Thursday, January 18, 2018

The power of steelband on the road

Part 2

To me, growth of the steelband means more participation by our youth, more opportunities to generate income, and more steelband activities throughout the year.

This is why I have been an advocate for moving the Panorama to another time of year, maybe as the climax of a month-long pan festival.

The Carnival season is relatively short, with many aspects of culture -- chutney, soca, calypso — competing with each other for location, time and the fans’ Carnival dollar.

From purely a business perspective, it would seem to make sense to move the Panorama to a time of year when there is little cultural competition.

The Panorama could then be scheduled to give all aspects of the steelband time to be sold, promoted and advertised.

And don’t tell me there won’t be support in Trinidad and Tobago for Panorama as a stand-alone festival at a time of year with no significant cultural competition. If that is the case then we might as well surrender all our aspirations for continued growth of the steelband.

This switch would allow the bands to concentrate fully on Carnival when, with planning, the bands could have fun, entertain the public with shows, dances, bigger street competitions etc, and (hopefully) make some money. And this would give the steelbands two big festivals annually.

I firmly believe that Panorama can be successful as a separate festival, even with the possibility of growth into an international competition.

For many steelbands, their activities for the year end with their participation in Panorama, and for some bands this comes early, and the panyard is dead until the next Panorama — the “dead panyard syndrome”.

Carnival was the time when the communities embraced their steelband and the panyard became a focus of pre-Carnival activities for many since the practice session was usually a mini pan concert.

This is when many discovered and learned to love their local band, and how bands developed their fan base that supported them on the streets at Carnival.

Unfortunately most Carnival practice sessions revolve around the Panorama selection, making the practice session relatively boring for the casual fan.

The mobile steelband on the road was an art form unto itself, but was never truly appreciated as such. Even the act of pulling the pans represented the closeness of the link between the steelband and the community.

Deliberately or not, those ties have been weakened, and the big steelbands have been contained in and by the Savannah. Now let me state categorically that I have nothing against Panorama. I love the festival and have enjoyed the great Panorama performances.

But the growth of modern Panorama has taken away from most bands’ ability to fully participate in the Carnival.

This is unfortunate as I think the Carnival season should be prime time for the steelband to be displayed to the world since I also happen to think that the steelband was made for the road.

This is how many of us fell in love with steelbands in the early days — the mobile dynamic steelband on the road, not on a stage.

In the old days, we usually had a stage side that kept the band going through the year, but the big thing, the thing we all looked forward to, was strutting our stuff on the road at Carnival.

So ingenious ways were developed to make the pan mobile.

The Panorama steelband has never been a “stage” side. It is a glorified “road” side. Those wheels were really not meant to bring pans on a stage, they were meant for mobility on the road.

And modern Panorama music is not Carnival party music, or road music. It has become classical music for pan.

Returning the bands to the road (and hopefully the dance hall) would encourage them to practise and learn dance music each year.

There are ways this could be done with professionalism.

Bands must be able to meet the needs of masqueraders and revellers, something we’ve never really done properly.

Monies that annually go to a few top bands as Panorama prize money could be used instead to assist all bands with viable programmes to prepare and support a professional presentation on the road.

There are enough pannists that a system of shifts could be used.

Paid assistants (pullers) could assure mobility and modern, more flexible carriages could be designed for increased mobility. Decisions about special routes, times, etc could be made in conjunction with the Carnival authorities.

There are a lot of good ideas out there, and, as the saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way. There was a time when bands like Harmonites, Silver Stars, Invaders, Desperadoes, Cavaliers and others each had musical repertoires capable of generating a record album every year.

That was in the 1960s and 70s. This is the 21st century. What happened?

(Part 1 of this article appeared in the Express on March 8)

* Glenroy R Joseph is a former

masquerader and steelband player, An ardent lover of the pan and its culture, he currently lives in New Hampshire in the US.