When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

Above all, the steelpan

By Sunity Maharaj
Re-published with the expressed permission of the author

"... Why do we need to plan our lives and educational strategies around a divisive concept like multiculturalism which, contrary to its benign 'many cultures' facade, is intended to emphasise differences rather than celebrate commonalities?"

—Henri Muttoo, Guyanese

stage designer/director

It is good that school doors are being opened up to the great variety of musical instruments available to our children. For too long they have been locked out by a curriculum that still refuses to recognise the validity of so much that is of such importance to us as a people.

But as we make way for the Indian dholak, the African djembe, the Chinese chaozhou dagu, the Syrian darbuka, in addition to the European violin and piano and the American trap set and whatever else, let us remember the special gift of the steelpan that is truly and completely ours to embrace, to understand, to develop, to promote and to represent to the world.

There is a worrying sub-text to the government's argument for elbowing aside the Pan-in-the-Classroom Unit in making room for the new and expanded Multicultural Music Programme Unit. Underlying the case is a view that the steelpan is merely one of the broad range of ethnic instruments of our multi-cultural society. The view is based on the false notion that the steelpan is an African instrument, as the dholak is an Indian instrument and so on. It is not. The steelpan is a Trinidad and Tobago instrument, both by origin and by culture. One might even insist that it could never have been invented anywhere else but in the Caribbean and, quite possibly, only in this country. In what other place in the world could the precise set of circumstances have existed to have given birth to the steelpan?

Despite the NAR government's designation of the steelpan as the official national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, pan remains a subject of great ambivalence in the land of its birth—and not only among Trinidadians of East Indian extract.

Like Bob Marley on whom Jamaicans were so divided during his lifetime, we are yet to come to terms with pan. Indeed, we had an Afro-Trinidadian prime minister who was so uncomfortable with this invention by the sufferers from up Laventille Hill that he was willing to spend big money to re-invent it, adorn it in the cloak of professorial science, and re-christen it. For him, the steelpan had to be stripped of its history and re-formulated as a university-sanctioned, modern scientific instrument for it to be accepted as valid, legitimate and worthy of representing his warped idea of T&T as a sophisticated modern society. The problem, of course, was not the pan but the man.

click for full story

Views: 2172

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Pan Woman...BING! BING! BING! BING! BING! TILT!!! (Bulbs flashing: JACKPOT!!!) You should see the other things he's said about "Black" people in Trinidad. That's why I have NO respect for him. And, believe me, I tried.


SIDDS you are the ONLY obvious racist pig here, and I will continue to call you what you present yourself as. A non-nonsensical, idiot with Dougla issues. And Ian Franklin is but the latest to recognize your racist view of "Blacks" (AFRICANS), especially those who live in certain areas. YOU IGNORANT BLOOD-SUCKING RAT!!! There. Add that to the list. I have a lot more, you big racist prick. Again, EVERYONE can go and review both our comments and contributions to this site, and the only thing they will find I am guilty of, is speaking the truth, even if it means making others uncomfortable. Maybe, others are afraid to speak their mind, but I will never be afraid to say what's on my mind. I'd rather have an honest enemy than a fake friend ANYDAY!. And, you SIDD (Still In Dougla Denial) are as FAKE AS THEY GET! (Heard of cubic zaconia? Well, you are pubic zaconia. Add that one too.)You have earned EVERY label I gave you. EVERY ONE, you old fart!!! Your have the audacity to point finger, then immediately turn around and post " The Lanventille boys kill each other instead of making pans". Whose fault? Ask my great-great grandmother who was raped by a British sea captain, or my great, great, uncle, who was thrown overboard the slave ship, after succumbing to sickness. Ask the White Plantation owner slave class, who still rob and steal the Black man's wealth and culture even to this day. Ask the creators of Rock and Roll, how Elvis became the "King". Ask the Greeks, who stole from Africa, her science, maths, religious philosophy, Gods, architecture, etc. Or, just honestly answer: WHITE SUPREMACY. My "black power", is in response to a White-dominated system, that we have had to endure for over 400 years, and let's switch roles, and see if Syrians, Chinese, or East Indians, would have survived. I doubt it. Either way, our experiences are different, and it is easy for you to stand in judgment of our Black young men and women in Laventille, or any other poverty-riddled part of this entire World. I WILL NEVER GIVE UP ON MY PEOPLE, AND I WILL FIGHT IF NECESSARY TO ENSURE OUR FUTURE. If my ancestors didn't, I would not be here today, and pan would not have been invented. Again, say thank you BLACK MAN FROM TRINIDAD, WHEREVER YOU ARE. You are the ones that brought true culture to this twin island nation. (Compare the lyrics of African-descendant reggae, versus East Indian descendant chutney.) So, continue to enjoy your intellectual masturbation, for the only mind you stimulate is your own.

