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Fuad for thought

By Terry Joseph
September 26, 2003

If the absence of public indignation over Barataria/San Juan MP Dr Fuad Khan's call for United National Congress (UNC) supporters to boycott Carnival 2004 worried you, here's a clue: Parliamentary disdain for the festival is hardly original.

Although Dr Khan's outburst is clearly predicated on the myth that the ruling People's National Movement (PNM) has always pandered to the demands of steelband and calypso, according to pan innovator Bertie Marshall, its political leader and agreed Father of the Nation, Dr Eric Williams, had long established quite the opposite.

Dr Khan may not know it but he is likely to garner more support from Parliamentarians on both sides of the dominant tribal mix than UNC supporters, since the record shows his colleagues as having a history of cavalierly dismissing Carnival.

Interestingly, back in the pre-Independence days, Albert Gomes, a member of the legislature, waged a relentless crusade for pan in his Sunday Guardian column-Behind the Curtain-often volunteering bail for pannists snared by police. Captain Arthur Cipriani and Atilla the Hun maintained a calypso presence.

It is with the advent of the PNM, the very political party Dr Khan seeks to accuse of kissing-up to pan and calypso, that both art-forms entered their darkest periods. On close inspection, Dr Williams must not have liked Carnival that much.

To this day, there is still confusion over whether he gave Pan Trinbago the seafront property at Chaguaramas, since it seems the otherwise meticulous Prime Minister neglected to complete legal requirements of such a transfer, essentially leaving the steelband community a legacy of more promise than property. Dr Khan should note it is the UNC who gave the organisation the site at Orange Grove, where its headquarters is currently under construction.

The PNM scored big in 1963 for helping to create the annual Panorama Steelband Competition, although government's agenda had less to do with promulgation of indigenous arts than saving political face in a time of hovering social discord.

Nor can The State be truthfully accused of any other notable support for pan between that time and the mid 1970s, when Dr Williams conscripted Pan Trinbago president Bertie Fraser to bring home the Tunapuna seat in 1976, overtly embracing the steelband community, saying wonderful things, giving the impression that keepers of the instrument had finally become eligible for top executive status.

But when Fraser suddenly left Trinidad for New York in the middle of his term, no other pan representative replaced him, confirming the whispered view that he was not selected exclusively on the originally advertised basis.

Under the succeeding administration of George Chambers, Patrick Arnold was made a Senator from 1981 to 1986, his seat in the Upper-House having to do with being Tobagonian; ascendancy to the presidency of Pan Trinbago coming more than ten years thereafter.

In 1990, National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) political leader and Prime Minister ANR Robinson (later to be President Arthur NR Robinson) announced in Parliament a grant of $7.5 million to Pan Trinbago. Intervening events conspired with bureaucracy to delay the transfer and Mr Robinson, one of pan's most faithful followers, left office without handing over a single cent.

It was therefore merely ten years ago, in 1993, that Patrick Manning, in his inaugural term as Prime Minister, made the first measurable move toward helping pan, by declaring it the national musical instrument and releasing $3.5 million of Mr Robinson's promise to Pan Trinbago. He subsequently handed over the residual.

But before his time, the PNM held office for 30 years, half the life of pan, yet we came out of that period without any effort being made to assist its principals in patenting the instrument. Dr Williams once threatened to have his attorney-general prosecute calypsonian Lord Shorty for a Dimanche Gras performance.

Bowing to pressure for an additional radio frequency, Dr Williams commissioned FM 95, indicating to the station that it should favour European classical music over works by the likes of Marjorie Padmore, Pat Castagne, Roaring Lion, Tony Williams, Olive Walke, Vivian Comma, Sparrow or Lionel Belasco.

At the turn of the 1980s, he arbitrarily withdrew financial support to the seat of steelband scholarship at the time-the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (Cariri)-in reprisal against its chairman, Eugenio Moore, this punishment coming after a petty intra-party squabble, meanwhile scuttling major scientific work at furthering the instrument's reach.

If those examples do not convince Dr Khan that, for the greater part of their history, steelband and calypso enjoyed no advantages from PNM stewardship, perhaps a comment from pan icon Bertie Marshall might help. In a documentary aired by TV-6 on Republic Day, Mr Marshall quoted Dr Williams' response to a question about financial assistance for pan as: "You think I could take taxpayers' money and put it in any stupidness like steelband?"

Nor does the history of mas support Dr Khan's frivolous finding, with names like Lee Heung, Ramdin, Awon, Kalicharan, Aming, Garib, Minshall, Jagessar, Chow Lin On, Ackrill, Viera, Tang Yuk, Saldenah, Hart, Chang and Ackrill among its roll-call of veterans.

Dr Khan has promised to shut up if the constituency to which he pitched his call does not respond in sufficient numbers. Perhaps the national effort should now be focused on rallying them to make all our dreams come true.

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