Fifty years after he played for a band sponsored by oil giant Texaco (Trinidad Inc), San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello has credited that experience for shaping him into the man he has become.
Regrello said Texaco set the bar high back in the 1960s when it decided to sponsor West Stars, from Springvale, one of the less affluent communities in San Fernando at the time.
He recalled playing his first pan which had a star with a T in the centre representing Texaco and said the players' interaction with senior company employees, some whom went on to hold political offices, “shaped us."
"The importance of bringing sponsorship to the community given the societal issues that existed in those days, and probably still exists now, was always critical in helping the youths," he said.
"Sponsors may not have got value for money because West Stars was not a very successful band in terms of winning competitions. But a lot of people who played with that band ventured out and abroad and on to a better life. All because of the standards Texaco established that set us (players) apart from the rest in terms of quality."
“The first suit I ever wore in my life was provided for me by Texaco as a steelband player, complete with bow tie.”
As a corporate sponsor, Texaco would treat them to dinner in some of the finest restaurants after a performance and transported them in buses wherever they had to go, even if it was a short distance from their homes.
“When they took you under their wings they looked after your every need," said Regrello.
"Sponsorship did not mean just money for us, we were given training and courses in etiquette and things like that. They set and passed the standards on for other oil companies which followed, like Amoco, BP, Shell. That was my foundation. I learnt from the best."
In addition to West Stars, Texaco also provided sponsorship for Dixieland from Port of Spain and Katzenjammers from Tobago. As part of that arrangement, “Every Carnival, Texaco would have produced an album with the three bands. We were required to play about six or seven calypsoes from the current year. The bands did a recording which Texaco exported and distributed. So, it was an all-round programme.”
Speaking about the connection between the oil industry and the evolution of the pan, Regrello recalled jumping on a truck and heading to the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery to select oil drums discarded at a gas station to take back to the panyard for tuning.
“Doing that allowed us to understand what kind of drums the tuner required because they gave us the specifications on selecting the right drums. That information proved to be useful to us as children growing up. It gave us an understanding of the art form and culture and the role which Texaco played, because that was the source."
“That narrative tells the connection with Texaco (and successor companies) not only as a sponsor but as the oil drum producer and where we are today and with the Petrotrin situation. As Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley outlined in his address to the nation, it was an inevitable decision.”
Regrello said it was regrettable that bands have lost sponsorship but added the steelband movement has to be proactive and plan creative ways to move forward.
“It’s not just the steelband movement that is affected, this is a whole global issue with finances right now. We have to keep in tune with what is happening around the world and make our own adjustments. The ultimate goal of most bands is sustainability, and this is an opportunity to work towards sustainability. It is difficult times but when the going gets tough the tough gets going," Regrello said.