Pan Trinbago is currently celebrating Pan Month throughout the country and at the inter-faith service to launch the celebration Fr Clyde Harvey remarked that “panyards are sacred ground and should be used to effectively address the crime situation plaguing this country and help rehabilitate youth”.
A timely reminder especially at a time when gang violence is wreaking havoc in east Port of Spain.
In delivering his speech, the popular Roman Catholic priest echoed a philosophy that was articulated almost ten years ago by the late Lloyd Best. In a series of articles entitled ‘School in Pan’ Best highlighted the need “to build community spirit and guide the transformation of young persons by giving them a means of creative expression through their involvement with the steelband”.
Like Fr Harvey, Best was a tireless advocate for Trinidad and Tobago to, as he put it, “design forms of organisation inspired by our own experience and traditions”. It is indeed a pity that after 50 years of independence there is still this profound lack of self-confidence in our indigenous capabilities and there remains a persistent search for solutions that originate beyond our shores.
One of the more important lessons to be learned from Jehue Gordon’s brilliant performance on the world stage is that “home grown” does not mean “second best”. Like Jehue, the steelband is completely “home grown” with the potential to significantly “guide the transformation of young persons”.
The annual budget will be presented in a few weeks and already the Ministry of National Security is hoping for a massive allocation to support the fight against crime. Millions will undoubtedly be spent on instruments of suppression and while these are necessary it is equally important to invest heavily in the so-called “softer” side of policing.
Police Youth clubs, for instance, can play a major role in rebuilding trust between the police and the communities but they require considerable technical and financial assistance.
Pan can make an even greater impact but it too needs financial support especially outside the Carnival season. It is unbelievable for instance, that a steelband like Birdsong still has to be begging for funds to conduct its annual programme of activities. This is an organisation that has taken the steelband beyond the once-a-year Panorama and has established an annual programme that includes free music education classes and a series of benefit concerts to raise funds for university scholarships. Their recent vacation camp was oversubscribed and many youngsters had to be turned away because of insufficient funds. Perhaps Birdsong should expand into the wrecking business where wrecking a single fire truck would have provided enough money to fund their activities for the next ten years.
Several steelbands are also embracing a vision that sees the instrument and the panyard as key components in youth development. In the deep south Diatonics from Siparia is one such group and there is also the Nightingales steel orchestra in La Brea which is sponsored by the National Gas Company. I recently attended the closing ceremony for a vacation pan camp in La Brea sponsored by the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism and I was pleasantly surprised by the large turnout of parents, children and well-wishers. This suggests that Nightingales is offering the community and the youth in particular something that they value and appreciate. No wonder the band has grown in three short years from small to large band status at the annual Panorama competition.
Under the leadership of former OWTU executive Hollis Alexander, musical director Tyrelle Marcelle, captain Errol Joseph and former schoolteacher Michael Scott, Nightingales recently completed a strategic plan which emphasises its role “as a catalyst to energise the people towards socio-economic development”. Another member of the management committee, Margaret Davis, who has an MSc in Forensic Psychology, also made the point that “the ‘panyard’ is an excellent place for implementing human development programmes. With the advantage of already having community support, bands can help reinforce norms and positive values, expose youth to positive role models, increase feelings of collective responsibility, as well as teach youth the importance of discipline, and hard work”.
This was the basis for Best’s theory of “School in Pan” and it reinforces the tremendous potential of the steelband movement as a vehicle for youth development. Best also outlined a more enlightened approach to sponsorship and the role of the business sector . He wrote that “all firms which are now sponsors should be recruited not so much for funding but to provide management and above all but to train a cadre in a systematic way”. The training and development of the pannists themselves should therefore become a primary objective of sponsors especially since the movement is becoming younger and more female. In terms of sustainability Best also suggested that steelbands should expand into the area of small business and he wrote that “efficient and effective small business must be an automatic outgrowth”.
In keeping with this mandate, Nightingales recently registered a company called Nightingales Enterprises Limited as it seeks to become more self-sufficient and sustainable. Hopefully the business community in La Brea will be supportive. And earlier this year Birdsong established Birdsong Agriculture Investments Limited which has since acquired a two-acre plot at Orange Grove that is currently under cultivation. Another signal that the steelband is growing beyond the limitations of Panorama and is moving forward as David Rudder sang “to a new perfection”.