Saluting Bertie Marshall
In the pantheon of pan, Bertie Marshall stands tall as the man to tease harmonics out of steel and push steelband technology to new heights. With an unerring ear for sound and music, Bertie Marshall dedicated his life to the singular pursuit of making the pan an instrument of music at its purest.
It took a special kind of person, with a powerful sense of self, to have survived and accomplished all that Bertie Marshall did.
The times in which he grew up were dread for the general masses, especially the urban underclass. With the tide of history turning towards the mass movement in the Caribbean, British colonial authority kept a tight rein on social control and discipline lest the minority lost its grip on power.
The Americans were active here, too, operating from their base at Chaguaramas. In the global scenario, Trinidad and Tobago was important as a fuelling centre for World War II.
Against this backdrop, Laventille was humming with the sound of a new generation intent on claiming its space for self-expression. It found that expression in the art of calypso and pan.
The danger of mass expression was not lost on the colonial authority that immediately moved to circumscribe both. Pan was outlawed, with panmen declared criminals.
The rich cultural inheritance of which we can boast today, and which defines the very essence of what it is to be Trinbagonian, exists because of the courage of men like Bertie Marshall who were willing to stand up for their art and their rights as human beings, even if it meant defying repressive legislation.
History will not judge us kindly for our failure, as a generation, to recognise to the fullest possible extent, the importance of pioneers like Bertie Marshall. As a people, we still have a very long way to go in coming to terms with our own history.
If we had, we would all understand the extent to which we still carry the many prejudices and attitudes of a colonial society that was fearful of a people's expression.
But, we leave those issues for another time.
Today, we pay respect to an artist, a genius scientist and a patriot who took the blows but kept pursuing the passion of his art so that all of Trinidad and Tobago can stand proudly before the world and lay claim to the marvel that is the pan.
Bertie Marshall never felt his work was done. He believed that there was much more to be achieved with the pan, many more horizons to conquer in both the art and science of the instrument.
As we honour him today, let us consider how we might continue the work and how we could share the story of the genius known as Bertie Marshall for generations to come.
May he rest in peace.