World Steelband Music Festival 2000

A rare view for pan

October 18, 2000
By Terry Joseph

PANNISTS, lovers of the music and successive governments must either have been hearing impaired since the 1950s, or sleeping so soundly over the same period, that the extraordinary events which occurred in the steelband world over the past week could be so easily defined as a mere “wake up call.”

It might also be that Trinis had deluded themselves for so long with homespun romanticism about global pan superiority, that the shock of being beaten at their own game has resulted in sudden but severe mental disorientation.

But just how much of a racket did the world really have to kick up, to rouse the pan giant from this super-slumber? Why did a whole nation spend so much time developing childish conspiracies about who was trying to steal pan from the land of its birth?

Well, the Japanese, historically our number one suspect, were not even here in threatening numbers. Had they come and brought the likes of super-pannist Yan Tomita, there might have been even greater cause for alarm.

In fact, the only “operative” from The Land of the Rising Sun that I met, Su Su Mu, had flown here at personal expense and paid more of his own money to attend the International Conference on the Science and Technology of the Steelpan.

Trini pannists were, meanwhile, saying that the cost of the conference was prohibitive, some even suggesting that it should have been held at a less expensive venue, perhaps a place commensurate with their view of the value of the instrument and its music.

Among those who condescended to hear what the scientists had to say about their precious instrument, several concluded that the presenters were “talking above the heads of the average pannist”, as though the conference, a deliberately intellectual forum, should have limited its language parameters to panyard slang.

The World Steelband Festival results at the end of the preliminary round triggered equally peevish and puerile comments. Panch 2000, an unknown band of predominantly white pan musicians had come from Switzerland and whipped our tails fair and square.

Not for want of repeated warning from this column, the first of which appeared in late May, it must have been difficult to take a trouncing from that particular quarter.

Nor was it the only signal to this country that it should do something to secure and then capitalise on early gains scored by the invention of the instrument and the reverence in which the world held homegrown players.

Instead of decoding the semaphore of steelband flags, those in a position to do something about the plight of pan, responded by patting the flag-woman’s bottom instead.

Now, desperately looking for a loophole, Trinis said that Panch’s interpretation of Len “Boogsie” Sharpe’s calypso “Mind Yuh Business” was not really calypso at all, presumably because it was not driven by the cliched conga and cowbell combination to which we had all become addicted over the years.

All that has happened, of course, is that these twin-developments, are being seen as a reversal of fortunes, causing pan to finally take a peek in its rear-view mirror; after decades of tunnel-vision.

But long before this month Trini pannists should have looked out from the driver’s window instead, because the advancing threat it perceived from that rare over-the-shoulder view, did not even embrace the competition that had already drawn alongside, or those international players who had earlier streaked past in the fast-lane.

All this occurred against a commonality of central government inertia. In 1963, the government led by Dr Eric Williams invented the dinosaur that is our annual Panorama competition, without the foresight to identify problems that would inevitably result when its primary motive was no longer relevant.

The government of ANR Robinson in 1990 promised millions for pan research and development, but never came up with the cash.

The Patrick Manning administration accorded pan the title of National Musical Instrument in 1993 but did nothing else and the current administration actually opened a pan factory with much pomp, then left the drums to rot.

Nor did it begin there. Have you ever noticed how in a country of such diversity of culture, we have always had a Ministry of “Something” and Culture? Could it be that the major consideration was never the development of indigenous art?

Did you know that in 1996, we sat idly at home, declining a proper invitation, when some the biggest steel manufacturers in North America met in Pittsburgh to discuss pan metallurgy?

Let’s go on. Did you know that the Japanese held a Panorama competition earlier this year in Ito City? Or that there was an online contest for computer-generated musical arrangements?

Or that there were well-attended pan festivals in Sweden and Switzerland last summer. Or, for that matter, that the national Dutch Police Steel Orchestra is a fully amplified eight-member band, its electronics having been supplied by the prestigious Bose sound company?

Instead, we are spending time squabbling over who invented pan, a product of social circumstances, not unlike small-goal football. These are the things that continue to engage our priority considerations.

Instead of attempting to shoot the messengers, let us be grateful for the opportunity to look in the mirror and thank God that even that was supplied by foreigners.

Sticks in focus at pan talks October 18, 2000



Terry-J at I-Level

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