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Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

THE EMASCULATION OF OUR INDIGENOUS CULTURE by Michael L Joseph - Ex Pan Trinbago official

 

 “Our father who has given us this art so that we can all feel that we are part of this earthly heaven; Forgive us this day as we seek to cast our mortal burden on your city. Oh merciful father, in this bacchanal season when men lose their reason, but most of us just want to wine and have a good time because we feeling fine Lord.”

 Gypsy may say what he want to say, but is only you know the pain we feeling. But, out of PAIN this culture was born.

Taking a cue from one of our most prolific writers in the art form to bring home the point that after all these years of blood, sweat and tears, the Steel band movement is now on the verge of losing itself in a maze of political gerrymandering that could see the death of the community Steelbands’ involvement in the national Panorama competitions and the national Carnival Festival, as was developed over the years. We may even find ourselves once again in conflict with the law as in the past.

The early pioneers had to literally fight real battles with the powers that be, at the expense of being branded vagabonds and outcasts, while going to jail and losing family life, for the privilege to establish and play music on their new indigenous creation, the Steelpan family of instruments. But they stood up against the disrespect that confronted them so we could be at this point of our evolution, where we should be in control of the commanding heights of our art form and the industries that it spawned.

To this day, they were never properly recognized or adequately compensated for their sterling contribution towards what has been recognized and accepted worldwide as the National Instruments of Trinidad and Tobago. If those bleeding in hearts in office of influence  were even serious about our creation, Every instrument made and sold any part of the world, would have attracted royalties to the estates of our pioneers. Anthony Williams  is still alive, but he like too much freeness so nothing for him. I clearly remember the late great Bertie Marshall saying,” don't give me awards; give me rewards “.

Today, most leaders of Steel bands are in no better position for their contributions to their communities, and by extension the nation. They have created music schools, firstly for the grassroots who could not afford to pay for such luxuries and developed an institution that serves to curb runaway juvenile delinquency in our society. While in its early stages, it was seen as a bad boy environment or barrack yard culture for the “lowlifes” in this society.

The Pan yards today are now embraced and accepted by everyone from the high and mighty to the meek and lowly. Pan men have created something from nothing where those interested, the young and the young at heart, can learn to play our national musical instruments in a safe and secured well kept environment, on expensive, well crafted and tuned steelpan instruments with properly made stands; where lights and running water, toilets and toiletries and other recreational facilities added for comfort, at little or no cost to them.

 Come Panorama/Carnival season, the leaders must retain a competent arranger to teach the required music nightly, for four to six weeks. While the welders and painters do what is necessary, the leaders must find the incentive to encourage all those labouring to have the band in readiness, for our national Festival. These include Tuners to blend the instruments, Flags and Banners, Uniforms, and décor, food/drinks and transportation for instruments and performers to make the national festivity the great show that it is. Where is the compensation, the rewards or even the appreciation to the leaders for their contribution towards a successful national Festival - all those long and sleepless nights of preparation and ensuring that the panist gets home safely every night after rehearsals?

Given the cost of preparation, 2the Steel bands should be adequately compensated, and the panists deserve incentives to encourage greater interest and commitment, as most leaders agree that the Carnival is attracting enough revenue to so do. At one time in the evolution of the Panorama, only the panists from the finalists bands were benefiting, when all were making the same sacrifice for a successful show.

Pan Trinbago intervened and an agreement was reached with the Minister of Culture at that time for two hundred dollars as an incentive to encourage greater participation, especially from the youths, and this was greatly appreciated by all. It showed that somebody had recognized the social and moral impact that the Steel bands in the communities were having on our society and sort to endorse it. That's why sponsors were encouraged and the state subsidized where none was forthcoming.!

As time went by, and the cost of living rose, Pan Trinbago again made an intervention and the incentive went to four hundred dollars. Some years after, Pan Trinbago met with a new Minister of Culture who could not believe that the incentive was not four hundred dollars a week, so it was raised to one thousand dollars with the intention to increase as the years went by. There was also an understanding to look at an incentive for Panists on the road from J’Ouvert to Las’ Lap. There are those in society who value the contributions of the Steel bands, and those who could not care less.

Unfortunately, that regime went out of office and only the one thousand dollars which was agreed stood. Pan Trinbago never negotiated a salary or compensation for the panist contribution to Panorama /Carnival. It was always an incentive to encourage a greater commitment by the Panist to the Steel bands and helped to take some young people off the streets. One thousand dollars could never adequately compensate the panist for his contribution to our national Festival. It was always a labour of love for our culture.

We make sterling a contribution to the economy by our participation in the national festivities, so an appropriate incentive is expected. But here it is, a man called Gypsy hop ah ride on his partner's ship, and because he sang a calypso or two, the crew thought that he was good material for the post of Minister for Culture. His very first act was to target the panist by reducing the low and inadequate incentive given to them, by two hundred dollars.

