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Has anything changed eleven years later? -- Revisited - The Demise of the Steelband Panorama - and the Possible Solution by Nestor Sullivan

by Nestor Sullivan 

Global - This year, 2010, steelbands in England participating in the Panorama at the Notting Hill Carnival, played for free. That is, the bands received no monies for appearance fees or for prizes. It is reported that this was due to the economic melt-down now being experienced in that country.

According to Nestor Sullivan, manager of Trinidad and Tobago’s Pamberi Steel Orchestra, all the territories where an annual steelband Panorama is held, tend to follow the lead of Trinidad and Tobago, whose nationals dominate the technical and related sides of most of the events. The country’s nationals have transported the Panorama to territories around the world, creating a potential global industry in the process. Nonetheless, contends Sullivan, we are now experiencing the rapid demise of the Panorama, the biggest event on global steelband calendars.

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It is not foolish, Mr Young, it is what is called "Thinking outside the box".

Your comments are exactly what I mean by being blinded by the light of Panorama.

Of course T&T Panorama is the premier steelband event, and that's why it could stand by itself and allow the steelbands to fully participate in Canival.

I assure you that the steelband participation in Carnival will be even greater, as it was in the old days. when you had pan on the road in numbers.

Remember when the road march was the tune that the steelbands played on the road?

You will still have your Bomb competition, best band on the road etc., and the bands will be stronger, having time to prepare for the road. instead of spending weeks practicing one tune for Panorama.

And what could be wrong with having two weeks of Trinidad Panorama in October after Labor day? You could include Pan in the 21st century, and have two great weeks of pan with little distractions.

It would the last and biggest pan festival of the year, or possibly the firsr of the new year.

I can assure you that pan fans worldwide would support it.. Carnival has its people, but so has pan.

And most importantly, it would keep the panmen busy for most of the year. During the boring months after carnival, Panorama will give them something to focus on, not to mention keeping the public attention on pan.

When Panorama is over there will be enough time for the bands to properly prepare to compete with the DJ's on the road.

It is always difficult to make changes from the established way of doing things, but sometimes change is necessary and beneficial.

Com on, guys, don't dismiss new ideas without at least giving them some thought.
Some of your points are well taken, but one critical element in this discussion has to be where does children fit into all of this. Please note that a very high percentage of pannist now performing in panorama are of school age. So with that it mind, is it in their best interest to have so many different pan-related competitions during the year. Will this not compete for time which really should be spent on their lessons.
On the question of a boycott of panorama at home in support of another country's panorama, that is an un-fair expectation. It is like asking doctors in China to go on strike to support American doctors who are on strike. It is absurd. The advocates of this idea do not have a clue as to what struggles the other countries are having with their individual Panoramas. Case in point, ANTIGUA. After years of panorama support and excellence, second to none but Trinidad, panorama was all but wiped out. We have been really struggling for years. Panorama has dwindled to a mere five bands total. These bands are all about 100 strong and they compete for a mere $20,000 EC. This sum is at best 25% of the cost of putting a band on stage. The past two years have seen a resurgence in support of panorama. The different communities are begining to come out and once again support their band in panorama. Basically, we are in a re-building mode. Now tell me, is it really to our best interest to be boycotting our local panorama in support of anyone? Would this not be totally counter-productive?
Foy if you can only think and see from a local perspective, then that is all you will ever be - a struggling local operation. What you should be thinking is how does Antigua pan become part of a viable strong global venture. The NBA is playing a few of their preseason games in Europe. Why is that?

Black America boycotted and demonstrated against companies that supported apartheid in South Africa for years. Were they wrong to do so?

In a time when everything has gone global you are afraid of boycotting something by your own reporting that does not make economic sense.

Given China's financial, economic and military might maybe you should rethink calling anything China supports as using your words "absurd".

