|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 (
"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
...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
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.