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Thursday 23 May 2019
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Tobago steelbands ready for Panorama

Struggles with sponsorship, stipends but

Steelband officials in Tobago are pressing on with preparations for Panorama despite the challenges.

While some blamed the non-payment of players' remittances and cutbacks in sponsorship for a lack of interest in participating, others were optimistic.

Mc Nicols Nicholson, manager of the medium band Carib Dixieland, said the non-payment of stipends had cast a dim light over its preparations.

"We have been complaining about players and the non-payment of stipends for 2018 and 2019. That is causing a lot of problems all over the place where some players say they not even playing," he told Newsday.

Nicholson said some players were also "moving from band to band."

"It is a chaotic situation and our band is going just like the rest. We have the same kinds of problems like the others."

Nicholson also claimed sponsorship of bands on the island was not what it used to be.

"Some have sponsors and some don't have sponsors any more."

However, Nicholson said Dixieland, based in Mt Pleasant, was fortunate.

"We have been sponsored by Carib for over 50 years now. At the time when Dr Eric Williams had asked people to sponsor bands, we were one of them, and we still remain Carib Dixieland up today."

Carib Dixieland is expected to perform Pan on Fire, composed by late calypsonian De Original De Fosto Himself (Winston Scarborough) in tonight's opening round of judging in the medium band Panorama competition.

Judging begins at 7 pm in the Black Rock panyard of former champions Katzenjammers Steel Orchestra. They will be followed by Dixieland and NGC Steel Xplosion.

Judging for Tobago's two large bands, RBC Redemption Soundsetters and NLCB Buccooneers, takes place tomorrow.

Despite its challenges, Nicholson said Dixieland, established in 1955, was expected to perform at full strength.

"We will be able to reach around the same 70 or thereabouts."

Nicholson said the band represented a community and could not let them down.

The non-payment of the players' remittances also affected the Belle Garden panyard of T&TEC East Side New Dimension, according to its vice captain Maurice Muir.

Muir said, "Basically, things are kind of off with us because of the non-payment of the players' remittance. Some of the players decided that they not really playing unless they get that sum of money that is being owed to them.

"So we are preparing for Panorama 2019, but we are going through some challenges with the amount of players that we had expected –we eh get the amount of players."

He said the band, which is playing Kees Dieffenthaller's 2018 hit Hello, had a new arranger, Kurt Ramsey, of Black Rock. The band's songs were arranged previously by late pan icon Ken "Professor" Philmore.

"The intention is to basically use local, because all of the years we going to Panorama, we use people from Trinidad. So our intention this year is to use local."

Iron Anthony, manager of the Carnbee-based NGC Steel Xplosion, said Pan Trinbago could have made a greater attempt to assist the players financially.

He said, "This is Carnival. You cannot tell the players they cannot get anything. I find that was in bad taste. It is an incentive when you give players something. They could get them something because without the players there would be no Panorama."

Anthony added: "A man might prefer to stay on his cellphone than come out to beat pan because he eh sure to get a dollar. And you have arrangers and tuners to pay, not to mention transport."

Anthony, like Nicholson, also observed players were playing for several bands, a situation which he said placed undue stress on Steel Xplosion.

"That sort of thing weakens your band, because you have to learn the tune. They would go by one band tonight, and tomorrow they will go by another band. So my band is always under strength to compete."

To make up for the shortfall, Anthony said the band, which is playing Irwin Reyes "Scrunter" Johnson's Sing In She Party in the medium band category, has recruited about 12 Trinidadian players for the season. But even this, he said, was a costly exercise.

"They come up twice a week but that is very expensive, because you have to house and feed them."

But he said, "To run a steelband, you have to be strong and you have to massage the players, because (otherwise) your band will mash up."

On the bright side, Anthony said the band did not get a cut in sponsorship.

"We got the same thing we got last year, even a little more. So we were able to get more jerseys, billboards and more help with transportation."

Small band Speyside Steel Sensation is not as fortunate. However, Crystal Griffith, who manages the band alongside Farley Augustine, said it was undaunted by the challenges.

"We have a relatively young band, and the only reason we are pressing on is because of the willingness of those players, despite the many, many challenges we have financially and membership-wise," she told Newsday. "There are a lot of challenges and we still make the effort to press on. That is the key thing keeping us going."

Griffith claimed the members did not play for financial incentives.

"We don't give them anything, and they're still coming because of the passion for pan."

Griffith also praised the work of young arranger Joshua Jerry, 24, who had previously taken the band to the semifinal stage of Panorama in the small-band category.

This year, the band is playing Denyse Plummer's Give Dem Tempo.

Marie Toby, of RBC Redemption Soundsetters, said the band was rehearsing feverishly.

"We are moving full speed ahead."

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