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
PLIGHT OF THE OPPRESSED
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
So "WOE BE UNTO THE FOE."
—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
PANOLOGY I: THE BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS
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
PANOLOGY II: THE BATTERED PIONEERS
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
PANOLOGY III: MY JOURNEY
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
PANOLOGY IV: PANTASTIC PEOPLE
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
PLIGHT OF A PANOCRAT
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
PAN: A TRUE STORY
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
BIRTH OF THE STEEL BAND
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
MY KINDA CARNIVAL
It's 5am Monday morning
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
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.
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.
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,