What next for pan?

Randall Mitchell - Photo by Ayanna Kinsale
Randall Mitchell - Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

RUDY PAUL

NOW THAT the steelpan has been declared the national musical instrument of TT, my question to all and sundry, beginning with Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Randal Mitchell, is: What’s next? Or would a “big steups” suffice?

My love for the instrument is fully understood by anyone even vaguely familiar. Most steelpan players, pan lovers and supporters would be elated with that earth-moving, parliamentary decision. Unfortunately, I am not among them. In a land where governments thrive on distractions, I can think of several other more worthy decisions.

But recognising incompetence seems to be this government’s special talent. Gives people like myself something to bray about. We see it with the annual awards and at other ceremonies; a most recently one was with the hoisting of a “million-dollar peace pole.” Seems like anyone can just come up with an idea, wacky as it may be, run it by his colleagues and next thing is it becomes a decision. I can think of numerous examples to support my claim.

A couple examples range from the conversion of Tragarette Road and Ariapita Avenue to one-way traffic and back again. Complementing that brainstorm was the installation of the traffic lights at the Roxy Roundabout. Another one involved plastering the walls of Laperouse Cemetery. A “lighthouse” in the middle of the “Valencia roundabout” was another billion-dollar idea.

And from conception to finish no one saw anything flawed with any of these ideas; or if they did, it really didn’t matter.

Before anyone gets the idea that I am condemning the steelpan movement, let me make it abundantly clear: I owe the steelpan movement a great debt. My involvement dates back to my entry into high school, in 1966. It remained my first love for decades. It allowed me to travel to jurisdictions I would have never been able to visit on my own. And while it remains close to my bosom, the poor representation and politicisation of the instrument has managed to run several people away from events organised by Pan Trinbago.

I made the point on several occasions that an organisation or institution is only as good as the people who work, manage or run it. That Pan Trinbago has remained dysfunctional, yet still receives significant government subvention annually defies both logic and common sense. The $12 million white elephant eyesore on the highway in Trincity stands as a testament to my analysis. Of course, anyone closely associated with the organisation would seek to defend the indefensible. Associates of that organisation cannot afford to offend anyone, or “bite the hand that feeds them.”

Recognising the steelpan as the national musical instrument does nothing to improve the management of the organisation or the promotion of the instrument. Japan, Sweden, and a couple other European nations have done and are doing marvellous work with the instrument. Meanwhile, the pannist in the home of the steelpan cannot make a living playing the national instrument, except maybe a small cadre of arrangers.

No one cares that the steelpan originated here. We are still debating who is the inventor. Winston Spree Simon, while given recognition as that person, at least in a song by the late Grand Master Lord Kitchener, remains inaccurate. We now know it was being developed in both north and south simultaneously. Nor can we grasp the concept of serendipitous. Citizens do not even listen to the steelpan. Many refer to it as noise.

Claiming that it is now officially the national musical instrument and expecting that significant changes are on the way is no different that changing the name from BWIA to CAL, while retaining the same staff, yet expecting profits. Nor was changing the name from HDC to NHA and expecting that outstanding debts would be suddenly paid. I distinctly recall when the TTPS added “With Pride” to its motto, To Protect and Serve. And I asked then, as I do now, what changes can we expect from this organisation?

I noted the current president tooting her own horn about Pan Trinbago's new proposed headquarters on Wrightson Road and how “excited” she was. She boldly added that “it will be a multimillion-dollar generator.” Perhaps Pan Trinbago president Beverley Ramsey-Moore can tell us when in the history of Pan Trinbago has this organisation ever generated a profit? It has, from its inception, been and continues to be reliant on annual government handouts.

Perhaps Mitchell will introduce a follow-up bill in Parliament making it mandatory that radio stations play at least 25 per cent steelpan music during the day. And force citizens to listen.

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