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Cheap Politics and Racism Cannot Beat the Steelpan

By Hotep
December 23, 2006

Re: Exploding the Pan National Instrument Myth

Why try to deny the legitimacy of the Steelpan being our national instrument?

The Steelpan 
The Steelpan is globally recognized as the only acoustical instrument developed in the 20th century. The fact that this instrument was created and developed in Trinidad and Tobago out of the experiences of Africans seems to be troubling to a few Indians in Trinidad and Tobago.

One of the considerations for using the Steelpan as the national instrument is that it is recognized internationally as a new world instrument that was invented using new materials at the time. That made the Steelpan a good tourism selling point.

A few years ago, in an attempt to rival the accomplishment of the Steelpan, Rajnie Ramlakhan tried to ignite a case for the persecution of Indians due to the seeming neglect of the Dhantaal (a steel rod, struck by a horseshoe). She wrote:
"The story of the dhantaal is the story of the mainly rural-based Indian community in Trinidad. It is a story of shameful and willful neglect by successive governments, but mainly the PNM, in all areas of national life.

As a result the Indian community was denied the opportunity to develop to its fullest potential. They were unable to produce international stars, especially in sports and music, due to lack of facilities and trained personnel."
Terry Joseph's appropriate response to that article is titled, "Roti Rhetoric". In it he stated:
"In an unprovoked demonstration of see-through separatism, Express columnist Rajnie Ramlakhan on Monday managed to hammer the dhantaal, a hitherto harmless musical instrument, into a divisive, double-edged political weapon; then sharpened it for use in an argument about ethnic discrimination.

The dhantaal, which was featured in its fullness on the cover of Section Two of the last Sunday Express, comprises a steel rod, struck by a horseshoe (or similarly shaped metal ring). It plays only one note, a tinkle, whose resonance can be affected by intermittently grasping and releasing the rod.

The dhantaal is used in the rhythm section of bands playing Indian music, although not exclusive to such groups."
Today, the latest move to rival the Steelpan is coming with a call for the Tassa drum to be elevated to that of a national instrument because it was invented in Trinidad and represents the Indian community. But this call is being made in another political attempt to solidify Indians behind the notion that they are a persecuted group. The dishonest motive behind the call is why I would not even entertain it. In addition to which, the Tassa drum is simply not an original instrument. It is a modified version of another drum like many drums in the African Community. Adding dried animal skin to wood, clay or any other material for the purpose of beating with hands or sticks is by no means original.

Indians were not dragged to these islands as slaves, and as hard as some try, they cannot show proof that Africans, and even the PNM government, systematically persecuted Indians in this country. The fact that Indians are not symbolically represented in several aspects of this country is largely due to their own unwillingness to be a part of aspects of Trinidad and Tobago.

Anyone who looks at football and basketball in Trinidad and Tobago could claim that Indians are discriminated against in football and basketball and that is the reason they are underrepresented there, when the truth is that Indians do not gravitate to those sports.

It was the same in the public service, army and police services in the past. Indians were not interested in those jobs; they just were not getting involved, and like many back then they considered those jobs degrading. But when wages increased after much struggle by landless Africans who took up those jobs, we heard talk of widespread discrimination against Indians as the reason for them being underrepresented in some of these institutions.

As Raffique Shah stated in his article titled, "Memories of Regiment's first Indian officer...a personal experience":
"It is also true that many Indians did not apply to join the military, or, for that matter, the Coast Guard. And there were (and still are) good reasons why they didn't. My father, for example, if he'd had his choice, would have pointed me in the direction of one of the traditional professions. Unfortunately for him, I determined my own destiny from age 17. Most Indians do not see the army as holding any future for them or their offspring, hence the tendency to get into anything other than the military. Too, because of their religions, they tend to shun institutions where there is no "halal" meat or, in the case of Hindus, where meats form part of the daily diet. And yes, as far as I know, there is no time-off granted to Muslims for Friday's "Juma" prayers or for Hindu holy days (other than Eid and Divali)."
Whites too could be calling for a public holiday in recognition of their arrival to Trinidad and Tobago, and they could want to be amply represented in all the symbols of this country. They should want stories to be told about how much these islands benefited from their arrival and that although slavery was bad, we all benefited from it.

