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Music Marking Time
By KEITH SMITH

September 30th 2004

WHATEVER the culturally envious or the plain and simple racists may like to think, nothing better boasts and boosts Trinidad and Tobago's creative side than the steelpan, not only in the invention itself (although that would have been enough) but in the way the instrument has come to spawn both artistry and industry and, indeed, community. Lloyd Best (who else?) has made the point more persuasively than any:

"...In serving community, the panyard plays five distinct roles. First, as a pole of innovation. It creates new music in two senses, vital to product differentiation in the pursuit of marketing. Each time Pan plays, the performance is different. It plays without scores, a genre in itself.

Moreover, with each succeeding season, Pan invents new means-the number and mix of instruments, the tuning, the supporting infrastructure. This is not a stagnant or dying undertaking; on the contrary, it is evolving.

Second, the panyard is a pool of knowledge devoted to making its own new tools for new expression. It has long acquired the habit of accumulating knowledge, wisdom and experience to deliver and fashion its own self-education.

Third, the panyard is a centre of excellence. In its specialty, it is the best in the world, the fountain of its own standards, needing no external validation or reference. Fourth, it is a magnet of mobilisation. The youth in particular gravitate because they are lifted; they get both gratification and edification. They don't need to be bullied, bribed or even given incentives.

Finally, the panyard is a network of interdependence. At one and the same time, it links so many aspects of existence, it is so integral to the culture, it engenders activities that are social and economic, spiritual and material, making itself the natural centre of community..." If today you not aucourant with the current, yet another, discordant note in pan (Pages 18 and 19 of this issue) you may be wondering why the column has suddenly abandoned cricket for steelband, never mind that both constitute facets of the culture.

But if you are aware that the long-running Carnival pan remuneration question has returned accompanied by a serious threat of a Panorama boycott, you may find the following instructive ( Best, again):

"The key intervention would be to orient the prizes. Panyards should receive distinct and remunerative incentives to widen the community support they now enjoy only in the Grand and North Stand. The aim should be to recruit and induct a capable and competent management cadre in the form of educators, financiers, economists, architects, bankers, engineers, scientists and professionals of all types, committed to Pan and to the panyard of their choosing, very likely from the community where they grew up and were first enchanted...

...Any such programme would of course dictate heavy initial funding which would have to be sought from both the State and sponsors. To start with, the funding could call for annual expenditure in the range of $50 million to $100 million. The figure sounds prohibitive. In truth, it would be no more than the seed money for a massive new thrust towards another type of industrial, economic and community development.

Large sums of mostly wasted money should be diverted to more productive use from formal education spending, YESS, AIM, CCA, Cottage, YTEPP and URP as well as from TIDCO, SBDC, and highly dicey Venture Capital operations that take place without any suitably designed Stock Exchange where enterprises and ventures could be floated with some respect for reality. The call is to organise ourselves in ways that would compel both State and community to gain a real grasp, permitting that type of judgment of risk that is indispensable to entrepreneurial initiatives and decisions.

Panorama would involve minimum basic prizes for all panyards,in return for specific and anticipated achievements or results in well-defined areas.

Big prizes for leading performers, including business trips abroad devoted to marketing. The export marketing could be pursued in novel ways, giving incentive to efficient production at home.

Export marketing could possibly be of service to non-panyard sectors as indeed to non-pan activities on site in the panyard.

We therefore need clear lines. We need inter-dependent but distinct plans and agendas for industry, education, art and entertainment, community. Every panyard could have homework and day-care centres to cater for the large number of women who would come out with spouses and would themselves be involved in the work. We need lines of supply for pan performance, pan recordings, pan education services, pan equipment, all of which could be widely marketed as exports.

All big firms which are now sponsors and some not so big should be recruited, not so much for funding but to provide management and, above all, to offer opportunity to train cadres in a systematic way. This confirms the necessity of whole new regimes of both formal school and small business.

The aim is to shift from pan in schools to school in pan. School must cease to be seen as a thing in itself and must become an adjunct to life and reality. The idea is that panyards would become the industrial estates and learning centres.

Widespread apprenticeship would add a hands-on capability to the formal school while also making it mandatory for efficient and effective small business to be an automatic outgrowth, with the whole venture aided by big and even transnational business without becoming dependent or mendicant.

What we are talking about is an organised and feverish but healthy competition among big firms, small firms, schools, local areas and regional corporations, and of course, panyards.

Panyards would be pivotal. Of course any such initiative would alter the flow of political and party life. It would bring enchantment back to the youth. It could divert energies away from present conflict and violence to other and more productive type of conflict and contestation involving less violence. It'd be a real revolution not a military upheaval..."

Mr Best said these pan things and very much more at a famous Pan Trinbago meeting at the La Joya Complex three years ago. A lot of nasty, bloody even, water has flowed under the national bridge since then and whether or not you want to concede the rightness of his analysis and recommendation, there can be no question that three years later they have added resonance. Sometimes you have to wonder, in truth, whether the great national pastime is not to be forever spinning top in mud.

 

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