Pan Trinbago had to rake and scrape to keep the panist incentive at one thousand dollars. His partners had to remove him quickly from the posting for the pannist to see the light of day. Now that he has jumped the ship, and mounted a high horse riding with another Posse, somebody make him chairman of the NCC. And like a slave master's minion, he rides in wielding a big stick and a whip, and lording himself as the King Kong of our national festivities, talking about no more freeness. This Gypsy boy forgetting that we worked for free under the whip for over four hundred years. So your freeness talk is just poppycock. Are we the ones enjoying years of tax free status in this country?

Our national cultural festival is of great significance to us as a people coming off the plantations. It is a vehicle that keeps body and soul together and governments use it as a marketing tool to boost tourism, which helps to boost our economy. We should be benefiting from our output, because everyone else has been benefiting from it. After all these years of giving free performances bread and cheese and soft drinks, the fete nice. As soon as the performers ask for a little money to cover overheads, we begging and like too much freeness?

This Gypsy fellow is carrying out an agenda, to the detriment of our indigenous art form and we must be wary of his nefarious ways. He projects himself as a crusader in the campaign to mash up we culture. When Kenny, the previous chairman of the NCC, realized the dirty job that he was expected to do on culture, he sought and got a compromise package from Pan Trinbago, which was rejected by his employers, so he chose to bow out gracefully. The Gypsy quickly applied for and got the job as the big bad wolf, and now is creating chaos and confusion in the cultural fraternity. He making Mas with we culture.

Any intervention by financiers, including the government, to tinker with our rights to freedom of expression and regulate our culture, must be done through a series of serious consultations with the special interests groups of Calypso, Mas and Steelpan. The spirit behind our national festivities is too large for any individual to manipulate. Our spirituality is deeply interwoven in our culture; therefore it is bigger than any Gypsy. Our ancestors will not take kindly to his high handedness. If there are no proper negotiations – as recommended by the judge in the court matter of Pan Trinbago versus the National Carnival Commission – to find the money to incentivize the Steel bands to perform in the national festivities, then defer the celebrations until the nation can afford it.This thing big.

Just like at a Thanksgiving, the host must be able to accommodate and cater for all the participants and special guests. He should not be going around trying to belittle and tarnish the reputation of the organizations representing culture and dilute their contributions and advancement over the years just to satisfy an inflated ego.

It is time for the Special Interest groups to come together and speak with one voice, because that is the only way to overcome this troubling situation. The divide and rule tactic is only keeping us apart. It's no use seeing things in day light, but wait until night to use flambeau to look for it. One man should not be able to take us down a road like he is the pied piper. Are we Rats?  The panist must understand that just like an egg, the shell, the white, the yolk are all needed. No part is more important than the other.

So stop this nonsense talk about the panist being the main ingredient.  We can come together and stand up for our rights against this Gypsy oppression, or continue our disunity and fall as separate entities. The choice is ours to make for better or for worse. We are at the pit of disrespect. How low can we go? I believe that too many sacrifices were made over the past decades for any individual to come and disrupt our creation, and walk away unscathed. Our ancestral powers will never leave its children to the machinations of the wolves.

Finally, I would seriously recommend that the present regime in office at Pan Trinbago gather all the evidence of malfeasance committed by members of the past regime and take it to the relevant authorities for appropriate action. No one should be able to rob the Steelband movement with impunity and walk free. If not, please stop making malicious statements to malign the names and tarnish the reputations of persons who made the sacrifice to serve the Steelpan community to the best of their abilities without thanks. The ball is now in your court to do a better job as you boasted. So expose the wrongdoers and move on with the task ahead and not become distracted by the trimmings or trappings of office. May God bless our nation and our cultural practitioners!

Michael L Joseph

Steel band leader

Ex Pan Trinbago official

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Michael L Joseph, there are so many points in your article that I could pull you up on as "Ex Pan Trinbago official", ie. PRO as you were a key member of the Central Executive who caused all of the anguish which the pan players are now expericing due to missing monies.  Forget about what is happening NOW, what about when you were a position to do something?  Just because you are the Ex PRO, it doesn't mean that you were oblivious of what was going on and if you didn't know what was going on, you should have asked questions rather than bury your head in the sand.

You sprinkle words like "indigenious" and "incentive" all over your article too many times for me to take you seriously.  You also talk about the sacrifices that pan men have made in the past.  What was happening on YOUR watch so we are now in the current situation?

As much as your article may make interesting reading, I have to say that it is just "more of the same" and doesn't amount to anything!

Thanks Ingrid, well said.

odw:  talk about waffle .... yawn, yawn, yawn

This is one side of the coin, expressed with great emotion. But here is another side and even an edge to the coin. I would like to suggest a national conversation right here. With contributions from the 'usual suspects' but also from the wider national community.

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