When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

Poetry by Cordell Barbour (written in 1996)



Our motto as a nation

Based on compassion

Is together we aspire and achieve,

But scoping the past

And present corruption

Poor workers are the ones they deceive.


It seems like God reigns in Heaven

And earth is politicians' haven

So face up to reality,

For religion is a trance

So the poor, from a glance

MUST REVOLT for their own destiny.


The judge uses a gavel

Never seen a priest with a shovel

The puppets are all doing well,

But with prisons overcrowding

Five dollars for a herring

Heaven could soon move to Hell.


Yesterday is gone

Today is newborn

Tomorrow is on its way,

So continue the struggle

To form a new cycle

Because prayers and politics don't pay.


-By Cordell D. Barbour



They teach you to read

And also to write

Then work you until you drop,

Two children to feed

Not a morsel to bite

No money to go and shop.


Soldiers at the ready

Police stalking their prey

Coast Guard sailing like Villanueve,

Your family hungry

The children gone astray

Not a chance a poor man ain' have.


Freedom of speech

Paucity of money

Is the strategy of government,

Everything's out of reach

The leaders drinking honey

While the poor are taught contentment.


They construct a bridge

A big superhighway

Quite a few monuments,

but the underprivileged

Have to walk every day

Not a cent to buy peppermint.


I hope that one day

The table would turn

As you know "DO SO AIN'T LIKE SO,"

Antipathy they say

Makes another's heart burn



by Cordell D. Barbour




Ah bus ride was pennies

Trees laden with cherries

Verdant fields all de way,

De school was den small

With yard for cricket and football

Even hopscotch de girls would play.


Yuh friends seemed so true

Whether plenty or few

De old talk was always sweet

But pitchin de marble

Which was really a gamble

Used to stir up ah little heat.


From a school yuh hear pan

That is de neighborhood steel band

And oftentimes before noon

But if de subject is history

And yuh start to feel sleepy

Yuh could end up hummin the tune.


De clock on de wall

Aint movin at all

De riddum savin de day

After school over

Cricket in de dry river

Yuh cyar wait to go and play.


Ah doh know de reason

But when mango in season

Is den idiot does shine,

De bright boys and dem

All movin so feeble

Dey cyar even pick ah lime.


Nowadays as yuh know

Anywhere dat yuh go

Youths sellin ganja and rock

Who ay smokin crack

Have ah pistol to pack

Ah wonder if dey blamin de Doc?


by Cordell D. Barbour



Behind the abattoir

A barrel was a dollar

But for yard-people that price was high.

So late in the night

When the timing was right

Over the fence the drums seemed to fly.


After a period of planning

Some keen scrutinizing

Anxiously wanting to form a band.

From yardman to yardman

With unmatched precision

On a tire the barrels would land.


Sometimes as you know

The luck cease to flow

So a comrade would need some bail.

But penniless, the guys

Would all sympathize

Eagerly awaiting his return from jail.


In its primitive days

Pan in many ways

Was a blessing under colonial rule.

Everyday stabbings at last

Was a thing of the past

Brotherhood superseded ridicule.


With pan and calypso

And newly energized people

`Twas the dawn of a brand new day.

Mammaguy was newborn

And despite societal scorn

The steelband had found its way.


So after enjoying the pan

Whether air, sea or land

Remember the blood, sweat, and tears

Of a people "hungry, yet strong

Ever wanting to belong"

And in jail spent so many years.


by Cordell (Spongy) Barbour



Down on the twin-island nation

Land of the steelband we proudly boast

But for the pioneers up in John-John

No one could have treated them worse.

Mercilessly police beat and jailed them

Bread and water was the menu

As if God had gone on vacation

And somehow hadn't a clue.


Oftentimes on a Sunday morning

As soon as the market was closed

By the vanload the lawmen coming

Relentlessly showering blows.

"'Twas a dice game down in the alley"

to the magistrate police would lie

On a people defenseless and hungry

Yet a tear they would never cry.


Through the years though daunted but wary

Panpeople continued in their quest

To be someday a part of society

While brutally separated from the rest.

This rejection and blatant cruelty

On a people of the same flesh and blood

From the age of five, stayed in my memory

Fifty years throughout my manhood.


The women who waved the steelband's flags

Were not without persecution

Because of their loyalty to their comrades

Spitefully were charged with committing prostitution.

