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Revisited -- Getting Panned in Trinidad -- (insult or not?) - The Jacob Edgar Saga

The following are excerpts from an extensive blog by Jacob Edgar on Pan in Trinidad & Tobago.  Depending on the perspective, even beginning with the very title “Panned in Trinidad” can be cause for pause – after all, ‘panned’ itself is a word which is oftentimes associated with unflattering critique.  Jacob Edgar’s blog paints a far less than positive picture of the steelpan instrument, the culture of pan and steelpan musicians of Trinidad & Tobago themselves, from our perspective.  While Jacob Edgar is entitled to his opinion, it is troubling that he promotes himself as the eyes and ears for countless others – see his self-description in part:  “….I travel the globe in search of the best music the world has to offer...and I suffer through some of the worst - so you don't have to!”  Jacob Edgar’s content and opinions are world-read and accessed not only via his blog, but as host of his own music and travel series Music Voyager - http://www.musicvoyager.com/   

 

Maybe Jacob Edgar is not qualified for the task he has undertaken – at the very least when it comes to the steelpan art form. Maybe someone from Trinidad & Tobago who is qualified (other than his ‘old friend’) –- ought to have educated Jacob Edgar on the eclectic capabilities and showcases of steelpan in Trinidad & Tobago year-round – outside of “Panorama” - and while they were at it, have a chat with him of his stereotypical view of a ‘Panyard’ re: “Much beer is imbibed, fights break out….”    Sadly, Jacob Edgar reminds us of some of the old National Geographic reporters who made us cringe.

 

PanTimes

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HearingGlobally.com

Jacob Edgar - Ethnomusicologist, music producer, writer and researcher with an insatiable curiosity for the diverse ways in which people express themselves through music.Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - Given the choice between Chinese water torture and being forced to listen to a recording of steel drums I might lean towards the former. The steel drum, or steel pan or just “pan” as most Trinidadians call it, is one of the instruments that just doesn’t translate very well to recordings and it is best appreciated it in its natural setting: performed by an orchestra of hundreds on a hot, sweaty night in Trinidad, ideally during the annual Panorama competition and with a belly full of local rum.

....I was a guest at a film shoot for a new movie docu-drama that tells the story of the development of the steel drum, from its humble beginnings in the poor neighborhoods of Port of Spain to the awesome Panorama competitions that attract an audience of thousands from all over the world. The film is to be called Pan! A Modern Odyssey and its producer is Jean Michel Gibert, an old friend who has been at the  forefront of the Trinidadian music industry for years.

....I also walked by the steel yard of the Renegades, an orchestra that competes every year in the Panorama competition. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it back to the yard later that night to attend their evening rehearsal, which I’ve heard is more of a social club. Much beer is imbibed, fights break out, and occasionally, the groups strikes up the metallic cacophony that is a true steel drum orchestra. Sounds just like my kind of scene!
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Aye Gons, I wouldn't hold my breath either, although Othello has posted comments on WST before. Tello is not one into talk with no action, and he realizes that "When Steel Talks", all we do is talk. smh.

Ghost Who Knows It Is Time For Action! (But I cannot go it alone.)

I guess this is why obscene language remains as popular as it's ever been.What an arrogant "meow" this guy has proven to be.

Well said pandora it is ours and every one wants it but is GOD given and I am proud of it Thank you heavenly farther.

In my Gospel music ministry , I travel to various parts of North America and every one I meet are so amazed by this beautiful sounding instrument , those who never heard it before are blown away by the tone . God gave the early pan tuners in TT the gift . He choose to give it to us because we are a blessed nation that lives in harmony . We celebrate every religion's holidays , we never have race riots etc unlike other places in the world . In my humble opinion , even with a the technology there is today , if we didn't invent the steelpan , it would have never been invented and the world would be missing one of the best acoustic musical instruments given to us . So in conclusion to Jacob , you can't ay a note on the pan so you , in my book you don't have any idea what you are talking about . It's like an addiction counsellor trying to help an addict when he has never experienced what this person is going through . Blessings , Winston
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bs

We really should not be too upset with this man comments because there are few places in the world that don't know anything about the pan, it is love by all who know it.

