When Steel Talks

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Hello to everyone in When Steel Talks,

I posted a discussion on the forum a couple months ago, asking for help with finding people to meet during my first trip to Trinidad and Tobago. I have studied the history and culture of Trinidad, and specifically the steelband movement, for around six years now. I fell in love with the pan my first year at Indiana University, where I played in the steelband for five years. Since graduating, I co-founded the Indiana Steel Pan Association to represent and serve the pan community in my state. I am really driven to keep the history and culture intact in the pan scene in America, and I want to do everything I can to make sure pan "grows up" right in my state.

Finally, after all my research and studying, I'm making my first pilgrimage to the Mecca of Pan, Trinidad and Tobago. I'm going to be playing with Starlift in this year's Panorama, but I'll also be meeting people to learn first hand about history and cultural things. When Steel Talks has asked me to do daily reports on my experiences while I'm down here. I feel this is a major step in my pan life, and while I'm here I will be working very hard to be able to learn and grow as much as I can. After all, there is an entire pan community that will benefit from any lessons, knowledge, or networking I can bring home with me! Hopefully some of this proves helpful or interesting, and I welcome any suggestions for topics and or things to include in my trip.

Thanks for the people who are supporting me down here and at home, and for everyone who follows this discussion!

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Welcome to the House of Music, Eric.

You could not have chosen a better starting point than Starlift. I hope you have a wonderful time in the land of Oil and Music. Cooking Oil that is.

I envy you.

This is my first carnival I'll miss since 2005 and already I'm pining.



CooCoo is not a trini dish....its Bajan....


Is that so? I grew up eating  coo-coo from my mother and grandmother, and they were "Trini to the Bone".

I know it is also called "fungee" in some of the other islands, so lets be open minded and call it a Caribbean dish.

Welcome to "The Land of Pan, Kaiso and Soca" I expect your stay will be an exciting one. Welcome to the Starlift pan fraternity.

Ok folks, here's another update. Driving is a scary ordeal, as driving under the influence is not as big of a concern in Trinidad (apparently). I am trying to secure transportation that is a little more safe, but until then, I am not comfortable with my situation....

I have to be honest, I starting to question some of my perceptions of different things in the pan world. Firstly, most people in Trinidad seem very very negative about pan's present and future. Pan Trinbago doesn't do anything beside Panorama, Panorama is killing pan, nobody creates anything worth while anymore, pan is not being handled correctly, etc. I came down thinking Panorama is a wonderful culminating event for pan, in which bands put their best foot forward with arrangements that are thrilling. It brings in tourists and pan lovers from abroad (like me), and is the world wide Super Bowl of Pan. Yet talking with different people, and admittedly many of them are of an older generation, the common opinion is the competition of Panorama has served it's purpose of getting bands off the streets and stopping the riot era, but has done nothing worthwhile for the instrument besides.

I also recognize that Boogsie is WIDELY regarded as a saint in pan. One man declared that Samaroo wrote the same arrangement for 30 years, and essentially no band or arranger has done anything worthwhile except Boogsie. Liam Teague was written off by this man because, although he plays pan, he is more focused on non-Trini music. Boogsie has done some great arrangements, is a PHENOMINALLY fast and talented player, and has been a great voice in the steelband movement. I am not sure I would put Boogsie outside the zone of criticism though... that's all I'm going to say on that one! (No disrespect meant for Boogsie, I just don't think he is the perfect and all mighty pan god some make him out to be.)

I have noticed that my skin color and nationality have put me in a place of prejudice in some places and situations. Not  unexpected, but I wish it were not the case. Things as simple as the initial assumption that I don't know much about the history and culture are easily broken.  The looks I get in certain areas though... I'm still getting the looks that imply "you don't belong" sometimes. HOWEVER, I have been very warmly accepted by a lot of the people I've met, and the more they knew about me before hand, the quicker I've felt accepted. I don't want to give the impression that Trinidad is this hostile place, certainly I am in the minority here, but it is not an issue in most cases I've been in so far.

Lastly, I will say though Santa Cruz is beautiful, I do wish I were closer to town and could experience things easier (ie. without a taxi/ driver into town.) I will be making more attempts at getting to town during the day to get more experiences. I've been getting more and more history, meeting people like Simeon Sandiford at Sanch Electronics (checking out Pan in Education) and Patrick Arnold. The pan talks I've had have been enriching, educational, and really really refreshing! (Back home they just call me a nerd and walk away...)

That's it for me today, more later on! (I'll wait until I have some more compelling experiences to share with you.)

Life for Pan,


Hi Eric,


Panorama will be all that you thought it was and will exceed you wildest expectations.  But until that night when you take the stage you are going to have to deal with the sometimes harsh realities of the life of a panist in Trinidad and Tobago. It is great that you are sharing your experiences and perspective with us.



