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Pan day and Manning

Terry Joseph
January 02, 2002

In spite of unrelenting Government disdain, donations from big business that more closely resemble zilch than zakat and sustained demand for continuing freeness by a large part of its audience; pan music is currently enjoying its finest day.

Actually, it has been a more than wonderful year for pan which, you may remember, Prime Minister Patrick Manning dubbed "The National Musical Instrument" during an earlier tour of executive duty.

Speaking in Parliament shortly before the Independence holiday of 1994, Mr Manning accorded the instrument its supreme sobriquet as he released to Pan Trinbago interest accruing from a $7.5 million provision promised by predecessor (now President) Arthur NR Robinson at the same forum on July 25, 1990.

In the run-up to last month's general election, Mr Manning chided the inertia of the intervening Panday regime, reminded us of the yet to be disbursed capital sum, speculated on burgeoning interest and promised to fully reconcile the matter upon his return to Government. As estimated last August by former Culture Minister Ganga Singh, the booty now stands at $20 million.

It may be useful here to remember Mr Manning's earlier stewardship, during which Works Minister Colm Imbert reportedly remarked upon the ratio of pledges to products in the following terms: "You can't take that as gospel. People make all kinds of promises on election platforms." During the five-week period preceding the December 10 poll, Mr Manning made quite a few.

But given the nod over incumbent Basdeo Panday by President Robinson, who alluded to principles of spirituality and morality in the preamble to his announcement of a new Prime Minister, Mr Manning now has a splendid opportunity to distance himself from the Imbert hypothesis.

And if Mr Manning has any doubt about the urgency of attending to pan he can, at close quarter, find corroboration of its plight from steelband veteran Eddie Hart, now a Minister in the Culture Ministry and National Carnival Commission (NCC) chairman-designate Kenny de Silva, who has been there before.

But strictly on the evidence, pan has virtually neutralised the dark side of its folklore through a number of sterling achievements in the recent past; a run of globally and locally applauded successes.

Queen Elizabeth's conferral of the MBE on pan pioneer Sterling Betancourt, former US President Bill Clinton's vow to master the instrument given him during his speaking visit here last October, plus oft-repeated documentaries on BET on Jazz, Discovery Channel and CNN World represent influential high-end international embrace.

On local television, Shivanna Ragoonanan won Mastana Bahar's top prize playing a tenor pan and the Scouting for Talent show has been inundated with pannists of high quality, several of them teenagers and among that group a high percentage of females.

Pat Bishop's experiments with youth in her Lydian Steel Ensemble and the successful completion of a Junior Steelband Music Festival and a separate contest exclusively for schools under the aegis of the Education Ministry demonstrate continuing interest in pan and secures the next generation of players.

Representatives from three continents flew here to discuss next July's World Steelband Music Festival II, New York turned out last May for the Pan Legends Awards and the inaugural Caribbean Panorama championships were held in Grenada last month under the umbrella of CariPan, a federation of regional steelband bodies. In England, the Ebony Steelband Trust budget for 2001 stood just shy of TT$3 million.

At home, what began at Hotel Normandie as a month-long assay of the pan music market continued for nearly half the year with Pan on the Piazza. Spontaneity brought out thousands to the Panyard Vibrations project. The St James Amphitheatre turned from white elephant to sought-after entertainment centre since Pan Ramajay 2001 was staged there and a dance version of Scrunter's "Woman on the Bass" performed by the Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars crossed over into discotheques.

Pan has become a staple in community-based celebrations. Pan Trinbago was able to sustain Friday evening after-work concerts and Southern Marines Steelband Foundation staged a broad-based nationwide talent search. World Champions TCL Group Skiffle Bunch launched a line of wines and so successful was the Silver Stars Steel Orchestra's seventh season of Parang and Steel that on December 22, police were forced to curtail admission when the audience grew past all expectation.

This Saturday pan faces its sternest test in decades at the QRC Foundation's Outa de Blue III fund-raising fete, where two top steel orchestras will represent the instrument's re-entry to big Carnival fetes, on a level-playing field with DJs and electronically-aided brass bands.

Upon hurdling that challenge, pan will position itself alongside both the volume and variety of competing music systems and by so doing, regain its space in the entertainment mainstream.

Mr Manning should therefore rush to deliver on promises made to pan, a show of good faith that will at least set him apart from his predecessor in this regard and by the same opportunity really do something for what he first called the national musical instrument.

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