It has been 29 years since pan was declared the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, and since then, every August Pan Trinbago commemorates Pan Month with a series of events. This year, though, because of the restrictions imposed by the covid19 pandemic, all planned events are largely virtual.
The month-long celebrations began on August 1 with a video on the organisation's Facebook page and YouTube channel of the late Ursula Tudor, who died on July 21 and who was Desperadoes’ longest-standing female pan player, and continues with a variety of webinars and other online events.
The virtual celebrations bring pan sharply into focus in a rapidly changing world, and Pan Trinbago president Beverly Ramsey-Moore is looking toward how pan fits into it. She said one of the things the organisation is looking at as it goes forward is a virtual Panorama.
Because of the challenges posed by the pandemic, Ramsey-Moore said the entertainment sector and Pan Trinbago will have to find new ways of providing entertainment, and that is where a possible virtual Panorama comes in.
“Whether it means, is it that we are not going to have a Panorama next year? But with more people vaccinated and so on can we have a virtual Panorama?”
Ramsey-Moore believes it it possible with some adjustments.
“So we have to reinvent or re-engineer Panorama to fit into a virtual world. In terms of our events, that is something we are also looking at,” including possibly having to decrease the number of players in the large bands category.
Ramsey-Moore said despite the challenging times brought on by the pandemic the organisation is doing its best to ensure that it keeps its members up-to-date and ensure that it provides entertainment for pan enthusiasts throughout TT and the world.
At the moment, she said, the entire entertainment industry is on pause, but Pan Trinbago has been using this downtime to develop its pillars of sustainability.
The organisation has been focused on economic sustainability, using tools like its recently reopened drum factory to generate income. It has been receiving orders, she said, in preparation for the reopen of the entertainment industry.
Pan Trinbago's agricultural thrust, Plant Trinbagrow, is another way the organisation plans to further generate income. The objective of the project is to grow crops, package then and sell then under a Pan Trinbago label. But, Ramsey-Moore said, actually getting the project off the ground has been hampered by the pandemic. She is instead hoping to have that up and running in 2022.
A land management committee has already been appointed, but because the organisation was unable to raise any revenue from Panorama (its main revenue stream), the project was shelved for a bit. However, she said, the land management team has started some backyard gardening.
As it regards helping members through this difficult period, she said Pan Trinbago has projects like the social prosperity fund that assists its members most in need. The fund has been used to help over 1,000 families with things like hampers, payment of utility bills and even the distribution of tablets for children of its members. The organisation is currently working on a school book drive. Its main focus, at this time, Ramsey-Moore said, is ensuring that its membership is being served.
“With no income coming in it has been a really difficult time.
“While central government would have provided a grant to artistes and which we are extremely grateful that some of our pan players have been able to benefit, the organisations like the steelband organisations because they have not been able to generate any income over the last year and more, it is really proving difficult.”
Ramsey-Moore said as band manager of Katzenjammers Steel Orchestra, dealing with some of her band’s expenses has been challenging.
Its utility bills for one year was over $18,000 and the band has not been able to raise “one cent” despite being self-sufficient, because it earns money through sales from its bar, gift shop and food court, which were all closed (at the time of interview) because of covid19 restrictions.
She is, however, confident that bands and the steelpan movement will see better days as long as its members stay safe and are vaccinated.
The organisation has been working closely with its line ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts and the Ministry of Health to ensure its players and their families are registered for vaccination.
“We have seen bands that will go on tours and more of their players are coming forward because they want to get out of the country to do their jobs on the outside.
“From a Pan Trinbago perspective, we have registered over 300 people to go get vaccinated and it has been happening nicely.”
But, she said, there has been push back from some people.
“We will continue to educate and inform because the only way we can get back out there to provide the kind of entertainment and socialise the way we do in pan, is to ensure that all of our people and their families are vaccinated.”
She said it is the only way out and Pan Trinbago will continue to encourage its members.
Asked if the organisation will make a decision as to whether or not it will allow unvaccinated into its entertainment spaces once the industry reopens, Ramsey-Moore said if it comes to that, that is what they will have to do.
“Safety is our main focus. Our priority is about saving lives and if that is what it takes for us to begin generating income once again, then I will support a move like that.”
She said the organisation had hosted virtual events when there was an ease in restrictions and spaces like the National Academy for the Performing Arts could have been used. But now it is unable to do so as the spaces remain closed for entertainment purposes. While there has been some ease in global and local restrictions, she said in many cases people have to be vaccinated to access those spaces. And even as TT relaxes some of its restrictions and its vaccination drive is ongoing, Ramsey-Moore is uncertain come the end of Pan Month if Pan Trinbago will see entertainment spaces reopen.
"Only the government will be able to say that," she said.
But while the pan body waits for what comes next, its central focus is going to be on its economic and social pillars of development as it looks for new ways to generate income.