Conveniently zealous politicians and sponsors

Say it's their duty, the steelband to save

So the police are the present caretakers

While the battered pioneers roll in their grave.


-by Cordell "Spongy" Barbour


From my birth in the village of John-John

Is a steel band called Tokyo

The oldest band in the nation

of Trinidad and Tobago.

Oftentimes while doing my home lesson

With a pencil I'll carry the beat

Pretending to be Spree, the captain

And keeping time with my feet.


One evening I followed the steelband

Parading the village street

All the way wishing I was a panman

And mocking their every beat.

The love I saw in panpeople

Was more than I ever knew

Impoverished, hungry, yet able

This wondrous art to pursue.


This growing love for the steelband

My parents soon came to know

A juvenile emulating hoodlums

Panpeoples' status of long ago.

No pants after school a deterrent

But they would soon realize

As a young futuristic panman

With a shirt and pins I would improvise.


I learned to play pan in the 50s

Though many obstacles to overcome

Steelbands rioting over jealousies

Like that of the sound of a better drum.

With trained musicians and panmaking genius

Ballads to classics steelbands would play

Panpeople, once considered outcasts

Were seeing a brighter day.


Musical competition emerged the new combat

Bands practiced through the early morn

Some with a planned and articulate format

Others struggled almost till dawn.

Sponsored bands had professional arrangers

Politics had displayed its might

Changes in loyalty among pan-lovers

The brotherhood was strained overnight.


Through a couple of decades of struggle

We somehow weathered the storm

But when steelband ambassadorship became probable

Deception and treachery mangled the norm.

So shame on some so-called pioneers

Of pan in the U.S.A.

For behind them they left a river of tears

Shed by deceived comrades of yesterday.


by Cordell (Spongy) Barbour



Splay, Ossie Nurse and Mouther Bee

Spree, Catah, and Ocean

Rudy Smith, Ancil and Ellie

Alfred the guitar-man.

The Toussaint Brothers of Belmont

Blacks from San Fernando

Panwomen, both past and present

the Our Boys from Scarborough.


Ray Holman, Train Smoke and Zephyrn

Corbeau Jack and Randolph Tyrill

Robert Greenidge and Everest Barquain

Cowboy Mello and Junior Mills.

Harold Headley, J. Roach and Walton

Earl Rodney and Boogsie Sharpe

City Synco, Despers and Joyland

Renegades from in Lackoo Harpe.


Casablanca, Starlift and Hill Stars

Crossfire and Tripoli

North Stars and Fascinators

The Samaroo Family.

Bonaparte Brothers and Harmonites

Bertie Marshall, His Majesty

Silver Stars, Dixieland and Ebonites

St. Paul Street's City Symphony.


The flag-women and the helpers

Patronizers and neighbors, too

Barbara Pancup, Mayfield and others

Cazabon, Winchop and Taboo.

Junior Pouchett, Fisheye and Sherlon

Ray Lawrence and Fenrick Noel

Invaders, All Stars and Sunland

Tokyo; once sentenced to hell.


Reminiscence of this steelband (Tokyo)

Always brings a tear to my eye

Blatant brutality and rejection

I oftentimes wondered, Why?

Though still daunted by pessimism

A brighter future I see

For the seemingly ubiquitous steeldrum

and its rapidly growing family.


by Cordell "Spongy" Barbour




There is something about Pan

That I can't understand

But intuitively I have a clue.

You always playing for free

Yet the scene you can't flee

The brotherhood seemed so true.


So I continued to play

A couple decades day-to-day

With patriotic thoughts on my mind.

No matter the site

Be it raining or bright

Undivided loyalty was my kind.


Like a dog without a bone

In my single-room home

The man in the mirror was looking at me.

As if ready to say

That in some special way

The Pan is your destiny.


Exploitation and plunder

Of an unsuspecting brother

Political and dynastic nepotism.

Compounded by the "poor-man" status

And nobody to trust

I had to seek a new haven.


On a plane I then flew

Across the ocean blue

To another land I had gone.

One day, a brighter future

I optimistically hanker

No greater challenge I had known.


Like a fellow once said

Try, try again

And you're guaranteed to succeed.

But if in your efforts you fail

And poverty prevail

Blame it on malice and antipathy.


Cordell "Spongy" Barbour



Dressed like ancient rulers and aristocrats

They reveled from early morn

Our so-called leaders and diplomats

The upper class and the fawns.

