By LAURIE ANDALL
On January 13th 1995 Lloyd Best blessed Scherzando panyard with his presence and gave an historic lecture entitled “Schools in Pan”, the seminal thesis on the economic possibilities of our national instrument. The importance of this work grows with each passing day as our fossil fuels diminish and our leaders locked on election mode keep “chinksing”, praying that the seabed would forever cough up treasures to spin dreams and postpone the ‘hardwuk’ needed to forge our common destiny .
“Schools in Pan” offers us a blueprint to develop Pan as industry and centres of community development for Caribbean societies. So Lloyd Best has left our generation with an important legacy for which we from the steelband community wish to honour him in this fiftieth year of our nation’s independence, offering Pan as a foundation stone in the construct of the new society which we hope to leave the generations with the responsibility to celebrate, in another fifty years , the one hundredth anniversary .
At Scherzando Culture Market on Sunday 18th March 2012 The Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies in partnership with UWI’s Department of Creative and Festival Arts and Scherzando Steelband Co-operative celebrated the life of Lloyd Best with a concert ‘The Re-awakening of the Caribbean Spirit’, as the prelude to a week of dialogue between Caribbean intellectuals, leaders of industry, professionals, artists, students and citizens under the banner ‘Common Sense Convois’.
Arising from the Rituals of our First Peoples with the sound of the conch shell ushering in a ceremony of fire , smoke and ancient incantations amidst the active participation of artists and audience , the concert was intricately woven by master playwright Rawle Gibbons , taking us through scenes from Pearl ‘Eintou’ Springer’s play ‘Hyarima ‘and a tapestry of voices from the Chibale Drummers, grandsons of the former poet-in-residence at Scherzando Abdul Malik, a Scherzando Pan ensemble with Raf Robertson on organ, having composed an original score for the occasion, incorporating sitar and harmonium , followed by chantwell Relator and 3Canal with Ella Andall bringing down the power and the love to make Caribbean spirits of past, present and future dance to a lyric of redemption and a melody of hopefulness.
That Sunday in Curepe Junction may well be the seed of a renaissance of the Caribbean dream of unity and integration so adequately captured by the Mighty Stalin over a decade ago with his classic calypso ‘Caribbean Man’. It evoked the nostalgia of my own becoming as a young man embracing our archipelago as home through the twin ships Federal Maple and Federal Palm which brought thousands of Caribbean people together over two decades ago. While Caribbean governments have bungled Federation in the past, a chapter of our history best described by the Mighty Sparrow in his classic calypso ‘Federation’, and today have placed Caricom, cricket and UWI on the ropes, it is the people through culture, intermarriage and plain common sense who have kept the fires of integration and unity burning. In this scenario Pan has its own story to tell as along with its sibling, Calypso and their mother, Carnival they have been welcomed as family on every Caribbean island.
In Kim Johnson’s ‘Illustrated Story of Pan’ we learn that Red Army was the first steelband to make an official tour abroad in 1946 when they toured British Guyana. There is also a photograph of members of Rising Sun touring St Vincent the following year, 1947.
This may well be the first chapter of Pan’s Caribbean odyssey although the islands themselves may have different stories to tell.
Besides, Pan as a musical instrument on its own, more so the tenor pan and as a unit in a steel orchestra on the other hand, may well unearth different narratives on the road to its West Indianisation .
From Red Army to Sun Valley, Invaders, Hell Yard, Casablanca, Tokyo, Tripoli, Fascinators, Desperadoes, All Stars, Cavaliers, Renegades, Ebonites Harmonites, Flamingoes and many others the music spread like wildfire. It crossed the Bocas to Tobago where bands like Our Boys, Katzenjammers, Wonder Harps, Dixieland, Buccooneers and others picked up the baton, accepting Pan as an institution of our becoming. It travelled with the schooners to Grenada where Comancheros, New Dimension, Pan Wizards, Rainbow City and other bands joined in this celebration of the Caribbean Spirit. In St Vincent Zion Hill, Potential , Sea Operations and others heard and followed the beat of this indigenous Caribbean drum. In St. Lucia, Pan Time, Diamond Steel and their own incarnation of North Stars. In Antigua, Roots, Halcyon, West Side and Hell’s Gate. In Jamaica there is the Edna Manley Steel Band and the University Band. Even in Belize the sound of the Pan reverberates across the horizon to the wider American diaspora.
Every band has its own peculiar story to tell about its inspiration into musical being. The Rainbow City All Stars from Grenville, Grenada came into existence as a directresult of a 1994 tour to the Rainbow City Festival in Grenada by Scherzando Steelband. Through the dedication and vision of deceased panmen Joseph ‘Squares ‘Dates from Grenville Harold ‘Tom’ Roberts from Tobago and Scherzando, and the determination of Eden ‘Charlo’ Charles, who continue to serve as a mentor to the young people of Grenville and his home band Scherzando, the Rainbow City All Stars was born.
Up to this day, almost one decade later , an exchange programme between the bands continues to flourish, benefitting young pannists from both islands.
Steelband as an industry continues to grow in the Caribbean as a result of the efforts of brothers like Charlo, Victor ‘Babu’ Samuel in Antigua, Mackie Burnett in Jamaica, Ashley Kirby in St. Vincent, Wellington ‘Scrubs’ George in St. Lucia and David ‘ Peck’ Edwards in Grenada.
The Common Sense Convois was intended to strengthen these bonds and at the Magdalena Grand Beach Resort at the Tobago chapter of the Convois where the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies in partnership with the House of Assembly presented ‘New Politics: Still searching for Representation’, the Pink Panther sang ‘Try Again’, an updated plea for unity among Caribbean peoples and governments.
The Convois itself was like a ship sailing not from island to island but from heart to heart, dealing with issues that most affect Caribbean citizens like integration itself, climate change, plantation economics , communications, land legacies and the law, oil and gas, the role and impact of new technologies in the transformation process, language, culture, tourism, art and sports.
Our Caribbean intellectuals shone brightly as they explored the many themes in their respective disciplines affecting West Indian progress in this twenty-first century, bringing us face to face with the challenges that lie ahead. The ship of Caribbean unity was certainly at full mast during this convois with first class contributions from Roger Pulwarty, Andrew Jupiter , Gillian Marcelle, Norman Girvan, Tennyson Joseph, Gordon Rohlehr, Sheila Graham, Graciella Chailloux- Laffita, Paloma Mohammed, Cary Fraser, Simeon Mc Intosh, Lou-Ann Barclay , Kari Levitt and other intellectual luminaries.
It was a most fitting tribute to Lloyd Best who left us five years ago and the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies, who constructed this Common Sense Convois, has every reason to take a bow .
It has not escaped my attention that even our cricket welcomed this re-awakening of The Caribbean spirit as for the first time in years we presented major problems for the Australian team as they escaped with a draw in the one-day tournament. Whilst Caricom, through the initiative our Prime Minister gave us hope with the project to bring our peoples together by the re-introduction of Caribbean vessels, we applaud the chorus of Sister P to bring Jamaica into the Caribbean Court of Justice. It is a fitting gift to her people for the fiftieth anniversary of Jamaica’s independence and we from T&T hope that Sister K begins to sing from the same song book as her Jamaican peer and embraces the court on Henry Street. It would be a most appropriate toast to Trinidad and Tobago’s golden anniversary of independence.