It may be easy to see how absurd some of this may sound, and I dare add it is no more absurd than some of the arguments being made by some members of the Indian community who would like to see Indians solidify additionally along racial lines, and especially so as an oppressed group in Trinidad and Tobago. With that in mind, I expect more racially insensitive and outright distortions to be coming from certain politically motivated writers.

This country cannot develop by faking recognition to anyone or by distorting the history of how this country evolved, just to appease a (any) section of the community. Some Indians fuss about getting token recognition from the PNM government, and then they turn around and lobby for the government to give them token recognition.

The dishonesty stinks to high heaven.

Share your views here...

By Linda Edwards
Dec 23rd, 2006 at 4:48 pm

There must be a cabal of malice existing somewhere in TnT, whose not so secret agenda is to destroy everything that is original to us, Trinbagonians, a term that they must see as not including people of Indian ancestry. Part of their agenda seems to be that nothing was ever created by people of African ancestry, an assumption much mooted everywhere before the publication of the contents of King Tut's tomb,with photographic documentation. (I presented a large volume "King TuT" to the national Library when I had my book launching there in 2005 to be sure our children could access the source) This was also expressed before that 8000 year old boat was found on the shores of Lake Chad in Nigeria about five years ago. When some German anthropologists wanted to take it to Germany to "Study and preserve it", President Obasanjo decreed that the boat should not be moved, but a museum built on the site to protect and study it for future African children and others. He was conscious, no doubt, of the malice that denies African creativity wherever it rears its head. The steelband is an original, recognized as ours by all sensible and thinking people, as so, I was not bothered to read Mr. Kangal's piece. It had to be nonsense. What else could it be? The headline spoke for itself.

African drums have used goatskin to cover both ends of a hollowed out log for hundreds of years. Next thing you know, Mr. Kangal would claim that it was an Indian goat that did the reverse migration from India to West Africa, and that when it did, it was wearing a cowrie shell neckband, which is an Indian coin.(revisionism is paranoia in words).

If Mr. Raffique Shah was paranoid, he would have said that Indians do not join the protective service because The First And Second West India Regiments discriminated against Indians.(These were the regiments of freed Africans that revolted against American servitude, and served in the British Army and Navy; and were settled in Williamsville and other areas (Fourth Company, Fifth Company), in 1815. Instead, Mr. Shah is a true Trinboganian, commenting on politics from the point of view of a thinker who does not force-fit a pre-chosen agenda to match non-existing facts. He gives me hope.

Sometimes I wonder why some readers/writers are so blind to all that is obvious.

The Committee to Eliminate Racism considers racism a disease, one which blinds the afflicted so that they are unable to see reason.

By Riaz Ali
Dec 23rd, 2006 at 8:27 pm

While A. Hotep's piece is mostly true, I cannot help but give some credit to Mr. Kangal's piece where he points out that Eddie Hart and others are throwing a tantrum over the moving of Panorama away from POS and what those resctions are a reflection of.

It is an interesting point made when Hotep says:

"The fact that Indians are not symbolically represented in several aspects of this country is largely due to their own unwillingness to be a part of aspects of Trinidad and Tobago."

Correct me if I am wrong but if Trinidad is a patchwork of different cultures then the so-called Indian culture brought to Trinidad by indentured servants should also be considered part of Trinidad culture. SO how is it that indo-Trinidadians are unwilling to be part of aspects of Trinidad and Tobago? Is it the same when certain afro-Trinidadians laugh at indain movies, refuse to listen to indian music stations or will not visit Hindu temples for weddings or festivals? Or are you saying that the culture Indains brought when they landed on Nelson island has no place in Trinidad?

I guess it must be different, it's just that I don't see how.

I was amazed back in 1998/1999 when the Canadian government issued a postage stamp commemorating 300 years of the Khalsa - a Sikh symbol. But the only reason I was amazed was because I came from Trinidad. There was no outcry from other religious or ethnic groups. They all joined in congratulating the Sikh community who make up less than 0.05% of the population. This year the Canadian Prime Minister celebrated Divali at his residence. He also celebrates Chinese New Year and Eid. I don't know when all Trinidadians would become enlightened to the point that, even though they hear the words from young, they will live by "Ever creed and race find an equal place."

