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The Steel-band in Trinidad : Should it be seen as Art, Culture or…..Business?

I am always struck by the notion that some insist on seeing the steelband's future purely as business.


And I'm not talking about the professional panist, or even the small 'side" that does gigs and may even be doing quite well.

And obviously for a steelband to be successful, its finances should be handled in a proficient and businesslike manner.


I'm talking about the Steel Orchestra, the large steel band made up mostly of amateurs who actually play for the joy of it, though of course financial compensation for their efforts is highly appreciated.


Now, pan has potential to generate income, and maybe this potential has not been fully taken advantage of.

Some can and will make a profit from pan, and we sincerely hope that as many as possible do so.

Every way  that the steelband can generate revenue should be explored and exploited.


But the purpose of business is profit.

A business makes a profit that goes to its owners, shareholders investors etc.

A non-profit , on the other hand generates income to sustain itself , pay its employees, and perform some social or cultural function.


The Steelband is about art and culture, and should not be promoted, advertised or identified as business.

 And lets face it, there may be financial benefits (taxes, etc.)  for a successful steelband organization to be SEEN as a non-profit.


Not everyone who contributes to this forum or participates in the art form does so with the intention of profit.

I like to think that I make a small contribution to the promotion of the art form, but I do not expect to be paid.

Pan is part of my culture, my being.


I see the steelband the same way I see the symphony orchestra, the opera. dance, and ballet; as an art form.


These art forms employ highly skilled, professional artists, but still depend on grants and sponsors for sustenance.

Businesses come and go, some succeed and some fail; but art, like the steelband is (hopefully) forever.


Art represents much more than putting dollars in someone's pocket. It represents the cultural lifeblood of a people and for it to survive and prosper the community has an obligation to support it.


Most societies understand this, hence there are  patrons, sponsors and organizations whose main philanthropic purpose is support of the arts.


In the United States, The National Endowment for the Arts is an independent agency of the Federal Government which since its creation in 1965 has given out billions in grants to support art, including the performing arts - dance, theatre, music.

Many of the organizations receiving these funds are considered "Non profit", though they pay their employees and artists, and charge for their performances.

 I would like to see steelbands in this category, as non profit cultural and artistic entities deserving of sponsorship, grants and taxpayers dollars, but also capable of generating income.


Though some conservatives object, it is generally understood that government -i.e. the taxpayers, and private organizations have an obligation to support the arts and to keep culture alive.

In return, a vibrant culture is capable of rewarding the populace in many ways, not the least of which is revenue generated in the economy by events, festivals, tourism etc., where the main attraction is that culture.


And BTW, this is one of the reasons  why steelbands are entitled to receive government funds.

 Steelband funding isn't charity. Steelband activity in T&T generates income to the nations coffers, and the steelband deserves a share.


It is not about business for profit.


It is about art and  culture.


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Art, Culture and Business are not mutually exclusive and Arts and Culture can be both businesslike and profitable.

While I agree with you that the government and private entities should support Arts and Culture, they should do so whether the Arts and Culture are profitable or not.

Yes in North America and other countries Arts and Culture have their patrons and Government invests heavily in them that is not to say that Arts and Culture are not self sustaining or even profitable.

In fact the Government subventions and other sponsorships help Art and Culture to become profitable and as such City Symphonies (the NA equivalent of our steel orchestras) are able to pay their members and all their administrative staff, their practice and concert hall expenses etc.

So yes, steel bands should have sponsorship and should receive government subventions but should also find ways to raise enough money to not only pay all their expenses but to realize a profit at the end of the year.

In all of this the government should have an enabling role whether it's through subventions, deferment of taxes, marketing, financial, logistical or other assistance but in the end the steelband as an entity should be able to become profitable.

The idea of steelbands existing on the generosity of their members to 'play for free' has to come to an end at some point.

This is one of the best articles that I have read about the steelband and its progress.  It must not be considered purely as a business, but, we expect that the management of the respective steelbands be innovative and progressive and obviously look at the interest of their players.

There is need for tremendous support form governments and the corporate world.  At present, only the skilled player/s would make it as individuals in any orchestra.


