September 22, 2000 By Keith Smith

Where pan reach

YOU may have heard me saying nightly in another medium that my hope is that these daily columns manage to engage minds. Once I interviewed the current governor of the Central Bank, Winston Dookeran, about the hardships inherent in being an Opposition MP which he was then. I have never forgotten the look on his face when he pointed me to the frustration of talking in Parliament week after week, feeling that nobody was taking you on as you spoke to “those four walls”.

A columnist also runs that risk but I remain heartened by the rise that I, more often than not, get from people, some responding “aye”, others responding “no”, some writing or calling, others stopping me in my many meanderings through the city streets.

The Internet, happily, has widened the newspaper audience, giving, as it does, the Trinidadians out there in the diaspora a chance to hear (read “read”) what I have said (that is, “written”) here and to engage, through feedback, my own mind at the click of a keyboard. Distance, like the passage of time, has its own advantages and I am always happy to hear from Trinidadians/West Indians abroad, particularly when I have written a piece that seeks to place some aspect of this place in the context of the world.

Their views, it seems to me, can only help to enrich the discussion, particularly when they happen to be as dispassionate as a response I received yesterday about Tuesday’s column on the World Steelband Festival (“A Penny for Pan”) a subject which I readily confess moves me to high emotion. I don’t know that the author sent his e-mail for national publication so I have decided not to name him even as I publish his letter which, in his usual way, seeks to deromanticise my assumptions on the particular matter.

He writes

“Mr Smith! Mr Smith!

“I am responding to the gist of today’s column without a need to quote your specific lines. But from where I sit, TRINIDAD has very little name recognition or acknowledged links with the STEELDRUM or CARIBBEAN STEELDRUM in AMERICA.

“American tourists are big on CARIBBEAN vacations, but as we both know, TRINIDAD has never been a tourist port of choice. So the other CARIBBEAN islands have for decades been the ones to celebrate American tourists and sell to them that most unique of musical tones: THE CARIBBEAN STEELDRUM. “Individual TRINIDAD pan tuners did capitalise on the passionate love for this instrument by selling PANS to schools and individuals; and providing live STEELDRUM MUSIC (that is the terminology the booking agent hears) at every imaginable function.

“The point I am making is that this whole business of PAN is an independent market in AMERICA, having nothing to do with TRINIDAD except for the dependence on TRINIDAD arrangers to manufacture and tune the instruments.

“And that is fast changing. You can go on the Internet today and easily find TEN websites where steeldrums, manufactured by American/White tuners, are being offered for sale around $1,000 each...with a wait time of six months, the demand being that great.

“Personally, I feel that we degrade ourselves and display abject ignorance every time we accuse WHITE PEOPLE of tiefing we PAN. If some genius in Trinidad could buy a ROUTER from CISCO SYSTEMS in Silicon Valley, pull it apart and reconstruct it to move data faster through the Internet—his stock will soar; he will have enough money to build a bridge from Toco to Tobago...and NOBODY will accuse him of TIEFING nothing. The industry will give him an award for enhancing Internet technology and he will be recognised in every tech magazine around the world for his accomplishment.

“So Patrick Arnold could hold his World Music Festival and Trinidad could kick everybody’s ass and win all the prizes—it will not affect the pan movement in America which engulfs high schools, universities, community centres and the entertainment industry (in every sense of the word E-N-T-E-R-T-A-I-N-M-E-N-T).

“Matter of fact this market will not even know that the event took place.

“What’s my point? Don’t raise your blood pressure over a local feel-good event, with a little, over-perceived touch of foreign.

“On another note, check out the new commercial MAZDA is using to sell the MAZDA TRIBUTE—Total Soca!!! But the music is so polished and the vocal so dauntingly spiced CARIBBEAN/CALYPSO...only diehard soca lovers could tell that DEY TIEF WE MUSIC again!!!”

Really, I had to laugh as I read because I found my friend’s piece to be written in good humour whatever the perhaps painful observations he is making. I don’t know, though, that the thing is quite lost, Mecca, as I keep pointing out, becoming more important the more Islam reaches around the world.

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