To quote Linda's comment:

"Sometimes I wonder why some readers/writers are so blind to all that is obvious." - I sometimes wonder the same.

Here's my point of view:
Steelpan is be The National Instrument because it was invented here. Doesn't matter who invented it (indian, african, white etc). It was invented here.

Many Trinidadians of all races do not respect the Steelpan - that is why Americans have a patent on a process to manufacture it and why foreigners associate the steelpan with Jamaica or Barbados. When comming off a plane in their airports, visitors are welcomed by a pan orchestra....not in Trinidad!

Too many people think that if something is "Indian" then it is not Trinidadian. But then the same applies to things that are "African." I am always offended by people who mock Orissa Baptists just as much as people who mock Hindus.

Sure there are people ho whant to politicise these issues for personal gain and I agree with A. Hotep 100% that this can only drive the thnic groups in Trinidad further apart. But unfortunately, many Trinidadians like to be led around like sheep.

By Linda Edwards
Dec 24th, 2006 at 1:21 am

Mr. Ali, did you know that Brazilians in Rio de Janiero made quite a fuss when the capital city of Brazilia was being built in the middle of the Brazilian jungle? They wondered if it could ever really be a city. The rest of the world laughed too. Then Nigeria moved its capital from Lagos, on the coast, looking outward, to Abuja in the center of the country Same reaction. When the government wanted to decentralize administrative functions, were the people in TnT happy? If tomorrow, there was a serious proposal to move the capital from congested Port-ofSpain to somewhere more centrally located, people would howl. City people mostly. That is all I think you are hearing about moving Panorama to Sando. People hate change. Change is an inconvenience. If the Steelband belongs to all of the people of TnT, could we all then claim the tassa drum, which sounds indistinguishable from shango drumming? Do you think that would satisfy Mr. Kangal?

Now you give Canada credit for recognising Sikh ceremonies, that is good. They all learned from TnT. Thier own indigenous populations had to sue in court to get their rights, however.

The Muslim member of the US Congress. Mr. Ellison, has requested a Qu'ran to take the oath of office in January, and it has caused some hostile comments from at least one other member, although Jewish members use the Torah and the Mormons use the expanded Bible that contains their Book of Mormon. When did you hear anyone in TnT object to three holy books being used in Parliament or court? Yet the US lays claim to being a very successful multicultural society.

We need to recognize and celebrate the fact the TnT is a first in many ways. We do not love our country who constantly downrate it when compared to others. Because of the steelband's origins in the hills of east Port-of-Spain, it took a while to get respectability.

Others, not caring where it came from, grabbed it. Jazz and the waltz had similar fates. It is not a failing in us. It is rather a failing of the people wherever the cultural change first happens. We cannot see greatness when we are up close, at least, that is my opinion.

By Riaz Ali
Dec 24th, 2006 at 2:12 pm

I agree Linda, Trinidad was a first in many things in this part of the world when I comes to tolerance. But we have forgotten that and by looking at us today, you wouldn't think it. As A. Hotep pointed out, it has become politicized which worsens the situation.

Enjoy your holidays (and your rum cake). All the best in the New Year.

By Joan Simpson
Dec 26th, 2006 at 9:29 am

With Mr. Ali's happy observations of life, privilege and respect in Canada, all his brethren of identical and similar heritage still residing in Trinidad, should depart asap for Canada.

A few years ago, many of them left for that country, and fradulently claimed 'political asylum,'- simply to be able to stay in Canada -(giving Trinidad and Tobago a bad name in the process) The result is that regular black folk who simply want a break to vacation - now have to obtain a visa to visit Canada.

Everytime one turns around, Mr. Ali and his type are causing trouble. Dammit, go, leave TnT, and be done with it. Reality needs to take a hold of the black populace in Trinidad. Get a grip. The only fools singing 'every creed and race, finds an equal place' are the gullible black people - most of whom desperately try everything not to be termed 'black,' but prefer to call themselves, 'mixed.' Guess it's something to do with the 'good hair' syndrome... Sad. How many of Mr. Ali's brethren you know are clamoring to call themselves 'mixed' even when they appear to be?

