Hope in the power of pan


MANY OF US, perhaps with the exception of all-inclusive fete ticket holders, are living under a pall of anguish.

Economic stagnation grinds on and crime worsens with each passing minute. Consequently, finding hope in this country is like finding a baby alive in the rubble of a collapsed building.

Here’s the thing about hope, though. It isn’t only found in the concrete solutions for our problems. The very essence of hope is discovering the will to keep searching for answers. I found some of that precious will recently in a place I least expected to find it.

I had an opportunity last week to shoot some video for a client of a performance of a junior steelband. The Shell Invaders Youth Steel Orchestra was performing for the preliminary judging round at Siegert Square in Woodbrook.

I got to Siegert Square ahead of time and the pan racks were already set up. The little park and its occupants were bathed in the marmalade glow of the afternoon sun.

A nervous energy crackled through the youthful players. Discordant sounds of warm-ups from tenor and bass mingled with muted chatter. A fired-up conductor worked up his charges like a hurricane whipping up white caps at sea. When the competition judges arrived, the players and the small crowd fell to hushed silence, as if berobed judges walked soft-footed into a courtroom.

Starting off with a hype phrase, "Look trouble now!" – repeated to the rhythm of the clack, clack, clack against the steel drum – the young players launched into their performance. The pannists commanded the notes from their steel pans as if they commanded lightning through their bodies and hands. Pan sticks were a blur as the tempo built, the melodies coalesced and the crescendo thundered in the blood.

More flowery than usual for my columns, I know. That’s the power of pan, and this is coming from a man who doesn’t particularly care for Carnival. But then pan is much more than Carnival or even music.

As I moved through the band with my camera, the energy coursing through the players was palpable with their raw display of passion and commitment.

Older people (like myself) often dismiss the youth as caring about nothing. What I saw as I peered through the viewfinder of my camera was the exact opposite of apathy. If we were more often exposed to videos of children beating pan rather than videos of them beating each other in schools, our negative perceptions about our youth would be unsustainable. In fact, young people’s perceptions about themselves would be quite different as well.

I also visited the Shell Invaders panyard on Tragarete Road to shoot footage of a practice session. Again, the passion the players showed was incandescent. Practice, repeat, stop, do it again until you get it right; these aren’t the qualities of typical Trinis, right?

Yet, here I was in this tiny panyard caught in a fierce undertow of throbbing rhythms and dizzily ascending notes. There was a young man on the drum kit working the high hat, snare and toms like he was channelling Neil Peart. The players bounced their notes on his frenetic beats, filling the air with an intangible, mystic power.

As a society, what we invest in determines our quality of life. I saw in those young and senior players the payoff of an investment that can build the kind of society we all want to live in. If we sink more time and money into pursuits that instil discipline and pride, those will yield better returns than valueless fetes and promotions.

It’s unfortunate that the steel pan is one of the few remaining elements of traditional mas culture still attracting corporate sponsorship. Ole mas like the dame Lorraine, midnight robber and jab jab languish on the fringes of corporate beneficence. The fete behemoth typically gobbles up everything because corporate TT wants an immediate return on investment. Money in, money out; that’s what it’s all about.

When you invest in the society, though, your return on investment is societal order, discipline and productivity. Without these foundational qualities, all the money in the world is meaningless.

Shell and other like-minded companies who invest in the preservation of the best, value-adding aspects of TT are making an investment in hope for the future. You see, part of sustaining hope is finding a reason to keep fighting. Once you keep up the fight, change is inevitable.


"Hope in the power of pan"

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