By LAURIE ANDALL
When Pan Am North Stars won back to back Panoramas with Sparrow’s ‘Dan is de Man in de Van’ and Kitchener’s ‘Mamma Dis is Mas’ at the beginning of the Panorama odyssey, the music had arrived at a pinnacle and up to this day, almost fifty years later, big men still argue whether this North Stars Band was indeed the greatest exponent of pan music that ever graced a Panorama stage!
Taking this perspective to its natural conclusion we would then have to concede that North Stars’ sudden demise, unconquered still, was a tragedy unsurpassed in the annals of steelband history. There are many lessons for the steelband community with the passing of the North Stars into legend, the most important of which is a system which encourages inclusiveness and succession planning.
Then the Guiness Cavaliers succeeded North Stars, upsetting the expectations of panaderos in Town who had already predicted that Gay Desperadoes, kings of the Hill, had the right of passage to the Savannah kingdom. People were already leaving the Queen’s Park Coliseum, satisfied that the judges would do their duty. Then the melodious bases of Bobby Mohammed and his Band of Southern Cavaliers summoned them back with Lord Melody’s ‘Melody’.
Those bases were a revelation, resonating throughout the consciousness of the musical landscape, even across the Dry River and making big men cry under the shadow of the water tanks, Fatima R.C Church and Fort Picton.
The following year the Gay Desperadoes rebounded with Beverly Griffith’s arrangement of Sparrow’s ‘Obeah Wedding’ better known as ‘Melda’ and Town tasted sweet revenge over the Cavaliers of San Fernando. The Desperadoes were rewarded with an official tour to Dakar, Senegal and for the first time Africa received the Pan whose ancestor, the drum, had left the dark continent almost four centuries earlier in the hearts and DNA of the captured slaves.
The following year the Empire of the South struck back with another Bobby Mohammed arrangement of Kitchener’s- ‘Sixty Seven’- when once again the bands from Town had no answer to the running bases of the pride from South. Bobby Mohammed was rewarded with selection on the National Steelband to attend Expo’67 in Montreal, Canada, a team that included illustrious pannists such as the Kellman brothers, Glenford Sobers and Lennox Toussaint.
The Cavaliers were also contracted by Travel Agent Amral Khan to take the Pan to distant lands in the Asian sub-continent where the instrument had never gone before. When the Panorama bell of 1968 sounded, the Guiness Cavaliers could not answer. Like Pan Am North Stars before, the Cavaliers passed mysteriously into folklore, suffocated by the heady winds of its overnight successes when fame had come like a whirlwind but fortune, even after these much heralded tours, continued to be a stranger.
If the truth be told, Pan up to this day remains the poor relation of the Carnival arts. The few pannists who can support their families from the income of their art have worked long and hard to cross the Rubicon. Pan is also a community endeavour, an instrument invented to provide rhythm and music on the move, so a band on the road is really a village mobilized.
Even with today’s winning prize of one million dollars for big bands or two million, according to the mood of the exchequer, the income of the pan artisans has to stretch too thin; with arranger, drillmaster, tuner, welder, tailor, transport men, silk screen printer, pannists, cook, loaders and pan pushers all watching the paymaster ‘cokey eye’. Many bands have been broken because somewhere along the food chain an important link had to be left standing with an I.O.U in order to make ends to meet. Some bands have been levied upon by creditors while others simply choose to fold up. Steelband history is littered with the debris of fallen steel orchestras.
Unsponsored bands walk the thin red line each year and really, with businesses defaulting on social responsibilities even with tax concessions offered by the State, it is only through the love and sacrifice of pan people that many bands manage to face the starter .In many panyards, each year, we witness miracles of survival and achievement especially when the Panorama jumbie comes calling. That the grant for unsponsored steelbands was placed on the negotiation table by the Ministry of Multi-Culturalism and the thousand dollar stipend for pannists slashed by twenty percent in an environment where the incoming National Carnival Commission chairman is the former president of Pan Trinbago, tells us that politicians are still to grasp the importance of Pan in the development process of this particular society. Pan people are still trying to fathom the policy of the People’s Partnership Governemnt on Pan and whether the hand offered is indeed a velvet glove or an iron fist.
The Prime Minister’s New Year tour to India may well reveal the real politik of the Partnership’s Pan policy—or lack thereof—and whether the hand is a bounce, a high five or a slap in the face. Having invited criticism of her travels because of her Party’s own strident tone on the excursions of the ex-’Project Manager’, from which she has profited as chair person of the Commonwealth, none of us, because of our history can begrudge her that triumphant return to Delhi. After all the old Bas himself had his day in the Indian sun. As shareholders of this Ship of State called T&T, however, we wish to offer wise counsel that Pan should be a member of the Prime Minister’s delegation to India if only because of the historical implications of your journey, not to speak of the economic opportunity for enticing a few hundred million Indians with the charms of Pan and pursuing the vision of men like Amral Khan.
And we are not speaking of a tenor pan as a gift as was appropriately awarded to Madam Gifford Down Under and Comrade Raul during his own visit to our shores. In the case of India, we are talking about the sheer joy of shared music- an ensemble or in these times of cutbacks, a soloist with the skill to radiate the sacredness of a Bhajan off the skin of Pan. Or the romance of Suhani Raat, as Jit Samaroo can. In these times of Multi-Culturalism we can even conjure up a Mungalesque collaboration between the Pan and the Sitar. Certainly, Madam Prime Minister, this is far too important an opportunity for Pan to miss.
Pan Trinbago or even our own NCC chairman surely stands ready to offer urgent advice on this matter and while the word is already out that Pan is not making the journey, some of us believe your willingness to recognise error and adjust in the face of Truth, could rectify this wrong with a stroke of the pen. Through the magic of Pan, we can show our Indian family precisely where the Ganges and the Nile meet.
In the Express of Monday 26th December 2011, former Minister in the Ministry of National Security, Subash Panday, was quoted as saying that the million dollars spent on the Concerts of Hope in the panyards in the fight against crime had yielded no results. Well, well! Something must certainly be wrong with the marketing of this initiative if Pan people like us are hearing about the Concerts of Hope for the very first time. And especially strange considering that the one thing we cannot fault the Partnership for is ringing its own bell. When and in which panyards were these concerts held, pray tell? Many of us marched up the Hill over a year ago to help the Desperadoes reclaim their panyard for Panorama practice and so we do acknowledge that Pan is on the frontline in the fight against crime but where was the State’s follow up to this initiative? Was it the Concerts of Hope?
For the information of Mr Subash Panday, Pan men have long surrendered the mantle of bad john to the State and while the music can play a rehabilitative role in the fight against delinquency- a role to be recognized by the judicial system as it has been by the penitentiary- we have long said farewell to arms. The struggle for Despers’ panyard has gone well beyond Pan men and women and while we are ready and willing as steelband leaders, to make our contribution, the confrontation with gangsters is a job for police and soldiers.
Today, because of the economic pressures visited upon the steelband community we are more concerned about Pan as a business, contemplating how we can transform the vision outlined in Lloyd Best ‘Schools in Pan’ from theory to reality. We see a seed of hope in the promise of Panvesco as Mr. Clary Benn informed us at a forum on T.A.S.P.O celebrating Scherzando’s 42nd anniversary on Nov. 28th 2011, that the Board of Directors may be ready to welcome lobbying from Steelbands to develop this portfolio from Sole shareholder, Pan Trinbago, to Steelbands in general, giving bands an opportunity for investment and growth and moving away from the patronage and dependence that has overshadowed us from the beginning.
Laurie Andall is the President of the Scherzando Steelband Co-operative of Curepe.