DR YVONNE BOBB-SMITH
LAND OF calypso, land of pan, and home of Carnival – three principal icons of our music designate the brand of TT music. Yet, in reflecting there is nothing addressing the institutional worth of these music forms: nothing permanent and affirming.
Attending the amazing transition tribute ceremony on October 30, 2018, at the Queen’s Park Savannah to mark Shadow’s passing, I mused about the preservation of this event for posterity.
However, this and his work, for example, would be classified as calypso, and may be put into its own home. This move would not give room for “everybody,” a repetitive word in Dingolay and other of his songs, which seems to muster his belief in equity and inclusivity.
So why not, I thought, respect his legacy and acquire a museum as the home to preserve all our musics: all genres and forms, musically and socially generated in our country? This can become a national museum of musical cultural heritage: a knowledge centre for historic construction and continuity to sustain all musics – “everybody” – from the presence of First Peoples’ culture and onwards. It would inspire an exploration of historic links and experimentation which develop our own musical culture.
Our uniqueness as a nation, consisting of a variety of peoples with cultural differences, is unprecedented. It materialised through historic forms of globalisation. We live in a nation where many are not sure how to signify a national identity. Are we “pelau or tossed salad?” Because the society we live in is ethnically heterogeneous where people may claim a share of common culture, regardless of maintaining genetical differences.
However, when we stage events which are poised to define the nation as a whole, we often ignore our historical hierarchy of race and ethnicity, which in turn tends to isolate or marginalise some parts of the national identity.
Culture has existed since the 15th century in TT with the colonial encountering and uprooting of First Peoples and the institutionalising of European culture and civilisation. A mix of Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, French and English settlers, mainly, served as landlords and introduced their physical and spiritual traditions as a preferred base.
These imperialists established inhumane institutions of labour to reap financial gains from our twin-island republic. First it was slavery for Africans, over a long and offensive period, brutal and dehumanising, followed by indentureship (Asians) for a contracted period, yet bearing harsh marks of dehumanisation.
Both these systems of domination were instrumental in generating a Creole culture in an interesting way. Enslaved Africans brought their intangible cultural heritage-songs, drumming, rituals and history. However, in spite of brutal consequences, they forged to expose an adaptation of their traditions to establish their communities, and to provide a sense of self.
Their cultural input, along with that of the First Peoples whose culture was diminished and restored, constituted the emergence of TT music.
Later, indentured Asians also brought with them intangibles, but closeted their traditions, through subordination by the elite. However, the enslaved and indentured persevered and resisted, an example of which is marked by the tragic experiences of the Canboulay Riots and the Muharram Massacre.
Other ethnicities in the 20th century added to the increasing development of initiatives recognisable as our musical culture. In spite of these divisions, acculturation evolved and took shape in TT to create a varied pattern of open contributions, sound, and rhythm, style, merging to expose a new and distinct music.
These formed a powerful historic pattern of cultural heritage which requires an understanding that only an all-inclusive national museum of musical cultural heritage can fulfil.
This museum can have a major role to engender writing the narrative of the national identity. Its mission has to be proactive, with an expertise to encourage greatly improved understanding of our diversity.
It will contain the icons – pan, calypso, Carnival – together with the many examples of ethnic-specific and religious-based music, folk songs born and developed in our country. It will collect, preserve and study their musical artefacts, recordings etc, to develop music property past and continuing for posterity.
It has to be primarily aimed at research, education and recreation. I summarise the definition of UNESCO “musical cultural heritage” as the documentary, audiovisual, tangible, intangible, performing display of presentations, objects, instruments, artefacts and so on which can be identified with musics generated in TT.
Museums matter today. The paradigm in use is not elitist. They are trending worldwide in nations, cities and indeed among communities where people feel the need for self-regulation to remove the shackles of colonisation.
A music museum can be organised to knit threads of evidence showing the mesh or intertwined nature of a society, such as ours, through this art form. It can adopt a comprehensive agenda to fast forward a stronger focus on education which speaks to who we are, as Trinidadians/Tobagonians.
The outcomes of this museum will be the strengthening of communities and thus a national identity; the promotion of learning the significance of musical evidence to the fragmentary nature of our culture; and the building of human capital.
The country has failed to take seriously the work of pioneers who have struggled to develop national interest in the role of preservation of our musical cultural heritage.
While there might be some historic consciousness among citizens to support significant organising of our music heritage, more has to be guaranteed. Further delays to bring pertinent and open recognition to the fast growing body of our musical culture may be disastrous to our social development.
The time has come to establish an institution of the maximum level serving as an ultimate knowledge centre, legitimised by our State, and recognised by the national, regional and international communities. The overall significance of this institution is based on the adage that people must know their past to understand the present, and project a future.
Our nation needs a national museum of musical cultural heritage, all-inclusive, to sustain the significance found in all the characteristics of our musics. This musical cultural heritage requires this form of institutionalisation for our music to be comprehensively acknowledged, honoured and preserved beyond the circumferences of “collections.” We need this institution now to serve as the “cultural soul” of our nation, TT.
Dr Yvonne Bobb-Smith is a cultural enthusiast and educator