South Trinidad's Valley Harps Steel Orchestra now has a refurbished and upgraded home at Sunrees Road, Penal, thanks to community activism.
The concrete structure, decorated using recycled painted strips and bits of old oil drums, was opened on Thursday afternoon.
The band's manager Clyde Flanders recalled "getting involved in this steelband thing," just after graduating from secondary school. The band went on to participate in the 1968 Panorama competition. placing second in San Fernando. In 1969, it placed 13th in the country and performed as a guest act at the final.
"In dem times, whenever Trinidad Valley Harps moved from Penal, the place used to be like a ghost town. Everybody (used to go Port of Spain). And in dem times, we didn't have public transport like now, (so) people used to ride on the trucks, who could hustle a ride here and there..."
Flanders eventually migrated to the US to work. But as Marvin "Swappi" Davis said in his song Jumbie Head, the sound of the steelpan is quite infectious. Flanders said he could not stop thinking about TT culture and the steelband.
"Every weekend, I used to tell my buddies if I could just jump in a car and drive down to Trinidad this weekend, I would drive down to Trinidad. They said, 'Boy, you is a madman?'" he recalled laughingly.
"They (my workplace) had some oversized drums...Our band (ended up being) the first band to bring down those...So I went to the stock room and I saw the drums were being used to store hazardous waste. I told the storekeeper, 'If I could get some of these drums to Trinidad, my buddies would be thankful, inno.'"
He made the arrangements and eventually shipped the drums, new outfits for band members, instruments, wheels and "whatever I could," to TT to assist the band.
He also decided after retiring, he would return to TT.
"I say I coming home to relax – not knowing it is a next full-time job I was going to pick up."
On returning, he felt the panyard needed a facelift. He worked alongside members of the community he hired.
"I drove all over the place, all (in) Arima looking for (oil) drum covers...Fellas asking me, 'What you going to do with that?' I said I had a project to do.
"'Pan is made from drums so at least, the drum covers allyuh discard and throw away, give them to me. I will use it.' So I took every single one of them, we sand it and weld it."
One of the welders, Clyde Kirton, told Newsday they put in "some good hours" of work, sometimes ending as late as 11 pm. But he said he is proud of and pleased with the outcome.
Oropouche West MP Davendranath Tancoo said he was proud of the community for coming together for something like this. "Trinidad Valley Harps is the greatest example of 'You can do anything if you put your mind to it.'
"With the determination to start their own musical band in 1964 – Edward Alvarado started the band...They were innovative from day one, as they had no resources. They went searching for everything and anything – from water barrels people left out at the side of the road, old wheelbarrow wheels and gate fencing to make gates and racks to move pans. They used what they had, and up to today, they continue to show what pure talent and willpower can do," Tancoo said.
Band captain Vernon Flanders said there are enough pans for around 32 people and around 20 have already joined through the band's partnership with the Penal Police Youth Club.