Thank you! Finally, some one saying elegantly what I have been saying for so long....pan is not a business, it is a culture. You can make money from it but it is culture, not business. Even without funding, steel band has been in existence as part of the culture by any way possible. Panmen are in it for the love of the culture, not the love of money. We (Trini's) just have not been taught for the most part to accept culture as an important piece of the fabric of society. The focus is on putting money in the pocket. Business has much more importance than culture. You could not tell your mother you wanted to be an artist when you grew up, you had to be a business man! Business needs to make a profit or it will fail. Culture will develop and exist whether funding is there or not. In a perfect world, business and government would recognize the importance of preserving and promoting culture and lend an organized helping hand through some type of arts organization. Pan started with the idea of making music, not money. Panmen were not run down by the police for selling pans, they were run down for making music on pan! Ansel Joseph.

Dear Sidd,

There are over one hundred steel orchestras in Trinidad and Tobago....  .(That number has been significantly reduced for discussion sake).  In the main, they all are pretty good playing bands and well organized.  What could they do musically to survive or sustain themselves?  We talk a lot about business and professionalism but there is no real market to satisfy the number of orchestras that exist.  We are still in the cultural phase and look forward primarily for competitions to boost our coffers.  It would take a couple light years to recover the money that is expended to produce any band.  Love, devotion, exposure and maybe fame are the drivers of the steelband movement.  Obviously, it can't be money. 

It is still cultural and community based.

Joseph Renaud.

Joseph Renaud, you hit the nail on the head, there is no market for the steelband to sustain themselves in T&T

In the 50s and 60s steelbands played mas and in fetes to generate funds to sustain themselves but have been pushed out of carnival the money making machine. We are not at the point where studies have to be made to see how best we can market the steelband.

A business makes a profit that goes to its owners, shareholders investors etc.

A non-profit , on the other hand generates income to sustain itself and pay its employees.

It usually has a social or cultural purpose.

Being a non profit doesn't mean that the organization doesn't make money.

It simply means that it's main purpose is not profit.

And Sid, Ellie Mannette was awarded  The National Heritage Fellowship award .

This is a lifetime honor presented to master folk and traditional artists by the National Endowment for the Arts.The Fellowship is the United States' highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.


I'm sure Ellie is proud of his recognition as a master artist.

IMHO steelpan and the steelpan movement should remain essentially rooted as Cultural Art in our Nation.  But progressively, it should be sustained as a business.  T&T has a huge potential for both cultural and eco tourism which is growing internationally.  I ill continue to support the Steel Pan Blueprint For Success as an effective and efficient path to realize this goal.

Well said Sidd, agree 150%.

Well said Andre for i do presume that this as one of the first Blueprint presented on WST, respect.

Probably about eight years ago, my band was hired to perform at stageside for WeBeat in St. James. We started promptly at 5:00 p.m. and played for a little more than an hour. At around 6:30 p.m. the parade of Steelbands started and went until about 1 a.m. We did the WeBeat gig for two more years and by the third year I observed that the parade of bands would begin later each year. Our gig with WeBeat collapsed when after waiting 1 year for payment we were told by the organizers that funding for the event was becoming an issue since business places in the St James area were reluctant to contribute to the week of “cultural” activities. so they had to cut us.

I still continue to attend WeBeat and this year I observed that the first steelband took the stage at around 9:30 p.m.  The entire WeBeat week of activities was cancelled until the Ministry of Culture rescued it at death’s door. From 25-odd bands when I first performed on the pavement eight years ago, this year the band count dwindled to maybe 12.

I will tell you for free. The only times you may get a steelband to perform for free is for a Block-O-Rama or a wake. And by steelband I refer also to community bands. Anything else will require payment. Not because culture is of the people and by the people it should mean that people must give it for free.

A friend once told me that “Panmen should play for free because pan is we culture”. That my friends is the root of the problem. As yet T&TEC and WASA don’t charge any less for their services to panyards. Transport to and from gigs are not yet underwritten by the Ministry of Works and Transport. The Ministry of Culture don’t compensate tuners for their services. All of the afore-mentioned cost money. No pay…no play…. and mind you, I didn’t make up that rule.

There must be some way WeBeat Festival could become profitable for ALL, otherwise it will die. I am sure all those Rumshops alone can afford to sponsor this yearly event.