Poor, destitute and hungry

The citizens all lined the streets

Waving, as though to royalty

And dancing to the brass band's beat.


Year after year, the same thing

No future changes in sight

The poor just continued cheering

All day, right on into night.

Suddenly one Carnival season

Some citizens took a stand

Almost like committing treason

Formed a Tamboo-Bamboo band.


Born of a people impoverished

What a shock to the opulent few

Their reaction was one of anguish

For the pioneers of a new.

Out of this came the steel drum

Another suicidal move

But under the leadership

of Prime Minister Dr. Eric Williams

the steel band started to improve.


He provided work for all steel band members

Assisting them all in their quest

To be proud and ambitious ambassadors

of a nation building its nest.

But amongst those so patriotic

Were vultures and parasites

So even with the introduction of PANolitics

There's a seemingly never-ending fight.


By Cordell "Spongy" Barbour



Hungry yet strong

Ever wanting to belong

Forcefully they resent

But proudly we invent.

Mammaguy we chatter

Always for laughter

In a land preaching faith

Only bandits could relate.


While playing our steel drums

Appear the police hoodlums

Grunting with every blow

They beat us like foe.

In court they lie

Our freedom they deny

Yet our numbers are growing

The steel band is forming.


Spree and Catah

Jeff and Dana

day by day we suffer

so violence we ponder.

Then the tears of the mothers

When lawman discovers

We are determined to play

But miraculously today

The steel band is here to stay.


by Cordell (Spongy) Barbour




Once upon this land

The cry was "affirmative action"

That the time was right

For negroes to see the light,

Black folks banded together

In support of the measure

But little did we know

There would be an unsuspected foe.


To colleges some went

Others got social upliftment

Some, a pat on the back

Hoping to soon be right on track,

Many became doctors and lawyers

There are quite a few senators

But after this healthy transformation

Turn around and treat black brothers and sisters with scorn.


Young negroes are under emotional and mental strain

Yet strong enough to bear the pain

The same pressures that "you" could not endure

But somehow uncaringly manage to ignore,

Remember the 10 million African slaves

Many of whom died in the Atlantic waves

Malcolm X and others, slaughtered like sheep

The fruit of which you presently reap.


The ghettos from which you came

Have since remained the same

Giving lip service to the best

While turning their backs on the rest

You irresponsibly chastise underprivileged youths for smoking crack

Seemingly because of the compassion you lack

But it's said that Judas was a friend of Jesus

And possibly the same thing has happened to us.


Black people throughout the years

Drowning helplessly in our own tears

Deceivingly indoctrinated with the notion of God

Now painfully betrayed by our own flesh and blood,

But the time has come to again stand side by side

Dreadfully faced with possible genocide

To urgently practice teaching, helping and loving each other

So that our future would be one of grandeur.

by Cordell Delano Barbour


It's 5am Monday morning

Oldmas-bands everywhere

Bomb-tunes the steelbands playing

Heading for Marine square,

Doctors to moco-jumbie

The people would all portray

From various parts of the country

They coming to town to play.


Bands of Indians and robbers

Some playing dragons too

Yuh sure to bounce up some minstrels

But they might be just a few,

A clown and a juju warrior

Even "police and thief"

Jab-jab on every corner

Rudder, the Indian chief.


The sound of the roadmarch in bloom

Coming from everywhere

Revellers in their costume

Jumping high in the air,

When they reach the savannah

Or downtown on Marine Square

Everyone is a winner

But prizes too few to share.

All-Stars used to play sailor

Every year as a rule

Jules, the captain, was clever

His Bomb-tune was always kool,

Another fleet-band contender

Was a band called City Synco

But the biggest sailorband ever

Was "Skip Jack" by Tokyo.

We had some good wire-benders


But Noble, Seynior and Cito

To most, were really the masters

Making headmas as we all know,

Fascinators was the front-runner

"Fruits and flowers" was real pretty

But the biggest headmas-band ever

"Birds and Insects" by City Symphony.


Nowadays steelbands have no pan-pushers?

Oh, what a travesty

Alienate the neighbors and helpers

and the result is what you see,

Arrangers get all the money?

The panmen must be gone mad

An eight-minute tune is silly

Piracy and damblay, it's really sad.


by Cordell D. Barbour



All across this nation

We work from day to day

Many of us face destitution

Because of the high rents we pay,

Most landlords have no mercy

For the defenseless citizen

All they seek is their money

Or out on the streets you are driven.