"we will have to aim higher to platinum recordings"...blah, blah, blah...."otherwise we can safely stay with our Panoramas, panyard jams, street parades (Wha is dat?) and Pan "would fail as an authentic viable blah blah ..." simply RELEGATED to Panorama, blah blah, short streets parades?. coupled with beers and rum"

What a cacophony! (Edgar's lyrics which you seem very fond of ) You are worse than Edgar, and I call him a moronic IDIOT! put some guitar pan on dem soprano notes, and work out wha dat make you! :-)))

Listen, bro'.... I have played pan since the fifties, and have made a good living as a musician and, I KNOW that you talk through your backside! I could not even read through all the CRAP, because it's plain to see....and it's not only me who took off in yuh ass....Go on praying to your God, who tell yuh that yuh "intelligent" YOU, ain't got a clue! I don't need your God to tell me, what "one" can plainly see! If you had any REAL Spirit in you, you would not be supporting the idiot Edgar, who was not criticizing, but, INSULTING WE TING, and I don't like that! I have no more to say to you, and before I say Amen," one "should let you know that it is worse ,NOT "worst"...IGNORAMUS!.......... AMEN

In my efforts to "keep it real", I like to mention some unpleasant truths about our beloved art form.

In spite of all the grandiose plans of many regarding the commercial aspects of pan, the reality is that there is no real demand out there for pan music.

Again, I am referring to the steelband, not individual panists; we all know of players who've achieved success, especially in the genre of jazz.

As I said before, some of us live in a "pan bubble", and when I spoke of educating and re-educating people about pan, it was scoffed at..

I would bet that many pan people on this forum live in areas where there is close proximity to a West Indian community with  familiarity with and appreciation of the steel pan.

Well, because of circumstances, I've resided for many years in areas away from the Caribbean community and you'll be surprised how many times my mention of the steel pan and its music drew blank stares and/ or vague references to cartoon characters.

For many, steel band music, even the most sophisticated panorama arrangement, IS noise, because they don't understand it.

The unfamiliar sound is an assault to their senses

However, in the right setting, a high quality video can achieve positive results.

This is why I insist that the steelband is an audio visual experience, and has to be promoted as such.

I maintain that a full size festival or Panorama steelband in performance is the image we want to promote and expose to the world.

We are still in the introductory phase where our artform is concerned, and most people still are not aware of what a steelband is capable of musically, or  its own musical genre, which is Panorama music. 

 

Hi Everyone. I'm Jacob Edgar, the author of the blog post at www.hearglobally.com that has generated so much response on this forum. I am happy to see that my post has been read by so many people, and even that it has sparked so much debate, although I get the impression from some of the vitriol and negative comments, directed both towards the substance of the article and myself personally, that the article was either not read in its entirety by everyone or it was misunderstood.

 

I’d like to clarify the intention of my post and use this opportunity to explain a bit more what my thoughts are on the subject of steel pan.

 

First of all, the title and opening sentence of the post was intended to get people's attention (which clearly it did), but if you read the entire article to the end it should be clear that I love the steel pan and have a great deal of respect, admiration and appreciation for the instrument itself, its history and the community from which it was born and keeps it going strong today.

 

The criticisms I was intending to make were twofold:

 

1)   The fact that most recordings of steel pan music are either not very well made, contain repertoire that does not reflect the cultural traditions that inspired the instrument or fail in representing the power, spectacle and majesty of a steel drum orchestra in the context in which it originates.

2)   That most people are exposed to pan music through tourist-oriented presentations that water down the true depth of the instrument, include repertoire of dubious taste and generally give a bad or misleading impression of steel pan music to people who don't know any better.

 

In regards to the first critique, while I am sure there are many excellent pan recordings out there that I am not aware of, I have listened to hundreds of pan albums over the years and have struggled mightily to find selections that I felt would appeal to a wide audience, and by that I mean to include people who may not be passionate devotees of pan music and thus don't have a very deep sense of the history and culture surrounding the instrument or are hearing out of context. Either the recordings are poorly made with inferior techniques or equipment and just sound like a lot of noise or they contain cheesy, overdone or just plain kitschy covers of bland international pop songs. Even in Trinidad, where I was hoping I would find a wider selection of pan recordings in local record shops, I was disappointed see how many consisted of poor recordings and non-local repertoire. These are not recording I would play for a friend who knows nothing about pan music in the hopes of convincing them to become interested in it, nor is it material that I would listen to for anything other then intellectual interest.

 

I am sure there are some excellent recordings of pan music out there, and it was wrong of me to not include the word "most" in my opening sentence, as I do have some pan recordings my collection that I truly love. I would be happy for your suggestions on other artists or recordings that you think I should know about. It has long been a goal to create a steel drum collection for Putumayo, we just need to find enough songs that we think will appeal to a non-pan devoted audience, but would also reflect the repertoire and culture of the communities where the music originated.

 

I think when you are very close to a musical tradition, as all of you who commented on this forum seem to be, it is difficult to understand why anyone wouldn't appreciate everything that you do about that which you are passionate about. In my career as someone who tries to introduce new audiences to music from around the world, I approach things from a different perspective, searching for a song or recording that will draw newcomers in but that also remains close to the spirit of the music and the culture from whence it comes. I have found that to be a challenge with the steel drum recordings that exists on the market today.

