Festival, not Panorama

September 11, 2000
By Terry Joseph

PERHAPS the World Steelband Music Festival which opens tonight should have been staged in Miami, if only for the high level of interest and enthusiasm for the event demonstrated there during the recent carnival.

Without any discernible prompting, the MCs at various events supplied constant reminders and reinforcement, urging Trinis to “go home and show support for pan”. In the pedestrian mode, I was faced with a barrage of questions relating to the event, among them queries about how people in the land that invented the steelband were responding to the festival.

I could not tell a lie. “Trinis,” I said, “seem apathetic toward the contest and to convince them otherwise is like nailing Jell-O to a wall.” We are all painfully aware of the lack of response from the corporate world, but they could be excused on grounds of taste.

It is among the common man that the disdain is most confusing. From what I could glean, the largest difficulty seems to be a feeling that the quality of musical product available at the festival would be well below the benchmark. The feeling is apparently being fuelled largely by the belief that because a number of the more popular steel orchestras are not in the final round, the event has been at least devalued or rendered altogether worthless.

It is a fact that Witco Desperadoes, Petrotrin Phase II Pan Groove, BP Renegades, Fonclaire and Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars are not among the 21 orchestras that will tonight begin the process of determining which steelband gets to legitimately describe itself as Best in the World.

But those who argue that the festival is rendered unimpressive by the omission of the “heavy-rollers”, or worse, contend that the committee should have found a way to include these crowd-pullers, are betraying a spectacular level of ignorance and consequently spouting nothing but drivel. The process by which local bands were selected for the final was no secret. To now include bands that failed to adhere to those conditions, is to promote anarchy and encourage corruption of a system previously agreed to by all participating steel orchestras.

Every local steelband was fully aware that the 1998 Music Festival doubled as the qualifying round for the current World Steelband Music Festival and all were invited to participate. Desperadoes and Renegades opted to go on tours evidently more important to them than remaining in Trinidad for the playoffs. They, therefore, voluntarily disqualified themselves and did so replete in the knowledge that their situation was irreversible.

And while Despers has won the title on three occasions, Renegades, Phase II Pan Groove and Fonclaire have simply never been in winners’ row. In fact, in the steelband fraternity, Renegades and Phase II Pan Groove are not really considered top-drawer “festival bands” and should not be lumped with the likes of Desperadoes and Trinidad All Stars.

The festival, you see, requires special skills, not the least of which is a degree of musicianship far superior to what is demanded of the pannist at the annual Panorama competition. Nor is prestige transferable in this example. The five bands listed above have just about always been in the Panorama final. However, that was not a criterion for achieving similar status in the Music Festival.

At the 1998 qualifier, surprising as it was to the many, Trinidad All Stars, who have won the festival on six occasions, was eliminated from the preliminary round. At the time, All Stars held a press conference at their Duke Street panyard to lament the exclusion, but the highly disciplined band, taking its plight in stride, was careful to emphasise that it was not protest action. Bandleader Beresford Hunte has said: “We are out, but we are supporting the festival fully.” Yet, there are people arguing that the Trinidad All Stars should be in the final.

An even larger joke is the argument that the country’s best players will not be performing at the final. Of course, if the detractors really knew the players whose interests they are purportedly seeking, they will recognise that a lot of those same pannists will be on stage over the next 11 nights.

Instead of staying in their armchairs, these thoroughly uninformed critics should have visited a few of the panyards before devising such silly arguments. There, they would see members of bands like Renegades, Trinidad All Stars and Phase II Pan Groove, whose skills are suited to the festival arena and have been purchased by eligible bands.

So what then is the argument? Jit Samaroo, Renegades’ resident arranger, is working with Parry’s Pan School. Some Phase II pannists have followed Len “Boogsie” Sharpe to the Invaders panyard. Desperadoes crackshots are also turning up in other bands and Trinidad All Stars is hosting reigning joint-champions, the Defence Force Steel Orchestra for its rehearsals.

If it is that you don’t like the sound of steel, just say that. Please don’t try to convince those of us who do that the fault lies with what we can expect from the bands which successfully secured places in the final. After all, Exodus who, in addition to being reigning joint festival champion, is also holder of the one in a million title—Champion of the 20th Century Steelband Champions.

I have also had the good fortune of hearing all four of the orchestras that have come from the European zone and I highly recommend their music.

So now, can I hear your argument again?


Terry-J at I-Level

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