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Play it again, maestro

Terry Joseph
January 30, 2002

RESULTS of the inaugural steelband competition (1963) were not disclosed until February 27, Ash Wednesday that year, for fear earlier release might have triggered Carnival day conflicts among over-zealous supporters.

Interestingly, the Woodbrook Invaders protested those results, saying Commander LD Mc Donald, one of three judges assigned was not yet seated when the band received a commencement signal.

George Goddard, president of the Steelbands Association, countered by telling Invaders they began playing before the appointed time. It was first manifestation of an annual joust that has become part of Panorama culture and at the turn of the eighties, sophisiticated itself into the more civilised process of taking such differences to court.

Among the more celebrated legal wrangles in the first wave was that of Witco Desperadoes in the 1982 contest, when one judge listed an incorrect song-title (“Boogie Woogie”) while marking the band’s rendition of Clive Bradley’s “Party”. Despers won the resulting court battle and was reinstated to the semi-final.

In fact, four court matters arose from that year’s preliminaries. Arnim Smith’s Jewel 22 argued it had been hustled off stage after completing only seven of the allocated ten minutes. They too won in court and were reinstated. Injunctions filed by Tokyo and Valley Harps were unsuccessful.

Now, being human, judges may make mistakes, although it should be noted that many errors in Panorama adjudication over the years could be effortlessly traced to stress induced by marathon sessions through which panels were routinely put.

At the 1999 east zone playoffs, one judge slipped off into a peaceful sleep during the performance of Pamberi, who were eliminated in the final count. When information about the dozer reached Pan Trinbago, the band was reinstated without having to go to court.

Quite understandably, no steelband captain wants to take his players nightly through weeks of rehearsals, only to be shut out of the competition at first rung.

But everyone cannot win and while there may be good reason for querying some decisions, we must be careful to not leap to conclusions about the adjudication process itself, or start seeing ghosts.

More than a decade before it became fashionable to rely on litigation for a leg-up into the final of the competition, calypsonian Maestro sang “Boom-Bam”, simultaneously addressing the lament of a losing contestant and the judges’ plight.

Listen to Maestro’s lyrics (the “high priest” referred to is Fr John Sewell):

“Too much disatisfaction
In the competition
The judges’ decision still
Bringing confusion.
Men who know music
they pick
But it is so degrading
A high priest and all
dey abusing.

I had a ‘confrontment’ with
the judges
I ask them if they
bearing grudges
Certain bands who we
thought would place
They end up completely out of
the race
‘They cheat! They cheat!
We want to see the scoresheet!’
But the adjudicators
Say that they eh hearin’ tenors
Rhythm kicking brass
And all yuh hearing is bass
And every band pass –
Is bass and more bass –
Boom- bam
Is too mucha boom-bam
Boom-bam be-dam
Boom-bam ba-dam

Verse Two:
Why after every contest
Is protest and comess
Holiness on the panel
Still it have quarrel
Steelband row
We done with that now
Although you see ratchifee
Keep beating yuh pan

Verse Three

Why some bands don’t stand
a chance?
They come out unbalanced
They must know again
/the tune…
Have to come out plain
Front easyBackground
too heavy
You can’t have ten tenor pans
And 127 bass pan

Verse Four:

When some band in de
They could beat loud and hard
But on Panorama night,
Like they get stage fright
It’s so strange
A tune well-arranged
And then the judges saying
That they ain’t know
what yuh beatin’
Closing Chorus:

Maestro was trespassing on a minefield, but fighting all the same to have steelbands become instrospective as well, rather than relying solely on loopholes when the real horror and community-wide deflation of being excluded sets in.

Of the 19 bands in Pan Trinbago’s eastern region who played last week’s preliminary round, two eliminated contestants filed injuctions designed to either stop Sunday’s Savannah Party or have them included in the semi-final by judicial decree.

While legal arguments were being stoutly presented to Justice Humphrey Stollmeyer, pan loving members of the public were busy baking macaroni pies, stewing piegon peas and chicken, selecting appropriate clothing and putting beer on ice for the event they seemed certain no court could prevent.

Although it is the constitutional right of aggrieved bands to take their disappointments to court, the decision of any judge on such an issue will also be informed by the greater social good which, in this case, must be to let Panorama proceed; alternative action being far too ponderous.

Maestro died on Independence Day 1977. That we could still be still singing "They cheat, they cheat, we want to see the scoresheet" without reasons that can hold up in court is not an indictment of the adjudication system, as Justice Stollmeyer suggested on Sunday last.

From where I sit, nothing seems wrong with the process. After all, it was the same one that declared Exodus the winner in the very region and was applied nationwide without any other problem arising.

Perhaps all it may require is a DJ to play Maestro’s "Boom-Bam" at full volume immediately before the commencement of any meeting convened to discuss Panorama matters.

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