GHOST - Who cusses sometimes. You'd be surprised who does.

When we talk about the inventors of Pan Baboolal or Roopnarinesingh never come up. Why can't we move past that and not only Do Something For Pan but DO SOMETHING ABOUT PAN.



We must understand that it is plausible to address Pan from a class conscious position/approach but we must not forget that the media has continued to display and record pan from a racial perspective. Hence, we formulate our thinking from that perspective. However, to believe that this is the only way to seek the salvation of pan is erroneous.


 Pan will always be identified with African Trinidadians regardless of the contribution of Jit, Mohammed and the Late Brother Pouchet. But to state there is no money in Pan is absurd (Pan sells for $4000 US on the internet; see a recent posting), especially when we see the wealth reaped during Carnival times and the pittance given to the Panmen as “door prize.”


 I agree that the “ he power of life is not racial.” However, it is the Trinity of racial, political and economical. We must recognize that the race card is used to achieve the latter two. It was Kwame Nkrumah who advocated firstly for the political kingdom then you would achieve the economic mansion. In fact as he pursued this doctrine it was the British (White) who used race to overthrow him. We see it throughout Africa. Hence the Master Slave concept is still alive (See Blood Diamond for an accurate portrayal of the Master/ Slave manipulation).


 I do not subscribe to the stereotypical imagery of the Blackman. We are muscular, but we are “brainiacs” too. For example: Dr. Drew, Dr, Hobson to name two).


 There is no doubt that the evolution of pan encompasses people of all races on different continents but we must be cognizant just as the diamonds are stolen from Sierra Leone that the economic might of the pan is presently stolen from us using Blacks as their front men.


 I am not selling our selves short. I am saying it is time we gather the information, communicate with one another and then mobilize for change.


 There is a contradiction with your reference to President Barack Obama. Please note that 96% of Blacks supported BO. That is Black Power period. It is called  harnessing our Black power HEP whether is it advocated by Kwame Ture, Cornell West, Al Sharpton, or CLR James.

 Finally, we cannot escape being Black whether you try covering yourself with milk. You will still be Black but we must be Black, politically and economically powerful.


 You also have a misnomer about Rap Artiste. Brother Simmons, PI Diddy, Master P and 50 Cents are very political astute politicians who all happened to be Black. We can add the Steelband if we get our act together.


 Give thanks

Dr. Lance Seunarine.

Dr. Lance, thank you again for your intelligent comments. I'll be clear, I fight like Ninja, and I could not care about being "fair" and "diplomatic", when in battle. Sometimes I go high; sometimes, I hit a few "low blows". ALL meant to destroy the enemy of my AFRICAN people's progress, BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY!!! NIO ONE dares tell me that the East Indian descendants became as politically and economically powerful as they without nationalism. Black Power. No "Black Caucasian Power", for East Indians are defined as "black Whites", not belonging to the same "south of the Sahara" groups, as say the TWA (the White man's "pygmy").Again, understanding their religion and culture, will help in understanding why today, they still look at people who look like me, in the way they do. And SIDDS, too, suffers from that mental condition, that is based on ignorance, and not anything factual. Please Doc, if you have the time, go back and see some of SIDDS' ridiculous and racially insensitive statements. Thanks again.

