The steel pan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. Yet, as we approach the 55th anniversary of our independence, the national instrument is facing what one stakeholder has described as a crisis. Why is it that as a society when it comes to the steel pan we are constantly hitting a sour note?
Last Saturday, secretary of the Steel Pan Tuners’ Guild of Trinidad and Tobago, Anthony Duncan, revealed that the steel pan manufacturing industry is experiencing a shortage of steel drums to produce the national instrument. Chairman of the MIC Institute of Technology (formerly Metal Industries Company Ltd), Clement Imbert, acknowledged the issue.
Responding to Duncan’s concerns, Imbert assured a shipment of steel drums was recently sourced and is en route to Trinidad and Tobago. And Pan Trinbago President Richard Forteau said that his organisation is also doing all it can to have the issue resolved and increase the number of drums available to pan makers.
We welcome the assurances of both men, but note no specific timeline has been given in relation to this matter. Further, the deeper issue of the failure of the State and the private sector to build a more vibrant enterprise around the pan has been left unaddressed.
Whenever the next shipment of steel drums arrives, this will no doubt provide comfort to many stakeholders such as Duncan. But why is it that we have not secured a constant supply of the vital materials needed to manufacture pans on a large scale?
Surely, if we are serious about pan as a commercial and cultural product, the approach must be far more consistent.
Or is the issue a lack of demand?
Aside from intellectual property matters, lawsuits, and reward for various electronic innovations, how has the State stimulated the appreciation, production and evolution of the steel pan outside of Carnival?
Steel pan’s potential is not limited to our annual Panorama ritual, or to soca, or to calypso, or to concerts at Queen’s Hall. A review of global music reveals the timbre of the pan is found to be appealing and distinctive to a wide range of musicians. In North America alone many major pop artists have used or sampled pan. The list includes Nick Jonas, Selena Gomez and even country singer Kenny Chesney.
Pan as an instrument is also popular in schools and various recreational spaces. And, of course, it is also almost a staple within tropical tourist zones.
We should be at the forefront of all of this, capitalising on our own role as the pioneer of this instrument in order to develop a brand that is recognised as the finest in the world. We certainly have the expertise here to ensure the highest quality of instrument is produced locally.
Yet, commercial production should also go hand in hand with hardy forms of innovation. And it should be part of an overall strategy that sees the pan well taken care of.
When we cannot even get a new headquarters constructed for Pan Trinbago, our signature pan organisation, then we know all is not right.
Sadly, attempts to build that most basic of facilities have come to naught, with millions of dollars spent on a site that today lies abandoned. While headquarters were located in Port-of-Spain, the failure to get a purpose-built facility off the ground speaks volumes. We do not regard pan as anything more than a pleasant thing good for only Carnival time.
Yet the annual show of talent that is the Panorama continues to remind us of the potential for us to do so much more. This Independence Day, as the steel pan is once more rolled out for the various events that will be held in commemoration, let us do more than listen with smiles on our faces. Let us reflect on the need to get serious about our national instrument.