Hoping not to offend:

  1. What is the definition of each (art, culture, and business)? "Art" is defined as " skill acquired by experience, study, or observation". By that definition ANY "skilled" person is an "artist". That includes carpenters, pilots, and pugilists (boxers). Should they also see their profession as (purely) "art", and not "business"? Asian fighters have perfected their cultural skills which we know as "martial arts"? Were Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Chuck Norris wrong for making a "business" out of (their) "art"? As panmen and panwomen, we fall into the "visual and performing arts" category, the same group that includes Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson. Were they wrong for making "business" out of (their) "art" (of performing)? Certainly, their "arts" did not suffer because they were sensible enough to turn their skills into profitable careers. By this line of argument, ALL "artists" should give away their "culture" in the hope that others (like the government) would take care of their financial needs. That position, IMHO, is both naive and impractical. ONLY, "artists" who call themselves "panmen" and "panwomen" are asked to forget "business" and focus ONLY on "art" and "culture". I am reminded that "music business" is "1 % music and 99% business".
  2. "Culture" is defined as "the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education". Are we suggesting that this "development" should not include financial and economic development? Again, this kind of thinking exists ONLY in the "pan world". Roti and Indian cuisine are parts of a "culture", however, that does not stop Indo-Trinbagonians (and others) from turning "culture" into "business". What about Bollywood? The Indian film industry is the MOST prolific producers of movies in the ENTIRE WORLD. Are they producing movies to promote Indian "culture", or "business"? Hip hop is a part of "Black American culture". Were Jaz-Z, Kanye West, and "Fiddy" being sacrilegious to their (Black) culture, because they turned it into an "industry" and became self-made millionaires? Should they have stayed on the corners on the streets of New York and continued promoting "non-profit" "culture"? Religion is a part of "culture". (If you did Anthropology you would know that.) Are ALL those gospel singers, like Be Be and Ce Ce, stayed away from the profits of the "culture" of gospel music? AGAIN, it is only the LOCAL panman and panwoman who are asked to forget about "business" and focus ONLY on "art" and "culture". Meanwhile, Diaz and the rest are making HUGE million-dollar deals, that benefit NO ONE ELSE but themselves. (I expect Diaz to walk away with much, much more than the millions Arnim Smith walked away with. So, while we are told it is not "business", money continues to pass, and NONE passing to the local panman and panwoman. Why not tell foreigners like Andy Narrell that it is not "business"; to play for the love of "art" and "culture"? Why not give away the skill for free? It's ridiculous to tell a young man or woman to pay a college to get a degree as an "artist" (panist), and then accept that there should be no expectations of financial rewards. If "art" was not a business, then colleges and universities would not have schools that charge you to acquire the skills. It IS a "business", whether we accept it or not. Foreigners understand this, and that is why they will make the money, and the local panman and panwoman will continue to be exploited, only to see their performances played over and over again on You Tube and sites like WST, without them getting one red cent for royalties for their performances. So, it is CONVENIENT for people like Glenroy, who LOVES to post videos of performances, as long as he can do it FOR FREE! If he had to pay royalties for the videos he posts, maybe we would have been seeing less of them. It plays into his hands, to have us think that "art and culture" should be kept separate from "business". And, if I had my way, NO recording of ANY performance would be free.
  3. MOST, think that "non-profit" means that the intent is not to make profit. NOTHING could be father from the truth. EVERY "business", for profit or non-profit, attempts to make profit. The ONLY difference between the two, is that non-profits DO NOT answer to shareholders. Their "bosses" are the membership of the non-profit. A non-profit "uses surplus revenues to achieve its goals rather than distributing them as profit or dividends. Also, "designation as a nonprofit and an intent to make money are not related in the United States". In other words, non-profit does NOT mean non-intent (to make money or profit). PLEASE, PLEASE, DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE YOU POST!
  4. In conclusion, the steelband/steel drum/pan IS ALL THREE!!! It is "art", and it is "culture". And, to those who know better, it IS about business! Just like Bollywood and roti. Just like the "hip-hop culture". And, just like the many foreigners who "accepted" our "culture" understand; whether it's in manufacturing, performing, or writing (history). They ALL making BIG money from "we ting". I say, it is time we did too. Then again, as a Trinidadian, I do not have the "last word" on this issue. I say, ask Andy Narrell, what it is and what it isn't. After all, we have also lost the right to speak on our own "art" and "culture", as they are now a part of foreign "business", led by foreigners, who now decide what is best for both (our "art" and "culture"). So, until the LAST WORD comes out, I am submitting my SECOND-TO-LAST WORD. WURD!

GHOST - Who Talks Money Talks, Too!


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