You are very perceptive and your experiences are getting more real as you spend more time.  Your perspective is interesting as I use to go to each carnival until a few years ago.  I am originally from Trinidad but have been living away from there for most of my life.  I still have a lot of connections there, including my father and sibblings.  I play pan, but not in a band and also played at carnival as I don't have the time to learn tunes like it is taught in Trinidad for Panorama, i.e. by rote.  I am a jazz piano player primarily so rote playing is not an efficient method for me.

I share your opinions on PanTrinbago (although you are very diplomatic) and also about Boogsie although I think he is the most talented musician, arranger, and perhaps composer in Trinidad.  I also stay in Santa Cruz but I rent a car.  I would not recomend that you don't drive if this is your first time in Trinidad, but it makes the trip and flexibility in getting to POS much easier.

You are in a good pan area ST. James/Woodbrook.  Be alert, panmen are safe but there are "elements" in TT and I can see that you are beginning to see it yourself.

All the best.  After Carnival go to Hugh Borde's house in Belmount to get a history lesson from some of the living legends.

Ray, Bugs, and Sid, thank you all for your replies and sound advise! Sidd, I find your post very well said, with some very good points. Ray, I hear you on Woodbrook and St. James. I haven't been out to many other yards yet, but I'm going to hopefully start my rounds tomorrow. And about Hugh Borde's party... I am sick to death with the thought that I possibly will be leaving before it happens! You're the second person to suggest it, and the other assured me he could get me in with him to talk to people. I serious have considered canceling my flight home for a later one, though I probably can't... I really want to be at that gathering though! And Bugs, though there are some harsh realities that I am becoming more aware of, I also want to say I have not had a day when I saw or experienced something beautiful in some way in Trinidad.

One last update that I need to make before ending this day. Though I was discouraged about my driving situation, I believe things are worked out. I am going to bed with the hopes of being out of Santa Cruz for most of the day tomorrow, seeing sights, eating Trini food (I haven't had any Roti yet...) and especially seeing some panyards! I am going to bed with a renewed positive outlook!

Life for Pan,

There is a roti shop across from the Fire Station and Catholic Church (junction of the Saddle and La Pastora Rds) in Santa Cruz.  On Carnival Days you will find Hugh Board hanging out with others at the NE or NW corner of Abercomby and Park Sts.  Mighty Chalkdust (Hollis Liverpool) hangs there with him too.  Chalkie has a Phd from U of Michigan on some aspect of Caribbean culture and wrote a book called Rituals of Power and Rebellion - The History of Carnival in T&T from 1762 - 1992.  I recommend you pick it up at a bookstore in POS.  If it is not available in Trinidad, the publisher is in Chicago so you can order it online. So if you get a chance to find them on carnival days at this corner you can get a lot of information from these guys, but carnival day is not a day that some may want to get into serious discussions with all the disractions.  Good luck and all the best.

I too have been enjoying following your experience. I am American born with Roots in Trinidad. Shortly this will be my second year in a row back to Trinidad for Carnival, after having not been there since I was younger. I play double second pan and congas with Despers USA Steel Orchestra in Brooklyn but my family, many of which are still there, is from San Juan (so umm.."Rav"...I take the Crackhead thing a lil personal...just a lil... hehehehe...although I know well how it is down there as it is in other certain places in Trinidad on a Carnival night: one must keep their eyes open) But Eric, I'm not understanding something you said there: "I also want to say I have not had a day when I saw or experienced something beautiful in some way in Trinidad."

Am I reading that correct? Maybe you mean to say: "I also want to say I have not had a day when I (have not seen) something beautiful in some way in Trinidad." ? I think thats what you mean.

Anyhow I cant wait to get there. I have had offers to play with one of the Large bands but honestly I'm feeling that is a major commitment for a short period of time (I only have 2 weeks...and want to just enjoy my vacation). Keep posting man. Thanks

AH!!!! Yes yes yes... Let me completely reword that statement. Everyday I've been in Trinidad I have experienced something beautiful. WOW what a horrible word to leave out of that sentence! My apologies to anyone who read that the same way CongaHead did! I have been through San Juan, and there are all kinds of people there!

I enjoyed Depsers USA in NY's Panorama this year, and I think that Panorama may be my next one to see. If you are around Starlift's yard, please come find me!

Thanks all, this will be my last report perhaps until the weekend, because hopefully I will be too busy to report!

Life for Pan,

error: don't drive.  Don't get caught in the Croisee (San Juan) at 2am after practice by yourself waiting for a taxi to Santa Cruz.  Nothing may happen but don't risk it with the crackheads.


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