When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

In the aftermath of the 2014 Carnival celebration, a number of areas of discontent have prompted negative comment. This only further underscored that we’ve been in the throes of what I have chosen to call an across-the-board “dumbing down” of our cultural values. Trinidad and Tobago’s greatest resource, contrary to what some may believe, is its extraordinarily rich culture. Any ill-advised trend toward weakening that unique cultural foundation is one whopper of a no-brainer... Les Slater
Les Slater

Global -  When Steel Talks deserves commendation for first, thinking to engage a straight shooter and obviously genuine lover of the pan culture like Raffique Shah in a conversation about pan, and then eliciting from him some of the most candid, no-holds-barred observations on the subject – the kind the pan idiom very much needs but unfortunately, largely doesn’t get.

Anyone familiar with Shah’s style of pulling no punches wouldn’t be surprised by utterances from him like the (not inconsequential) number of persons in attendance at any given Panorama who have no interest in pan music; or that the attitude of most of the population of Trinidad and Tobago toward pan as a cultural entity  is basically one of indifference. Quite correctly, Shah suggests that Trinidad and Tobago needs first to address this gaping deficit in the acceptance of pan as an art form among its own people before setting sights on conquest of the world...

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Thanks, Les, for your kind comments on the interview I did with WST, and for further exploring some salient points I raised. There is need for people with your background and experience in pan to throw out ideas in the hope that those who can make things happen implement some or all of them as we move to make the national instrument more than a symbol.

I should add that my understanding is that many more primary and secondary schools now have pan music as an extra-curricula activity, hence the large number of teens and pre-tees playing pan. Also, if Sat Maharaj has banned pan from Maha Sabha schools (I don't know that as fact), he might be peeved with the influential Sri Ganapathi (Yoga Centre in Waterloo) whose organisation has a steelband that plays Hindu spirituals, and which, I believe, has played in India.

Finally, maybe as a Highlander, Les might have been on stage at a hall in Freeport in 1963/1964 when I attended a party at which the famous band played. My friends and I were there only to listen to Highlanders--and to party!


I very much agree with most of Mr. Slater's views. and hold the utmost respect for his well informed views on matters relating to our culture, and especially the steel pan.

However , this comment left me scratching my head.: " The well-intentioned but impractical call of many traditionalists to “bring back pan on the road” remains little more than a pipe dream if it ignores the logistical and other issues that would preclude effective replication of what obtained five decades ago, absent fundamental transformation of the model."

"Well intentioned but impractical" indeed!
That would only be true if the intention was to replicate the steelband's involvement in the Carnival parade exactly as it was done decades ago, and Mr. Slater knows this.

I believe that progress towards mobility for the steelbands stalled in the 1960s, but I would hope that modern facilities- engineering, designing, planning, and application of today's technology combined with our native intelligence would certainly result in a " fundamental transformation of that model".

And remember, this is not only about pan, it is also about the void left in the Carnival from the diminished presence of the steelbands on the road; a void that is even more apparent today.

We need the pens of people like Mr Slater and Mr Shah to keep reminding the powers that be that at present our steelband and carnival  are not in a good place .

Thank you both Mr. Shah, and Mr. Lester, very well said.

As a "Foreigner" with an appreciation for pan, I find great difficulty in understanding and comprehending the confused and distructive attitude by some that is being placed on this art form. I have been coming to Carnival/panorama for many years and there is not a year that I can recall when there was not confusion with pan activities during the Carnival season. The same goes for the entire Carnival activities.

I have attended Carnivals throughout the US, Canada, and England where pre planning and order was always the rule. For a country where this instrument was created and is classified as the instrument of the land, I find that not much respect is given to it as other countries appreciates it. It is being played all over the US, China, Japan,Sweden,Africa, just to name a few countries.  Trinidadians need to give respect to this art form. My recommendation is that Pan Trinbago beginning from today commence the planning of pan activities for next year,s (2015) Carnival and not wait for the last minute of planning.  Remember the world is watching.

Louis George as a foreigner you have no respect for trinis, period. How dare you asking us to change our culture to please you. A trini can't go to England and ask them to change any of their festivals, or any part of the world for that matter. All these carnivals you attended outside of Trinidad and Tobago usually start at 12:00pm and end at 6;00pm in the evening the same day, if you go beyond that time you will be arrested by the police. A half day carnival affair. Louis George you don't like pan more than trinis, trust me on this. Yes the watching us many moons now, that's why we attract the most beautiful women in the world during our panorama competitions to hear the best panorama arrangers in the world.

T&T's progress lies in more than future exploits of our hidden oil and gas reserves. Any and all attempts to disconnect our culture and separate its components from the people along with its harmonious relationship (Steelpan, Calypso and Mas) will result in bankrupt fallout that will be most difficult to turn back from. Why bother? If we put our hearts and minds into a positive focus for our culture and arts, not just monetizing every aspect, the things we say we cherish will not only survive intact, but will provide the sustained prosperity we need, going forward. We need to hear more from observers like Raf and Les.

Points well taken from Mr. Shah and Mr. Slater. We need a wealth of ideas to overcome the stagnation in the Pan culture in T&T.
One proposal to “bring back pan on the road” could be to start a campaign with the powers that be to assign special routes in cities and towns throughout the islands where only bands with Pan music is allowed to parade. ( we have way to many DJs on big trucks)

This may take some work based on the reaction to re-routing the bands attending the Parade of Bands this past season, but it is a start.

The progressive thought processes roll, while the pan, even with wheels, remain stagnant.

Raffique, thanks, bro, for starting this ball rolling. Lots of hands needed on deck to hopefully get the sea change true pan lovers crave.

Your mention of a Highlanders gig in Freeport way back then brought back memories. The band played maybe a couple of times in Freeport in that '63/64 period, as I recall. I was there at least one time. When you talk about coming to the fete "only to hear Highlanders and to party" it reruns a scene we got used to at those fetes -- people liming outside, even with a "music band" already playing, and then streaming in when our band got into it. Halcyon days indeed.

Glenroy Joseph, thanks to you too. Although I am in turn puzzled as to whence comes your head scratching. My view is it's "impractical" to envision pan back as major Carnival street music without profoundly re-thinking how to present it. Mention of mobility, technology (a pet subject for Highlanders), etc was essentially a re-stating of that view, with those problem areas added. No variance -- it's all good.


 I hear you, Les.

My frustration tend to be with those who seem to assume that by wishing to bring pan " back to the road", we wish to "relive our youth" and return things to the way they were in the nineteen sixties.

I do recognize you as a former member of a pioneering group ( Hylanders) that was experimenting with viable alternatives for steelbands on the road, through amplification, hence the "head scratching" over the "Well intentioned but impractical" comment.

Glenroy, doh give up bro... I was on de scene dis carnival and my sense is that pan on de avenue was more than a nostalgic yearn for Halycon Days of ole... We brought along some the GeNex youth to lime and take in pan and they were enthused. The Greens experiment along with SocaDrome did not "pan out" (pun intended) from both a commercial and participation perspective. Yes the old timers came out in force, but the youth also embraced. Many of them took note of All Star's Sailor Mas presentation and actually expressed that type of Mas seemed like real fun and might even try it put next year... When we told them of the old Bomb tradition, they said they would love to see that done with Pan On De Avenue. So there is hope...

Mr Slater and Mr Shah we hope that you all jog beside the ball and keep it rolling in the right direction. Like WST people  listen when you talk.


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