William R. Aho, Ph.D.
The focus of this paper is the class, color, and race components in the struggle to create a people’s music — a music originally and essentially of the economically disadvantaged and less formally educated citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, primarily those of African descent. It is based on interviews with former and present panmen and pan women in Trinidad and Tobago and also draws on government documents, newspapers, and personal observations during some sixteen months of fieldwork in Trinidad between 1972 and 1985.
Music as a social phenomenon has been of interest to scholars for some time and has given rise to numerous books and scholarly articles and to several scholarly journals (for example, The Sociology of Music, Ethnomusicology and The Black Perspective in Music). Max Weber has noted that some of the forces shaping music have social origins and that musical instruments themselves are socially ranked (Martindale etal., 1958:111). Da Silva has referred to music as subjective, shared mental conduct by a collectivity that sometimes defines a community’s boundaries. He has also called attention to the conflict inherent in the social organization of music (1984:34). Shepherd has observed that an elite musical establishment of intellectuals persuades society that popular music is an inferior and less desirable art form and that music’s value is not a socially shaped reality but an ultimate one with objective criteria for judging its quality. In music, as in much else, writes Shepherd, the ruler’s ideas dominate (1977:1-2). Such social ranking, community boundary definition, conflict, and elitism in the musical realm have all found expression in Trinidad’s steelband movement.