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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.

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Greetings My bredren: I want us to focus on what we can do to help panmen/women reap the benefits of this wonderful instrument.  We should teach them if they lack the know how to set up and run a business. Why we should ignore its history in beyond my comprehension. Your points on the piano etc addresses this point and I thought you answered it superbly.  If we can have some of our people meet with  PanTrinbago and hear their side, we can  move to assist them. Pan Trinbago  cannot function if the bands collectively act in unison. Blessing and guidance Dr. Lance Seunarine

Pan people we rich. we could use half to go towards finishing our building.

"Profit" indeed!..."The Prophet of Pan" has caused a profit from pan, and I wonder what the plan is?

Greetings Thanks for the link. I wonder how much of the $5 million was shared with the different bands. Give thanks Dr. Lance Seunarine

Dr lance ah making ah educated guess  -0  but ah bet yuh by Christmas somebody in PanTrinbago comming out wid ah new Benz.

In my finance world, I believe profit to be in-hand after all expenses/expenditures were cleared and properly accounted for which makes it even more interesting.

Doesn't Pan Trinbago give it's members an annual report on all it financial dealings?


T&T is well-known (if not respected) as a centre of creativity intra/extra region.  We will not be able to advance the cause until we create (by whatever means necesary) an Idea Incubation Centre accesiblle to all in the society, especially the less-fortunate or connected socioeconomic groups. 

Um um, um, um, um!!!!!!  Being a pannist (why hasn't this word reached the dictionary as yet like pianist, organist, violinist?) for 39 years, it is with mixed emotions that I read an article of such content in the 21st century - the 2nd decade at that - which means, the world is moving ahead and our instrument still begs to move in sinc, as grasped from the article.  

Pan has been on the curriculum in many schools in the First World yet in 'the mecca of pan' (Trinidad & Tobago) we still grapple, fight, tussle, with its rightful place. I have witnessed, first-hand, how the most forlorn student has soared both socially and academically from aligning self with music...PAN music. Some schools actually challenge students to earn the right to be viewed worthy of being a pannist meaning: social behaviour and academic performance must reach a respective bar/expectation.

I hope I am not being hasty in my thinking, having learned of the new pan school programme, but I have serious problems when I cannot measure one thing against another, citing a clear and better objective than that of what went before or currently exists.

Sunity, I love your article! I wrote a three-article piece -- Desperadoes...a Best-Seller Treasure -- on WITCO Desperados that was published in the Guardian last month having learned of the goldmine on which the steelband sits, but its members and community seem clueless as to how to capitalize upon the jewels that lie within the treasure called Desperadoes.

I cite in the daily news, more and more murders within the community that houses this treasure and yet the orchestra does not have a junior band. It's a bickering, verbal and band-conceptualization warfare among members and executive, while the instruments sit idly by waiting on the best resource in the world,  the human resource, to get with the flicking picture, get up and smell the roses, and take pan beyond the realm of the harp.....Sandra L. Blood



Sandra you say;

Pan has been on the curriculum in many schools in the First World yet in 'the mecca of pan' (Trinidad & Tobago) we still grapple, fight, tussle, with its rightful place.

why is that from your perspective?


Many thanks Ms Maharaj for your honesty and your forthrightness. It has to take someone the likes of you to expose those of us who are bent on divisiveness in the name of parity. Could someone please tell me how a national instrument born and bred on an island be given parity with other instruments which must be imported from overseas? Pan as our national instrument must be the first exposure to our infants there after anything else could be offered. Sic    

Greetings I second this brother's comments (Brother Hollis). Guidance Dr. Lance Seunarine


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