans without the ‘silly’ contraptions blocking the view of panists. I long for the Panorama night when I could see the steelbands playing fine music without those contraptions disturbing my view. And, I could show my friends some of the panists whom I know without having to guess if that panist played in the Panorama. A close up look at the steelbands shows that many of the racks need painting and many of the pans are rusted. Surely, someone can create more friendly looking racks for the pans. After all, the world is looking at this gala event. I wish that steelbands see the need to market their band to the world. Steelbands must realize that at the Panorama it is show time and they have to display their bands as well as their panists to the world. The canopies are an obstacle that prevents viewers from seeing the panists.

Since 1963, can the steelbands say that the Panorama have brought them money, status, employment and fame? Have their social and economic conditions changed since 1963? Have their communities changed for the better since 1963? Does this last panorama in the big yard foretell a brighter future for the steelband movement or a dismal one?  These are some of the questions that the steelbands need to ask themselves. Recently, Desperadoes Steel Orchestra attempted to put on a CD all Master Clive Bradley’s arrangements that he did for the band. The family of Master Bradley responded with an enquiry about the sharing of profits with the Master’s children. Furthermore, the family stated that they intended to hire a lawyer to protect the children’s interests. What went wrong? Why didn’t the band foresee this response? After all, they intended to sell the CDs to the public, thus expecting to make a profit. To date, Pantrinbago has failed to comment on the matter just as they failed to properly honor Master Clive Bradley at the 2006 panorama, which they promised to do. Two of the steelbands, Desperadoes and Valley Harps had pictures of Master Bradley on top of their bands and played tunes dedicated to the master. There was no gala affair put on by Pantrinbago to honor Master Clive Bradley whose musical arrangements gave panjumbies much pleasure from 1970 through 2005. (See my article on Master Bradley for his accomplishments) Once again Pantrinbago missed a golden opportunity to do the right thing.

As the steelbands prepare for the ‘temporary’ venue in 2007, Pantrinbago has a golden opportunity to reshape the Panorama so that when the steelbands return to the big yard a new Panorama would have emerged befitting its new home. Whatever complaints that Pantrinbago received over the years about the Panorama can now be addressed as the ‘temporary’ site will be the home of the Panorama for the next few years. We shall see if Pantrinbago is up to the task and/or whether the steelbands want any changes. But, the steelbands have the authority to demand changes from Pantrinbago since their representatives sit on the executive committee. Time will tell.

The steelbands must now decide if they want things to remain as they are or do they want to address other important items like marketing the Panorama and publishing their musical arrangements. Now that Patrick Arnold has called for $1 million first prize for the winning steelband in the Panorama there should be an interest to market this national event. If the steelbands chose, by their silence, to let things stay the same, then I will abide by their choice and continue to comment and support the steelband movement but without any expectations. The steelbands must take their destiny into their own hands or be held responsible for whatever direction the steelband movement takes. Now is the time for the steelbands/panists to form a Musicians Union to protect their financial interests and set up publishing companies to protect their musical arrangements.

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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