GHOST - Who encourages you ALL to view my videos on the Dalits of India. (Same people, same conditions as say, Beetham. And viewed the same way by Hinduism and Hindus.)

I would like to add and introduce in the school and universities' curricula:

Music 100

The Anthropology of Music

Invention by century

The Steel Pan  of Trinidad & Tobago

Indeed, we had an Afro-Trinidadian prime minister who was so uncomfortable with this invention by the sufferers from up Laventille Hill that he was willing to spend big money to re-invent it, adorn it in the cloak of professorial science, and re-christen it. For him, the steelpan had to be stripped of its history and re-formulated as a university-sanctioned, modern scientific instrument ...


It would have been great, Ms Maharaj, if you could have at least had done some investigation before posting this. I am just down the road. Come and see for yourself (as many have chosen NOT to) that your assessment in this regard is completely dated and incorrect and that the activities to which you referred were probably the best thing that happened to the pan industry for more than a decade. I am surprised at how easily you gave way to misunderstanding and the lack of effort in getting the facts. Truly "My people die for lack of knowledge."


Final point: This article reflects one failing of the steelpan fraternity to date – its extreme reverence of the steelpan almost to the point of idolatry. We are so carried away with the instrument, as awesome as it is, that we forget that it is a lifeless entity, a tool, through which pannists can benefit, if even as a medium of expression but, more importantly, as a medium through which they can earn a better living doing what they love.  A pan is nothing without the pannist.  Others have realised and capitalised on its potential … as Black Stalin sang .. “is de pan weh gone and de panman stay.” All of that dressing up in "professorial science" as you call it  was strategically designed for the purpose of bringing it back home. 

Truly "My people die for lack of knowledge."

Interesting response, Dr. Copeland. I agree many caught up in the "idolizing" of instrument, and could not care less than for the suffering local panman and panwoman. I've always defended the local player, and my comments and suggestions, are ALWAYS done from that premise. Thanks for adding comments that make sense, even if we may not agree on everything.


Dr. Copeland, is not possible that what both you and Ms Maharaj are saying is correct?


Noted Ghost, Bugs

She is correct in everything else she said ... essentially that Trinidad and Tobago does not at all appreciate the supreme innovation that is the steelpan - an instrument that embodies so much amazing science in its musical capabilities. Perhaps it is a testament to our immaturity as a people that even after taking a generation to recognise the innovation, a generation even beyond that we have yet to fully capitalise on it and have yet to give our sincere respect to pannists. It wasn't too long ago that a pan ensemble would have been asked to settle for a box of beer as payment for a performance.    

So many voices so much robber talk. Sunity Maharaj has a voice, too, and, in a sense, she expatiated upon Lloyd Best's Pan theme. Gave it perspective for the times.
Maybe we should revisit his lecture on Pan and focus on the business of Do Something for Pan.
Hear Best in "Tuning Up."
"[Pan is] an activity that generates an immense public interest, one that commands huge energies, consumes an extraordinary amount of talent, skill, organisation and management, involves constant initiative, innovation and technological progress, and plays a huge social, civic and even economic role with its spin-off activities. And yet, pan in many ways, remains stunted, underdeveloped and a source of frustration and futility. The simple reason is that it has never operated and functioned as business, not even of the explicit co-operative type."
Ah, Boogsie, little did you know that, with your controversial composition, you had found Best's sweet spot. And, thank you Sunity, for removing the scales.

Gonzales a truthful conversation about the stagnation of pan in Trinidad cannot be had without an honest look at role of race and class in TnT.That's not going to happen. Not even those who suffer most from its effect are prepared to do that.



© 2021   Created by When Steel Talks.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service