Tassa drum as the national instrument? That's the laughable tip of many, extremely dangerous racist icebergs in TnT. When the blood starts to flow, only black people are the fools who will be caught with their pants down. Don't turn your backs on Mr. Ali and his brethren. It may be the last thing black people in TnT do.

And don't bother coming down on this as a 'racist diatribe.' This is a reality check. It would be a pity to have it be looked back on as an epitaph - not too long in the future.

By Henry Harper
Dec 27th, 2006 at 10:08 am

The steelpan has already been beaten and we, Trinbagonians, have acquiesced in its burial. In fact, the steelpan's tombstone can be found outside the National Stadium.

Take a drive along Wrightson Rd. to the point where it leads to the Jean Pierre Sporting Complex and you are bound to see an obscene structure depicting a first pan. Written under the structure in bold caplita letters are the words ABSOLUT PAN. Note the deliberate misspelling of the word "absolute" - minus the "E" - in order to reflect a Swedish manufactured vodka's brand name. Note too the vodka shaped bottles embedded on the "pan" to separate its musical notes.

In very much the same way that we allowed some Japanese nationals to come to Trinidad to lay wreaths on the grave of Clive Bradley on the anniversary of his death, we have allowed a foreign company to insult all pannist and our culture by erecting this tombstone to a living musical art form. We have allowed them to insult us further by placing it at a strategic point where the world's best pannists can be heard by foreigners and locals alike...outside the Jean Pierre complex where international pan events are conducted.

Please spread this unfortunate message around to all pan lovers and ask that something be done in order to have this obscene depiction of "pan" removed. I will forward a picture of the monstrosity to your web page.

Henry Harper

By Herbert Garvin
Dec 27th, 2006 at 10:18 am

I have been following the attempt to have an instrument associated with east Indian culture to be given equal status as the national instrument. It started out with subtle suggestions for the dantaal and then the tassa, but whent he groundswell was launched, somehow the race card is invoked. This is because on nearly every occasion when persons of East Indian descent cannot get their way, they claim discrimination, and as a defence they have gotten away with it.

That the steelpan is the national instrument of Trinidad & Tobago is a statement of fact with the same finality as the on which staes that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

Talk done.

By kenny
Dec 27th, 2006 at 5:14 pm

Let me use the culture of the United States of America to illustrare a point. American Soul music, blues, jazz, rap and hip hop originated in the African American (RACE) community. Its roots are African American, BUT IT IS AMERICAN. An American (nationality) is hispanic, black, asian, white,etc. The music created by African Americans came from their experience in the cotton fields, segerated south, slavery, rasism, the mean inner city streets. The music they gave the world did not come from Brazil, T&T, Ghana, it came from the blacks experience in America.

The steetband was created by the Afro-Trinidadian experice in T&T. It did not come from Jamaica, Venezula. The steelband is distingively T&T. Who are the people from T&T,Black,Indian, Creole,Chinese, White

By Keith R Williams
Dec 30th, 2006 at 2:10 pm

This is because on nearly every occasion when persons of East Indian descent cannot get their way, they claim discrimination, and as a defence they have gotten away with it.

I made this exact point in the issue where a Judicial Official went to the Privy Council to avoid being subjected to the intervention of the Legal Pocess as a consequence of his behaviour, like every other citizen of Trinidad and Tobago. As usual, the response made my case by drawing an inference of genetic predisposition. Many of those that make these discriminatory charges on behalf of a group that has the overwhelming advantage in economic and media ownership and control in the two nations where they enjoy a slight majority, are in fact pursueing a stratagem of attack as the best form of defence. In other words, they are embarked on a strategy to mask their own discriminatory and prejudicial failings by crying "wolf wolf", or, "mommy tell she about she big foot before she tell you about you own". It is time to firmly say "enough"

Jan 2nd, 2007 at 3:34 am

Rajnie stuck again! But debate my friends is good. Understand the fustration though of her rhetoric. Massa day done, indians are under the gun, true in some respects, kidnap/ discrimination. BUT VICTIMS ARE OF EVER ILK ARE UNDERS MASSA'S GUN EVERYWHERE, PAWNS OF THE EVIL MASSA STILL.

By Riaz Ali
Jan 2nd, 2007 at 4:13 pm

Joan, please re-read my comment in a calm and objective manner and you will realise that you have misinterpreted what I have said and have no reason to insult people like me and "similar heritage."

