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The Final Analysis

By Terry Joseph
December 28, 2002

For yet another year, indigenous performance arts showed incredibly minimal growth, with creativity seemingly dedicating itself to the devoir of producing perplexity rather than refinement.

Mark you, we saw more than a few pleasing performances particularly from pan but senior players in other facets of Carnival arts redefined "mas confusion" and subjected us to unprecedented calypso mediocrity.

To its credit, the drama fraternity defied long-standing Theatre and Dancehall Act prohibitions and brought the Board of the nation's premier showplace to its knees but under lights proffered largely frivolous content, unabashedly admitting on its last marquee " Happens".

In a year whose curtain raised on a compact Carnival season, contained three major music festivals and closed with conflict all round, even its most spectacular triumphs were devalued in the final analysis.

Easily the most repulsive act was repeated exploitation of a Down syndrome victim, cruelly coaxed at every opportunity into starring as "winer-boy" and by some of soca's most celebrated names. Astonishingly, audiences lapped up the barbarism, often calling for more.

A Government sponsored six-week salute to indigenous arts, ostensibly designed to mark our 40th Anniversary of Independence also attracted political attention, given its source of funding and sheer proximity to a crucial general election. As it climaxed, a car belonging to headline-act Black Stalin was stolen from the venue.

Ludicrous as it still seems, a petty matter involving Barbadian road march champion Li'l Rick and Trinidadian calypsonian Denyse Plummer escalated to the status of international crisis.

Calypso's president called for a ban on artistes from other Caribbean islands, echoing sentiments of some Pan Trinbago seniors responding to news that two Americans secured a patent for the mass-production of stainless-steel instruments.

After a $46 million refurbishing, the nation's foremost performance space, Queen's Hall advertised a ceremonial reopening but instead delivered a fortnight of controversy, resulting in the resignation of chairperson Margaret Walcott and scuttling of the $500,000 Gran Zaffaire.

Carnival offered its usual mix of delight and danger. One of its distinguished principals, designer Peter Minshall, copped this country's first Grammy Award, albeit for work done abroad.

Fetes proceeded without major incident, the lawless apparently saving all horror for the street parades, which this year hosted unparalleled crime, among its casualties veteran Jouvert band producer Victor Rique. Rhyner's Music and Crosby's, who both staged annual soca street-parties (since 1974 and 1984, respectively) cancelled those events.

Large-band of the year results went to court when Untamed, led by parade chairman Richard Afong, emerged winner by default. Aggrieved bandleaders formally challenged Afong's NCBA, impacting on issues affecting next year's parade, not the least of which is a "wining-tax" proposed by the Copyright Organisation.

In Holy Week, calypsonians were irreverently awarded half-pay for cash prizes won at national contests. During the fallout, TUCO president Seadley "Penguin" Joseph collapsed at his desk. He later stepped down.

Among the year's obituaries were salutes to Pretender, the grandfather of extempo; Agatha Albino, mother of Merle, Aldwin and Martin; and steelband pioneer Andrew "Pan" de la Bastide, brother of calypsonians All Rounder and Princess and father of relative newcomer Hamidullah. On Carnival Monday, historians marked the second anniversary of Kitchener's passing.

On the supply side, two Roaring Lion calypsoes were included on a commemorative CD produced by the Royal Archives to mark the 50th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's coronation.

Calypso Dreams, a feature film of which Brother Superior is associate producer, won the "best director" award at Sheryl Lee Ralph's Jamerican Film Festival. At the same event, Sparrow received the Marcus Garvey Lifetime Award.

But it was the steelband movement's vindication of that lofty description which chalked up this year's most memorable progress indicators both at home and abroad. We got the first real sign of Pan in Schools becoming reality and learnt that pan tutors in the US Virgin Islands were being offered TT$200,000.

There were pan festivals in the US, Barbados and Europe, with the grand World Final staged here in October, the same month of a spectacular Pan Royale concert trilogy.

Exodus ran off with the World Festival title and formally received the deed to its panyard. Pan Trinbago turned the sod for a $4.5 million headquarters at Orange Grove, then received its long-outstanding $7.5 million grant from Government who, this month approved an additional $2.5 million to underwrite prizes from the world festival.

Academics from the University of the West Indies organised a two-day symposium at Cascadia Hotel, bringing together some of pan's finest scientific minds to review research on the instrument.

On the international stage, Hameed Shaq led a pan ensemble in performances at a Toronto Raptors at-home NBA game, Liam Teague played Taiwan's Chang Kai-Shek cultural centre and Othello Molineaux and Ron Reid performed at New York's Lincoln Centre. Sparrow and Desperadoes did a one-night stand at the prestigious Philadelphia Academy of Music.

Queen Elizabeth conferred an MBE on pan pioneer Sterling Betancourt and world famous South African musician Bongani Ndodana composed and conducted a piece for the National Steel Orchestra.

Ace arranger Ray Holman premiered a work for a 275-member orchestra comprising students from across California and ex-president Arnim Smith was appointed to the Senate.

To close the year, Pan Trinbago and former president Owen Serrette were awarded more than $270,000 by the High Court in a libel suit against the Bomb newspaper. And for crowning glory, the National Carnival Commission has declared Carnival 2003 a tribute to pan.

Much of pan's achievements, however, resulted from things being done on its behalf. The steelband movement must now seek to not only consolidate this plateau but improve its position, by resolving to have a self-generated "bright and prosperous new year".

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