If ever you should end up homeless

I won't wish a dog that day

For you would also become faceless

No greater a price to pay,

Everyone seems so distant

All watching at you with scorn

Just another mindless vagrant

You wish you were never born.


Your dreams are those of horror

Your fears all start to grow

The days were never longer

Summer seems to snow,

Sanitation, though a priority

Somehow evades your grasp

Things once so clean all dirty

Why? Yourself you would often ask.


You worship the few Samaritans

Whom destiny has sent your way

Embrace their warm vibrations

And the messages they convey,

Because from an unforgettable period of despair

With all the hate and gloom

Began a journey elsewhere

Into a sheltered room.


Cordell "Spongy" Barbour



Long before Tamboo-Bamboo

Till after steel band was born

From Catholic to the Hindu

Treated shanty people with scorn.

The high and the ever-mighty

From Woodbrook to Los Iros

Ash Wednesday, to them, so holy

Play your pan, straight to jail you go.


This tyranny on a people

For the only comfort they knew

Was fast becoming unbearable

Retaliation was long overdue.

Armed with stones and bottles in anger

On a sunny Carnival day

Masqueraders running for cover

Because the devil came out to play.


Government, somehow, came to their senses

Allowing steel bands to roam the streets

Though restricted to their own provinces

'Twas hungry people with happy feet.

From Picong to Paganini

Steel band music rapidly evolved

Out of bondage to Radio City

Playing music the whole world loved.


Nowadays you can't find a steel band

With a shanty-folk at the helm

Due to skillful manipulation

They polarize all of them.

College boys and the trained musicians

All syncopating monetarily

While the fate of the shanty panman

Lingers on, somehow, shamelessly.


Cordell D. Barbour

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Replies to This Discussion


As far as I know it Steve Regis from Sundowners was one of the first to play with 3 sticks.

Cecil, What Spongy said was, The Bonaparte bros was the first that HE saw playing with 3 Sticks, I don't know who was the first, more than likely Steve Regis will tell us more in detail bout this.

I just saw and read the poems by Cordell D Barbour. I being a graduate of Eastern Boys Govenrment School (Market School)

as it was called in those days, took particular pride in them, I must confess, aas I attended the same era ahe and hia brother Ansil. Mr Romilly must be blushing with pride. 

Thank you Spongy for taking me back in time. I being a Renegades supporter,(born and grew up on Siparia Hill, to be specific  Sobers Tambrand tree boy. I goes home at every opportunity and we still have some commandry, but I always ponder what 

will happen when the seniors pass if the torch is in good hands/

Thanky you Cordell.

Loderick Stephens

 I just read the poems by Mr Cordell D Barbour,what a blessing,growing up under such icon.He was my mentor,                                         . one of my first mentor, with the instrument                              

Spongy was my first mentor when I started playing the tenor pan,in (City Symphony)

then Mr Bertie Marshall came down behind the bridge and introduce the double tenor,

to us.Spongy began to play the double tenor,i watch him as he handle and played the double

with such skills,i was a youngster then,i know then that's the instrument I must play,Spongy took me 

under his wings,and I fly from there on, I remenber    the year City Synphony played the calypso, Rose,and Spongy arrange the song,the double tenors   arrangement was so sweet,we use to call them the barking dogs.

Now that I am an elder still playing with the technique,that was taught to me,Spongy your style in playing the instrument ijve,s on. when I was living in Brooklyn you still show me somethings on paper.

God bless you always

Thank you Brother

Mickey Mills. one of your fruit.

Mickey, Thanks for giving your comments on WST about "Spongy", I know when ever I mention about "Spongy" as the greatest Double tenor player in the days of City Symphony nobody have ever objected to that, Hope you are doing OK, Mickey

Bede,nough respect, I thank you for all you are doing for the instrument (pan)

you was always a good brother, and still is, yes I am doing fine,

and I am playing often,by myself,and with my band Mickey Mills and steel

I am an artist teacher in the schools,i have difference program,composing and writing songs,

arranging music etc. hoping to see you soon,thank you for speaking out,you are an original.

God bless.

Is there any way I can get in contact with Spongy this is Flats (the tailor) friend Charlo

Chalo,I send you a friend request, accept it so I will be able to give you Spongy number, I just spoke to him.

 this is true talk, from his experiences, I knew him personaly, a great pan ma lear a tu wthout a pan and wen and play in music festival, , how many panman can do that,


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