Laventille People Again!

July 26, 2000
By Terry Joseph

For reasons steeped in sheer stereotyping, far too many people in this country still see any type of crass behaviour as almost exclusively resulting from a Laventille upbringing.

It is as though the area has successfully claimed some kind of monopoly on lawlessness and vice, so that all its children have no choice but to go around disrupting calm and bringing grief to those who cherish well-cultured social graces.

The minute someone in public view walks bareback, utters expletives, breaks the queue, or violates any of the myriad secret social measurements, the predictable description is that the virago is "behaving as if he came from Laventille."

And the frequency with which I hear this thoroughly unscientific conclusion has not changed much, since back in the early sixties, when I was applying for my first job. So, in keeping with the perception of Laventille people, let me attack that flawed perception with a gang of brutal facts.

Apparently sage advice at the time of that first application, was that I should use my sister's Diego Martin address, for fear that admitting to my birthplace would significantly reduce any chance of success.

Thinking that my talents were equal to the task, I desperately wanted to be a writer and radio announcer. I disregarded the advice about falsifying my address. Clearly, some Laventille people (because of their upbringing) do not indulge in deception.

I didn't get either job at The Guardian (which also operated a radio station) because, I was told: "This is not your calling." It was a finding that I believed for 17 years thereafter, until Trever "Burnt Boots" Smith restored my self-confidence in that regard, by offering me a column in the (now defunct) Challenge newspaper.

But all the while, I retained my faith in the people of Laventille, East Dry River and environs, because I knew them far better than did their external adjudicators. It is one of the reasons I became involved in the staging of this Sunday's Laventille Steelband Festival.

For whatever may be said of us, the contribution made by persons from that bloc of Port of Spain to the development of the steelpan, is not in dispute. And this is no argument about the origin of pan. But names like Winston "Spree" Simon, Rudolph Charles, Roy Augustus, Arnim Smith, Bertie Marshall and the Albino family have become synonymous with advances of the instrument and the organisation that presided over it.

It must be, therefore, this area in which I was born and lived for more than half my life, had indisputably produced at least one thing of beauty. Indeed my homeboys had sculpted a truly joyous thing from discarded drums, the best example of recycling yet and one which this country officially adopted as its national musical instrument; ranking it with other pleasant indigenous entities like birds, inspirational songs and flowers.

We worked hard at it too, developing the music and instrument simultaneously, until one of the most significant initiatives, Bertie Marshall's amplified pans, was literally stoned off the streets by Philistines from other villages, after being loudly ridiculed by those not given to pelting.

Still we persevered. Marshall's Forsyth Highlanders having provided them with songs like "Let Every Valley Be Exalted" found that his experiments had fallen from grace instead. He subsequently went to work with Charles, whose leadership of the Witco Desperadoes came replete with fearsome aura. What better way then to celebrate Emancipation, than to present a people oppressed in the latter-day by an undeserved stigma, with a showcase of their achievements. No other steelband has won the annual national panorama championship or the biennial music festival as often as the Witco Desperadoes.

In addition, the BP/Amoco Renegades, Carib Tokyo, Solo Pan Knights, Courts Laventille Sounds Specialists, City Symphony and Blue Diamonds will comprise the home team of conventional orchestras. Single pan bands from the area include Spree Simon Harmonics, Serenaders, Pashphonics and Uni Stars.

The festival will also present top bands from outside the region, including PCS Starlift, Trinmar Hatters and InnCogen Pamberi, who will be playing their first public performance, since returning from the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland last weekend. The visiting single pan bands are the reigning champions, Arima All Stars and the pioneering St James Tripolians.

Admisision is free to the not-for-profit festival that begins at 4 p.m..

Early patrons can witness a tableau of the sequences that brought us from slavery to sophistication, coupled later with living graphics of the evolution of the steel orchestra; from tamboo bamboo to the symphonies of which we are only now proud.

There is a brief awards ceremony from 7 p.m., at which time five persons from the area, who have made positive and outstanding contributions to the instrument and the Laventille image, will be honoured. National football captain and international soccer star, Russell Latapy is among them.

It would be nice, therefore, if all who read this column can come up the Eastern Main Road to Success Village on Sunday from 4 p.m and take in the festival in its fullness.

That way, you could help us correct the misconception or bring balance to the tone, the next time you hear someone say:

"Laventille people again!"


Terry-J at I-Level