 

I also feel that no audio recording can ever capture the full experience of a live steel pan orchestra, especially one seen in its native country where the ambience, volume, movement, and spectacle are all part of the picture. Recordings only capture a part of the story, and one that in my point of view, misses some key elements that make the music what it is.

 

In regards to critique number two, during my short visit to the region I observed two performances of steel drum music, both of which set my teeth on edge and, in my opinion, were perfect examples of why steel pan music is misunderstood by so many people. The first example was a disinterested band playing for a group of tourists at a Port of Spain hotel. The song selection included insipid covers of old chestnuts like "Volare" and was performed by a group of musicians who were clearly not enjoying themselves much, even though their skills as musicians was clearly fine. The second was on board the ship I am traveling on during a stop in Guyana, in which a steel pan player backed himself up with a computer laying down synthetic drum beats and pre-arranged backing tracks while he performed pop songs originally made famous The Bee Gees, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and other artists whom I wouldn't be surprised think a steel pan is something you cook on, not a musical instrument.

 

I think these types of presentations, which are prevalent anywhere tourists in the Caribbean are to be found, give steel drum music a bad name and do serious damage to the image and reputation of the instrument. I've heard plenty of bad cover bands using guitars or keyboards or any number of instruments, but the steel drum has a such a distinct sound and image that it makes it difficult for me to listen to a lot of steel pan music without thoughts of this horrible stuff coming to mind.

 

I think the comments I have seen on this forum that bothered me the most were ones that seemed to indicate that because I am white I have no right to offer criticisms about steel pan music. I think the right to criticize cheesy covers of bad pop songs is a universal right that can be engaged in by anyone no matter what their race, religion or cultural background. If you like that kind of music, that's your prerogative and more power to you, I'm not trying to tell you not to like something. My blog is a place where I can express my own personal opinions, likes and dislikes, and I respect your right to your own taste in music just as I hope you will respect mine.

 

The fact is, I love the steel pan. I have tremendous respect for its history, what it represents as a cultural expression and want it to be played, performed and promoted far and wide. I am actually so happy to see by discovering this forum how many devoted and passionate steel pan followers there are and, regardless of the criticism my article received, love the fact that there such heated and extensive debate about this instrument, its past and its future.

 

If reading through the rest of the article did not result in the recognition of how much I respect the instrument and tradition than that is a flaw in how I wrote it. Throughout the article I discuss my pleasure at coming across a group of students learning to play the instrument, my joy at having been invited to witness a recreation of the first steel drum competition and my excitement at passing by the Renegades steel yard combined with my disappointment that I would not be in Trinidad long enough to hear the steel pan orchestra in a setting like no other in the world, Port of Spain during the Panorama competition.

 

Also, let me clarify, when I used the term "metallic cacophony" that was intended as a complement. Part of what makes the music interesting to me is when it retains some of its rough edges. That’s how steel drum music was in its early days, when the instrument wasn't as finely tuned, when it sounded like a stick on metal, when it was more about soul and less about refinement. That's a personal preference, and one that comes from my appreciation for the origins of the instrument and the role it played in helping define Trinidadian musical identity.

 

Also, I have never been to a Renegades rehearsal, so you are correct, I have no idea if people drink too much or fight, or anything like that, it was my overactive imagination at work. I do hope someday that I get the chance to be in Port of Spain for Panorama so I can achieve my dream of hearing the steel pan orchestra in its unfettered glory. On that occasion I may end up drinking too much (and it looks like I already started a fight!), but that doesn't mean anyone else has to!

 

Thank you all for contributing to the debate about the powers of this instrument and music and for your dedication and efforts to promoting steel pan music and keeping it a vital force in Trinidadian and international music.  If my comments offended any of you, I apologize, it was purely out of an effort to get interest in the blog post and hopefully encourage people to read the whole thing. I hope you will forgive any offenses and have me back in Trinidad someday, ideally with more time and with a chance to learn more.

 

 

All the best,

 

 

Jacob Edgar

www.hearglobally.com / www.cumbancha.com / www.putumayo.com / www.musicvoyager.com

 

 

Yeah Jacob ...

but as a professional you should have done your homework and research before you committed yourself to putting down the stuff you did ..it was one thing to criticize but another to insult ...comparing the PAN with a chinese whatever was just  a ridiculous insult and no one invites anyone back to their house after being insulted in that manner.. but you were called out and at least  you showed up ..I am sure you will be getting more responses after this ...the education has begun

Salah

It was an old over-used metaphor, Salah!!! And the man did apologize!!!

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