You comment is a reflection that racism is a reflection of ignorance and/or an unwillingness to be educated.

By Cathrynp
Jan 4th, 2007 at 9:25 am

The Steel Pan has made its way into Black American history. Today, January 4th is the day that Governor elect Deval Patrick will be sworn into office, This is a Historic day because he is 1st Black Governor elected in the state of Massachusetts and the 2nd black Governor elected to office in the United States of America.

Branches Pangroove Steel Orchestra, the reigning Boston Panorama Champions was chosen as the "House Band" to play at the Inaugural Ball which will be held at the Boston Convention Center this evening, there will be other bands guest appearing, however, Branches will be the main attraction. Branches will be opening this Black tie affair with "The Star spangled Banner" specially arranged for the Steel Pan by Justin Petty. The players in the band, which is mainly made up of youth from the Boston area range in age from 7 to 18. and represent Trinidad, Barbados, St Lucia, Montserrat, Jamaica, and St. Martin. Mr. Carl Smith, Director of Branches has worked very hard over 40 years to champion the Steel Pan and its contribution to the Music industry and this is a very special moment for all Pan players and supporters.

By Linda Edwards
Jan 4th, 2007 at 9:58 pm

What a wonderfully uplifting piece of news! We need more like this.

By Henry Harper
Jan 6th, 2007 at 5:29 am


Isn't it amazing how "pan" is making its mark in all spheres of the world of music?

I wonder what it would take for our - T&T's - Ministries of Education, Culture, Foreign Affairs and Tourism to individually and collectively recognize and take advantage of the many opportunities offered by this musical treasure that we have created?

ALL our leaders have maintained a colonialistic approach to pan and those talented individuals who so proudly play this instrument.

On the other hand, it may be best if governments' stay out of "pan's" business and allow the entrepreneurial spirit of Caribbean people to take it to unexplored heights internationally.

Henry Harper

By Linda Edwards
Jan 6th, 2007 at 11:02 am

A tangential comment of relevance:

Recently, I was priviledged to hear the Wonlande African Drum Company perform at a group of which I am a member. After a spirited session- three men, eight drums- during which they got a large number of the audience to interpret in movement what they were hearing, the leader of the group began to talk about drumming.

Mohamed Diaby(West African Muslim) reported that drumming was dying out in its ancestral home, Guinea, because being a drumer meant being on the road a lot, away from family. In that culture, that meant that a drummer was regarded as a poor mariage risk. He was hardly home, and could not take care of his aged parents. President Sekou Toure of Guinea changed all that by making drummers employees of the state. This way, they could travel to salute and celebrate festivals in remote areas that could not afford to pay them. Drummers were apprenticed to master drummers from age seven, and worked at it for hours every evening. Drummers were exempted from cattle herding and other family chores, but not from school.During his lifetime as president, two sets of drumming re-emerged to international acclaim. One is Wonlande, the other is Les Ballets Africaine. Inspiritional leadership can push a culture forward, but in divisive Trinidad, each tamboo bamboo group would want equal funding, every group not funded would start a newspaper war about how the money was spent, and so on and on. That is why Pan is not pushed as much. The vision is there, but the people are perishing in petty arguments, that could become lawsuits in our new litigious mode. Nothing kills culture as fast as lawsuits.

By Tassa
Feb 18th, 2007 at 12:47 pm

In response to whoever wrote about the tassa not being original to the Indian community, first off, these drums were invented and brought from India by the labourers, and are commonly found in regions in India (mainly the southern regions). Do not try to link the tassa with any african drum.

By W. Joseph
Apr 29th, 2007 at 11:09 pm

Funny how any discussion by Indians in Trinidad of inequality on any level naturally brings the Joan Simpsons of the world out from under whatever rock they usually reside. Imagine in this day and age a person saying basically that Indians should leave Trinidad and not ONE person says to her where she can shove that mentality? Wake up people...we should not condone that asinine thinking from anyone. In my opinion Mr. Riaz Ali exhibited much restraint by not resorting to the sort of vitriolic name calling that would no doubt have ensued were an Indian to say that black people should go back to Africa because they have ruined Trinidad. Why the double standard people??? It just validates Mr. Ali's point in my humble opinion.

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