…Finding Our Way Back To Pan As A Social Solution
By LAURIE ANDALL President of Scherzando Steelband Co-operative
After the eras of Reagan and Thatcher and the fall of the Berlin wall, heralding the self destruction of the communist empire, capitalism, tasting the blood of Karl Marx, ran unbridled for over two decades with Ponzi conmen posing as wizards of finance and blessed by the new gospel, going on to rape and pillage pensions and savings everywhere, leaving a trail of broken spirits which have only now begun to rally to the chant of “Occupy! Occupy!”
Here in T&T, capitalism also went mad with our midnight robbers playing mas at Piarco, CLICO, Hindu Credit Union and Udecott. Our own tragedy lies in the fact that while some of the international culprits have already made their jail, here in T& T the Ship of Justice continues to flounder in the Bocas while people’s programmes face the altar of sacrifice.
To hold things together in our blessed isles our year-old government has, to its credit, given us a Children’s Life Fund, a People’s Ministry where hapless citizens on the edge can cry publicly, and a State of Emergency which has ran out of shock and awe.
Budget 2012 has brought relief to parents of the disabled and NIS pensioners and people have found reason to smile with the graduation to the Bar of an angel without arms and a discredited beauty queen finding redemption in the world of high fashion.
But food prices, unemployment, health care and the suspended third shift economy casts a giant shadow over the land. And Xmas and Carnival 2012 at this point offer no more hope than the Occupation movement.
In T&T’s past, revolutions have been postponed for Carnival; such is the seriousness with which the people hold their festival and which, through the years, has grown to the status of Industry capable of sustaining itself based on its own arithmetic. The state however, performing its duties as Exchequer, has a crucial role to play in facilitating the maximization of this industry as we all agree that diversification is the path to the future.
The recent crisis in the steelband community, caused by a shortage of drums on the eve of the Carnival season as a result of the closure of an NP subsidiary following allegations of involvement in the diesel fuel racket, has cast a dark cloud over the season of Pan and Mas. The foam factories, a source of drums which are banned in developed countries and on which our own EMA should have a dossier, cannot meet the demand of pan tuners, some of whom to their credit do not use these drums anyway.
While the last government gave many millions of taxpayers’ dollars for the invention of the G-Pans, then selected six bands (possibly a case for the Equals Opportunity Commission) to make gifts of these instruments, many pannists remain convinced that this money would have been better spent on a Drum factory using the very technology employed by the G-Pannists and serving the entire steelband community instead of an elite few. Herein, therefore, lies fertile opportunity for the current government to chart a different course in an industry where every chromed or colour-coated pan is an ambassador. We pray, for the sake of our common future, that the Cabinet of the People’s Partnership recognizes this.
On this drum crisis, with unemployed tuners in need of counseling and leadership, both Pan Trinbago and the Tuners’ Guild have been strangely silent. It was a case of defaulting leadership that would have cost the price of a press release, if only for public relations.
Such a press release could have read: “We wish to make the public aware that there is a shortage of drums in the Steelband industry and we are working assiduously with both state and private agencies to address the situation.”
This may well have been the case because our Pan Trinbago officers, we know, have the Pan at heart but the silence on this issue for a moment left us rudderless and gave the impression of cloak and dagger politics and dog eat dog psychology. Today, tuners are waiting to exhale: waiting on the promise of MIC (Metal Industries Company), on the Tuners’ Guild and on the resurgence of Nasta. The crisis has begun a conversation amongst the fraternity, and coalitions are taking shape as big men look to keep food on their tables. The breaking news of five containers of drums from a foreign source purchases hope for Pan 2012, if even temporary, and makes a hero out of a most unlikely source. Suddenly, the smallest man in the business has become the biggest man.
Panorama 2012 is also, we understand, under serious negotiations between Pan Trinbago and the Ministry of The Arts and Multiculturalism. In her Budget contribution, opposition politician, Donna Cox, announced that she has information that the government grant for unsponsored steelbands is a casualty of the new politics. She may well have been in extempore mode, throwing picong at the champion of this artform who also happens to be the Honourable Minister of Multiculturalism. To date he has yet to reply and while we heard him extempore on Divali to the delight of our esteemed Prime Minister, the entire Steelband community is waiting on a verse on Panorama 2012 with specific reference to the grant for unsponsored steelbands and the stipend for pannists which was a bone of contention in 2011 and for which Pan Trinbago made adequate representations.
The Honourable Minister has gone on record as saying that Panorama is killing Pan. He may well have a case but certainly killing Panorama is not the answer. The birth of Soca and Chutney Monarchs came out of disenchantment with the Calypso format and today we have the three genres living side by side with all three shows holding their own in the market. It was a win-win solution for everybody and the minister should take inspiration from this formula where Soca Monarch, Chutney Raj and traditional Calypso Lord are kings in their own houses.
The Panorama Final is our biggest Carnival event outside of the Carnival days, challenged only by Soca Monarch, and it remains a place of pilgrimage for thousands of Freshwaters and many foreign pannists who, having performed in their Big city Panoramas, clones of our own festival, make the annual trek to our shores to feel the real thing.
Besides, Panorama is a profit-making project whose full potential, via video marketing, is still to be realized. This ball is in Pan Trinbago’s court. Or is it U. T.C which has responsibility for this aspect of the product?
Certainly Steel Fest 2012 can give the Minister some guidance on the direction in which his administration may lead the national instrument. We can also transform J’ouvert, dedicating it to Pan and traditional Instruments from 3 am to 10 am on our J’ouvert streets. The minister’s Tobago Carnival baby may well be replicated as Cultural Saturdays in San Fernando, Chaguanas and Sangre Grande. These could be among the new spaces recommended by our Honorable Minister of Finance. These events not only stimulate economic activity, they give residents a sense of pride and encourage migrants to return in celebration.
Point Fortin has grown from strength to strength since the advent of its festival and the burgesses of Arima may well be wondering why their own Borough Day has not brought similar dividends.
Perhaps the low profile of Pan is the missing ingredient in their festival.
The word in steelband circles is that the former N. C. C chairman walked rather than compromise his image as a friend of Pan. We applaud his gesture if this was indeed so and hope that the new chairman could give sound advice to the Minister who should be well aware that the steelband badjohns of old, even though in their graves, are following developments closely. It is the Pan that brought rehabilitation to the ghettoes of the sixties and today gangs have only taken over the streets because steelbands have been denied access to political patronage which became the preserve of “community leaders”. Today the steelband community, sixty years after TASPO’s pioneer tour, has among its ranks lawyers, doctors, economists, teachers, principals, businesspeople and other professionals. It has come a long way since that era of Blakie’s ‘Steelband Clash’.
Today, our weapons are music and logic and the figures say that given the income for each Carnival season, the Panorama, grants et al, is earning its keep and our Government would do well to keep a formula that brings people together in peace, love and harmony.
—Opinions expressed above are not necessarily shared by Scherzando’s Board of Directors.