ON REPUBLIC Day I was fortunate to have the pleasure of sitting in the hallowed grounds of Fatima College to attend the showing of a documentary called Panazz: The Story, promoted by the TT Film Festival.
What started off as just a lime to support my son’s classmate and a family friend became a life-changing event that renewed my love for being a Trinidadian/Tobagonian, my love for music, and my love for family.
“Do not fear to be brilliant” is one quotation (of many) that stood out for me in the opening passionate speech by the creator of this masterpiece, Adam Bartholomew. At 20 years old he had the maturity/insight of one well beyond his years, which was reflected in his story of all the people who have contributed to who he is today.
As Danielle Dieffenthaller alluded to at the beginning of the show, we Trinis, as is our culture, do not take part and support the upcoming/present talent in our midst, and then want to claim credit when they "make it big" overseas, after all the blood, sweat and tears have already been put in.
TT has so much natural talent in the art forms to refine and harness – and showcase to the world. The phrase “do not fear to be brilliant” should be an underlying motto in all of our schools – academic, music, dance – and all art forms because our naturally gifted culture has what it takes.
In the journey of Panazz, the attention to detail of the brain and heart behind the steelband, Bartholomew, was of great significance – every aspect of performance, the arrangement of the pieces, with inspiration, primarily from jazz, but also from other genres of music, creating a sound that was totally their own.
The emphasis on excellence, while encouraging the individual charisma of each musician, especially the front line, to highlight their showmanship while keeping true to the band’s delivery, is something every band can learn from. And, of course, the stage presence with the outfits creates an impact – even before a sound is heard of a well put-together group – as soon as the players step on stage.
The underlying importance of the support of family, as well as the group treating each other as a family, had a profound effect on the delivery of this story, and it was quite poignant that this was the part of Bartholomew’s speech that touched him as well as many of the people present.
The Bartholomew family and family home were the source and stabilising force of the band – from the basic fact that the rehearsals were held at that home, to the fact that their most valued fan was a close family friend – Mrs Vilain (with her gold-sequinned cap). Even considering the reality that a seven-year-old member, calling him “Uncle Barry,” was allowed to be part of this close-knit group of individuals, even years later to go on tour, showed the underlying closeness and trust within the group.
The Trini family that works well knows how to work hard, lime hard, laugh hard, enjoy every moment, while delivering standards of excellence. The Bartholomew and Panazz family show us just that.
Last but not least, the Panazz story highlights Trinidad’s gift to the world – the steelpan. While people reflect on the negative side of slavery, we can celebrate the perseverance, creativity and talent of a people who created an instrument and a unique form of music that represented a cultural identity associated with freedom.
The history of the instrument is as important as the sound itself, and perhaps it is providential that this year the steelpan has been given the recognition it deserves with the declaration by the UN of August 11 as World Steelpan Day.
Perhaps we in TT need to reflect on where we are at and where we are going. Pan cannot be seasonal if it is to thrive, and this is what Panazz has demonstrated – the ability to perform all types of music throughout the year, to be played and enjoyed by everyone.
Perhaps it is time to revisit the Pan in School initiative, where every child can be given the opportunity to learn to read music and play the pan, and then pursue other instruments and art forms. Also, the Panazz model of a small band can be used within schools – a pan band (a few pans and percussion) vs just pan sides.
As TT celebrates its 47th year as a republic, let us reflect on who we are as a nation, and in the midst of our reality, contemplate the words, “do not be afraid to be great.” We Trinis have many God-given talents that we need to value, harness and share with the world, but we first need to believe we are brilliant and pool our talents, resources and passion to make our country the great place it can be. Let the Panazz experience be the starting point for this journey to greatness.