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Achieving sustainability in our music for the steelband - by Mark Loquan

Securing our steelband traditions

During the past 15 years of composing music for the national and international pan community, I have benefited from interaction with many and diverse contributors to our pan culture, including musicians, studio producers, performing artistes, local and foreign steelbands, arrangers, universities, schools, students, parents, teachers, scorers, transcribers, conventional orchestras, communities and indeed icons, such as the late Dr Pat Bishop and Jit Samaroo and others of like stature. Together with Dr Pat Bishop, I conceptualized and founded the Music Literacy Trust in 2004 to help preserve the indigenous pan music of our land and to provide financial assistance to talented pannists who wanted to pursue music education. The Trust has since assisted many scholars including Amrit Samaroo, Seion Gomez, Attiba Williams, Sophia Subero, and rolled out workshops, vacation and after-school programmes teaching the performance of musical instruments and music theory to children in southeast Port of Spain: the City Angels Programme. Feedback from teachers, students, principals, parents and the community has been very encouraging and extremely positive.

What I continue to see are opportunities for Trinidad and Tobago to strive towards sustainability in its approach to its own culture, certainly from a preservation and educational perspective. In countries that take pride in preserving their cultural history and identity, there are museums and initiatives to chronicle and record every facet of life and lifestyle, with culture taking centre stage. Unfortunately, with each year passing, some of our very own masters are lost, and with them their valuable knowledge and experience, so important to informing our culture and keeping it alive.

In Trinidad and Tobago there is little respect for local music and we witness airwaves neglecting pan songs and local music edged out to foreign music, except at Carnival time. At the moment there are no true museums fitting enough to showcase our cultural history, and there is no systematic interaction between our pool of talent and our students in the education system. Our master tuners are also dwindling, and chroming pans remains a constraint at home, so it begs the question, where will we be in the future, and how can Trinidad and Tobago achieve sustainability in our pan culture? One of the great shapers of our national instrument, Ellie Mannette, is working in Virginia, and the likes of Liam Teague and Cliff Alexis in Northern Illinois University. Why cannot such resources be utilised to support the development of this relatively young instrument and the pan industry as a whole?

The proliferation of steelbands across the globe confirms that the world has seen and heard what Trinidad and Tobago has created and envisioned, and has openly embraced the national instrument. Trinidad and Tobago is the mecca of pan, but the truth is from year to year great pan arrangements are lost, symptomatic of a culture unconcerned about preserving for the future. From my own perspective, while working outside of Trinidad for some years, I recognised that being a Trini is not about the academic education I received but being able to portray more of my cultural background.

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commemorative Magazine for the 50th Anniversary of TT Independence by First Magazine

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Excellent article

I must also take the time to highlight, and apologize for omitting, Kareem Brown, one of the scholars of the Music Literacy Trust, who was one of the first people I worked with to score music for Pan in Education 1 and 2, and several arrangements of music.  Kareem has continued to grow from strength to strength being an integral part of the Lydian Steel Ensemble, composing and arranging music for Panorama, a member of the National Steel Symphony Orchestra of Trinidad and Tobago, etc.  Kareem has been quite unassuming, is extremely talented and has played a giant role in his own quiet way to promote music literacy as a pannist/musician.  The MLT is proud to acknowledge his work and I feel privileged to have had Kareem associated with several projects promoting music literacy. Mark

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