When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

Published with expressed permission of the author 
(Originally published in the Trinidad Express)

..It will take many men with many balls to reclaim our heritage, to put this Humpty Dumpty together again....

I was pleasantly surprised when the announcement by the National Carnival Commission that it was scrapping the North Stand for this year’s Carnival did not elicit an uproar of objections from stakeholders in the national festival and hordes of party animals whose love for steelband music lasts one day—the National Panorama Semi-Finals.

For all its symbolic representation of the spirit of Carnival, crammed as it was (note tense) with more than its 8,000 maximum capacity, the North Stand was a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money. For close to 50 years, ritually, every January, contractors and hundreds of workers would engage in a frenetic exercise of erecting the facility, only to dismantle it two weeks after Carnival. The cost? Four million dollars.

Now, if attendance at eight or so big shows averaged, say, 5,000 in the North Stand (and a near-full Grand Stand), gate receipts would have justified this annual expenditure. But year after year, the stand was like a ghost town on steelbands’ biggest night, the finals, as well as on Carnival days, Dimanche Gras night, and several other premier calypso and masquerade events staged during the season.

It should have been scrapped decades ago—and I say this even though I was a North Stand “original” from the 1970s. Back then, it was indeed a “semis” stand. That competition was staged on Carnival Thursday night. But the vast majority of us were pan-lovers who not only knew the bands, but thoroughly enjoyed their performances—one dared not distract the audience with any misbehavior when a band was playing—and returned for the finals either in the Grand Stand or on “de track”.

For me, and I have written this before, the best pan music is not during the annual Panorama competitions, but at pan-yard and other concerts where one is treated to the bands’ full repertoires (calypso, pop, jazz, classical, etc), not to add the superb skills of the best panists in the country. It is a thrill to see and hear our panists perform on par with, or better than, world class conventional orchestras.

I understand that scrapping the North Stand means a reduction in revenue for Pan Trinbago, which gets the gate receipts from all steelband shows staged by the National Carnival Commission. I don’t know if the NCC’s proposed “North Park” will attract patrons in numbers that will bridge the shortfall. But all stakeholders in Carnival must know that the state of the economy does not allow for the extravagance of the past when governments spent hundreds of millions of dollars recklessly on what we deluded ourselves into believing was “The Greatest Show on Earth”.

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"And we quietly accept this latter-day apartheid. We are too timid to even mention it lest we be branded racists. What a thing! Carnival, meaning here the masquerade bands, is colour-coded, catering for those who are willing to pay $5,000 for bikinis-and-beads, some eats and “wee-wee” trucks, as well as paid-muscle that keep the natives at bay, or beat them to pulp if they dare invoke Kitchener’s “de road make to walk on Carnival day…”

Well said Raffique,

T&T carnival is no where near the "Greatest show on Earth." It has lost most of its creativity and artistry and is now mainly a big business investment opportunity. It is sad but we have also accepted that it is no longer a community event and 'people's festival' but a business event and by doing this we are also sadly killing the goose that lay the golden egg. Soon it will lose even this business viability. 

The question is what are we doing about it???

Rhoda Reddock

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