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Raffique Shah - journalist, nationalist, activist, columnist and cultural historian speaks on Pan in Trinidad and Tobago

Global - Seen that, done that, heard that... Indeed the name ‘Raffique Shah’ resonates loudly within and around all, aspects of Trinidad and Tobago life, culture and history... Mr. Shah brings a special knowledge-base to the subject of the steelpan instrument in Trinidad and Tobago both from a local and worldly perspective. Never afraid to speak to truth, meet Raffique Shah in a When Steel Talks exclusive interview.

WST - “Let’s talk about the North Stand. Can you take us through its changes, let’s say, every decade, to its current version with its “Greens connection”?”

Raffique Shah - “Regretfully, I cannot give you a precise history of the North Stand, or, indeed, Panorama. My first Carnival in Port-of-Spain was in 1964!! Country bookie! I knew the names and sounds of many big bands then--North Stars, Invaders, Cavaliers, Highlanders and so on. But I hadn’t seen or heard them play live. I will have first attended Panorama in 1967/68, and I think I was in the Grand Stand. I don’t even remember when the North Stand came into existence, but I recall being part of that experience from around 1973.

“It was the stand for mostly younger people who wanted to enjoy pan on our feet, not on seats (as per the Grand Stand). We loved pan music and wanted to enjoy it fully...and we did. So alive was that stand, one year (must have been late 1980s), when it was poorly constructed, the whole stand was ‘wining’ as the bands played and we danced. Dangerous, but true.

“The North Stand livened up Panorama...until part-time pan lovers, or the ‘one-dayers’ increased in numbers. These are people who knew little about pan and cared less. They made noise even as the bands played, which was a no-no for us. These were people who never visited a panyard or patronised other pan events during the year, who wanted nothing to do with pan--except that one day, semi-finals, on which they ‘come out to party’.

“Sometime around 2000, my lime decided we could no longer cope with that. But we still could not enjoy Panorama sitting down. So we migrated to The Drag where we would be band-side as they made their final ‘runs’ before hitting the stage. When we wanted to listen to a band perform, we would get as close to the stage as we could. Eventually, I sometimes went into the Grand Stand.

“I should add that while I made a few trips to the Savannah for the finals, I have long had a personal routine for the big night. Radio tuned to perfection to capture the sound, TV for visual, and relaxed at home or with a lime, I’d listen from first note to the last. Sheer joy.

“One final note. The Greens is a vulgar extension of the North Stand at its worst. You know, in designing a Carnival City for the Savannah some years ago, architect Colin Laird came up with an enhanced Grand Stand....and a huge elevated berm on the opposite side (where the North Stand is). Perfect! No temporary structure every year. Freedom the break down the berm (try nah!). But, and this is where I part company with Pan Trinbago, no DJs or instruments. Pan must be the ONLY focus at Panorama.”

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It is sad that Mr Shah never spoke of pan on the road.


Brenda I agree with You. With all due Respect to Raff. His limited knowledge of Steelband Panorama should not take away from His a contribution to this Forum. He was honest of His assessment of the Panorama to the Best of His Ability. His Historic Contribution does not say Much.

Ppl, re pan on the road, for me that means full bands, racks, wheels (castors), fans pushing pans/players the way we did Sunny Side Kids from Freeport to Carapichaima (around 3 miles). We did the same many years ago with Invaders, Renegades, Starlift and so on.

That was real pan on the road. What obtains today--a few pans/players mounted on a truck or two is, in my humble view, a travesty. You do not get the real feel of steel.

In fairness to the bands, I should add that the problem is to get a good complement of players on the road Monday/Tuesday, and to get people willing to 'push pan'. 

For me, J'ouvert means chipping to pan and pushing pan, not prancing to DJ music coming from trucks. Not many steel bands come on the road for Carnival nowadays, and when they do, it's a case of piece-ah-band on trucks. Monday nights in St James was okay. Now, it has shifted to the Avenue and although I haven't been, I'm sure it's enjoyable.

But nothing beats a full band playing on the move.

Mr Shah,

You are correct, nothing beats a full band playing on the move, there is no need to push pans anymore because we could tie them together and have them pulled. We should all be ashame of what we say is pan on the road these days. For the last 3-4 decades we let our young people believe that steelband is panorama, 8 mins. on a stage once a year when in fact it is non stop music on the road for two days.

Raff Boy. I totally agree with You re-Pan on the Road. Times has changed. The Electronic era has brought about the Demise of Pan on the Road. Their loud Boom Boxes drowns out their Music and Frustrate the Players. Even if They bring their Whole Panorama Bands on the Road they can't Compete against the Loud Speakers. It's very Frustrating. We also don't ever See any Brass Bands on the Road, Because of the same Loud Speakers. Technology has taken over our Roads for Carnival. It's Sad . Total Disrespect for our Pan. Don't Blame the Steel-bands. This is what they are up against.

Taking back the road and taking back the Savannah... maybe stepping back in time so that a different path in the evolution of steelband could have lead us to a present day that we feel pan deserves a higher place in society and culture than it is currently granted.  That is what I read from the interview.


Maybe one day, a band will show the rest how to take back the road with old time racks and 21st century technology like wireless mics and amplification.  Maybe it will be a band in Toronto or NYC that shows how to do it.

Some folks don't really that Pan is an acoustic Instrument as Such. Gone are the Day when Pan was up against Brass Bands on a Truck or sometimes on the Road and was able to hold its own It's not that way anymore. We keep beating a Dead horse. I Participated in the Sixties with Despers on the Road. I wish that these times would return, but it can't and won't. Times have Changed and we must live with it. We all were once Babies, Boys and Girls, now We are Men and Women. Things Changes not always for the best. The older folks Like My Buddy Glenroy must adjust with the times. Pan on the Road as we once knew it is History. It would not return as how we once knew it. We have to live with that fact.

What seem to be happening here is people want to take a page from the brassband and DJ book and apply it to the steelband. What the Steelband brings is totally different lets write a book about the steelband. Why do we want to reduce the steelband to a combo side?  we might as well throw all the pan in the sea amd use two PHI and  two Epan. if it's big sound we want.,

Recently i asked a brethren of mine if he could recall when the faces in the North Stand change. Initially in North Stand was the hoipolloi and Grand Stand the bourgeois. Our band usually set up facing West until a decision was taken to face North and South. I wanted to play on the North that's where the energy was, our skipper wanted me on the South. In those days, from the reaction of the North Stand you would know how good or bad your performance was, while the Grand Stand was just there hardly making a sound or shaking a leg as they say. I think those in the Grand Stand looked across at the North Stand and said to themselves , they seem to be having a lot  of fun.  Over time i have seen the faces in the North Stand change. The Grand Stand has also change,now you get some energy from the Grand Stand minus the excessive noise.

Oscar, there was a time when the people in the north stand though noisey still wanted to hear the steelband, these are the ones that bring energy to the grand stands now. The people that go to the north stand now don't give a shit about the steelbands.

Cecil, The North Stand used to belongs to Desperadoes, whenever despers on the stage you would know, the whole of the North Stand was People from the hill.( the days of Melda and Mamas dis is mas)  


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