Mr. Bugs, you really need to re-read my commentary and grasp what I said. It seems that in your haste to shoot me down you totally missed my point. Please let me simplify for you. If one does not know what other bands are facing in their respective countries, then it is totally unreasonable for anyone to expect them to boycott their own panorama. Boycotting your local panorama would have absolutely NO BENEFIT TO ANYONE in a different country. Reason being, panorama are all individually controlled. If there was one GLOBAL GOVERNING BODY that controlls ALL panoramas, then and only then would a boycott be effective. A boycott in multiple countries could potentially bring them to their knees.
As far as pan becoming what you refer to as a viable strong global venture, that is nothing but a pipe dream. Pan is still in its infancy, a mere sixty-odd years old. There are other music genres that have been around for hundreds of years and have not achieved this. Reason being the logistics of accomplishing this is prohibitive. We are talking of something on the scale of the UNITED NATIONS, THE WORLD BANK OR THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATIONS.
The reference to China was not a real case. It is called an analogy. It is where one compares things that are similar in principle.
Mr. Barns

A pipe dream is simply something that is beyond the ability of someone to comprehend or to make a reality. That would be your personal issue. Instrumental music, which is what most steel orchestras play has been around for a few hundred years. The pan is older than the modern synthesizer, the cell phone, rap music, reggae, the ipod, ipad and iphone to name a few. The connection is simply marketing - the ability to make people connect with a product.

Mr. Sullivan was very clear in pointing to Pan Trinbago as a lead organization under which all steelpan activity would fall under. There are generations of pan players now. Pan is quite mature. Furthermore, the music business has been around for centuries.

There is nothing similar in the China/doctors to pan analogy. Not having doctors around is potentially life threatening. Not having pan around is unpleasing but not life threatening.

All of this is besides the point and silly. The question is what sort of sacrifices are pan people willing to make to achieve a sustainable business model globally.

Whilst all these ideas are good I think the youth have to be seriously taken into consideration. I myself because playing the instrument at age 17 and over the years there has been an influx of youth flocking into Pan Yards. The instrument interest them and they produce exception talent, however noticeable the same way the youth involvement has been tremendous stage sides have been dwindling. So much so that many major steelbands have been affected as a result of their membership no longer being able to sacrifice long nights of practice as before. Part of the reason is that in a developing world with technology and lots educational opportunities and entertaining nightlife interests and priorities have shifted for the youth. Many complain of having evening class and studies withing recent times some young people have changed careers, many young women have young babies and families etc. Twelve years ago when I started their were not as many night clubs and night activity as exists current that to is a major fact.

I raise this to say people plan but the reality is at least sixty percent of the membership of most steelbands throughout Trinidad and Tobago are young people between the ages of 10 to 30, even the members of school bands are the same major reconised bands. Most play for recreation and the monies being offered at the carnival season something more attractive needs to be done to encourage these players to continue playing the instrument out of the carnival season with the exception of the Students studying music and the instrument as a career. You may not agree but its just an observation. Give the youth more meaningful involvement not just use to play ah pan kinda thing.
Time for either Pantrinbago or another INTERNATIONAL Pan association to step forward with some serious long-term plans. There are pannists, and supporters of pan worldwide that need to get on board and make Steelpan as organized as any other instrument out there. Its time for Steelpan to become more of a household word than household "huh". We need a year of planning a Global Pan Expo's - Get the assistance of some major international artists - and major International sponsors - take into consideration ALL forms of media available and Bands available Internationally, I've read on this very site of major artists involved in or playing with steelbands or pannists but its always in a certain city - with a certain band and then you hear no more. I'm speaking from a marketing standpoint. I hear of Pantrinbago's education initiative in Trinidad - but what about a global pan initiative - its left to the bands outside TNT to figure out how to encourage the educational institutions within their respective countries, cities and towns, (this is a very slow process) but from what I read TNT has historical data regarding pan in education and as community youth initiatives, what about these initiatives globally. We are fortunate to have some extremely important key Pan people that are still alive to tell their story, (tuners, builders, arrangers) the people to made pan what it is now. I write this because I was fortunate to speak at length to a very successful Marketing executive, and I picked his brain for about 2 hours regarding Pan. The first thing he told me was "your main organization need to stop thinking small" and he gave me the example "Cancer Research", he said when this organization began to think "global" they became successful, and that goes for any organization that is successful. Boycotting TNT panorama is a short-term action. We need global long term plans in order to get funds that will keep Panorama alive and well in any country that has one. Having the best bands in the world in TNT is a great thing - but we need the world to know that - not just the pan players. Think Big - Think Global.
The major issue with the International pan community is that is much like the Pan-African Council of the early 20th century, it is completely unaware of itself. Pantrinbago, if it wishes to truly consider itself the unifying core of the instrument around the world, needs to actively consider moving well beyond the scope of "panoramas and festivals". It needs to actually congregate, organize, meeting and consult with one another to discuss new ideas and eradicate the old ones. THIS IS THE ONLY SUCH FORUM and it was privately conceived and operated. Furthermore, (and I pose this to the WST faculty) organizations like Pantrinbago, USSA, NAS, etc., have yet to properly associate themselves with this forum despite it's obvious power and influence as a medium of communication and consolidation.

Admit it or not, the blaring fact of the matter is that the steelband movement has outgrown TNT. It is its birthplace, and a constant point of inspiration to builders, arrangers, composers and performers. But in order for it not to exist as a leader of pack, it must properly herald EFFECTIVE ambassadors and representatives abroad. I pray that Panorama does not have to be the aspect of the culture that must be crucified for the rest of the culture to be saved. Economics and politics will always be at play in the lives of human beings. It is our responsibility (if we genuinely give a shit) to navigate these streams and torrents so that at the end of the journey we will stand with our ship and crew intact. Currently, it seems that the players and musicians are in a crowded canoe, the band leaders are in a sinking yacht and the pan organizing are dead in the water and telling themselves "All we need is a strong breeze". WE ALL NEED TO GROW SOME BALLS AND SWIM!. If it didn't work the first 30 times it won't work now. We absolutely need to band together and consolidate our resources.

I believe the instrument and it's subsequent culture are beautiful. Especially as a non-trinidadian and non-west Indian part of the community, in the last 16 years of involvement, I've seen little change in (quite frankly) black, afro-Caribbean, afro-American communities where the instrument is most glorified. And that is a considerable amount of time in consideration of the 43 years of the most flamboyant, visible attraction of the steel band movement (Panorama). We need to tackle the politicians, purge the criminals, educate the young and learn from the elders. It is only in this way that we will be able evolve... not just "make more money, or be respected"... all of that is vain... The steelband movement must EVOLVE. Panorama should be a multi-million dollar event EVERYWHERE; no different from the NFL, FIFA, etc. Players, should be able to play in a backyard and conservatory without friction. Tuners should be inserted in schools all over the world. Arrangers/Composers should be invited constantly to give lectures all over the world...

These are my dreams. But consider that the Steelpan was the dream of a slave's son; charted to be under the boot of "Massa". I know where I come from and I refuse to return...

bravo sir. bravo!
I have to wonder at the perspective we all are currently using about the Steel Drum music. I have an idea that perhaps with the advent of the electronic drum that developement of pan music could take a place beside the piano. I was as a classical music lover impressed by the, note this, some of the classics like Mozarts Opus 21 (the elvira music) and moonlight sonata on the alto pans. My suggestion here is to encourage a broadening of the application of pans to music other than the Carribean root music which is often dismissed as merely amusing to people who are not familiar with the versatility of the musical instruement,( the soprano and alto pans especially) which is often at the same time dismissed as only of Caribbean culture derivatives. I have no wish to be either insulting or prejudiced by implication here. I was quite enchanted by the classical music I heard where pans were used to play intrepretations of the classical writings, without destroying the beauty of the pieces. I only wish I could play pans myself with that degree of adroitness. Jim Rowland.
you could not have said it any better
Khuent speaks a lot of truths. I hope the Trinidadian community will consider what he has written.
Pat S


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