A historical look at the pan with a focus on the contribution of a small village to its evolution has been documented. The meaningful and relevant documentation in the form of a book titled, Panriga — Tacarigua’s Contribution to the Evolution of the Steelband Phenomenon in Trinidad and Tobago written by Kenrick P Thomas, was recently launched at the National Library and Information System Authority (Nalis). The book, a revised version (the original was first launched in 1999) tells the story of the development of pan in an in-depth account of Tacarigua’s role in the pan landscape of Trinidad and Tobago.
Thomas, a pan pioneer in his own right has been involved in all aspects of the pan spectrum. The former executive member of the national steelband body then known as the National Association of Trinidad and Tobago Steelbandsmen (NATTS), the forerunner to today’s Pan Trinbago, introduced the pan stands for the tenor pans by taking them off the laps of the players during the semifinals of the music festival held at Roxy Theatre in 1956. While Thomas is credited with this honour he finds it a hard pill to swallow that the evolution of the pan has been credited to areas in Port of Spain and neighbouring communities, while small villages like Tacarigua get little or no mention.
Thomas said there are hundreds of unrecognised pan pioneers in various districts and villages. He noted that Tacarigua has a rich history in the evolution of the pan phenomenon.Thomas’s aunt, a resident of Tacarigua, Rufina Thomas-Thompson, has also gone down in history as the first woman to play a tune on the pan when in 1946 she played “Symphony of Love” on the ping pong pan at a concert held at the Rex Cinema in Arouca. Thomas has also documented a controversial issue in which he noted that the national instrument was born out of Orisha tradition and culture which at the time was prevalent in Tacarigua.
Thomas said there are many districts and communities throughout the country that have contributed to the overall development of the steel pan. “Being involved in the steelband movement as an administrator I have had the privilege and opportunity to hear steelband pioneers venture to give their versions of the birth and development of the steelband.
But on every occasion I have heard that the steelband originated in Port of Spain. People like me who hailed from a country district generally were not given the opportunity to seriously report on the major contribution made by the hundreds of under recognised pioneers in those outlying districts.
“Tacarigua is one of the districts that made substantial contributions to the steelband milieu and I am now endeavouring to document some of them, for the benefit of all, so that we may get much closer to the true account of the phenomenon,” Thomas said. “It was apparently perceived that no one from outside the cities and towns was capable of making any worthwhile contribution to the evolution of the steelband phenomenon at that time. Notwithstanding I was the person that introduced the pan stands for the tenor pans by taking them off the laps of the players during the semifinals of the music festival held at Roxy Theatre in 1956.
But I was always being dismissed whenever I dare to highlight any contributions to the evolution of the steelband phenomenon my villagers of my Tacarigua district and I resolved to do something about that situation which resulted in the documentation of the knowledge I had of some of the worthwhile contributions. Pioneers from other districts should be inspired to do likewise and document their own inputs which up to now may be unknown.”
He added: “It is informative to note that most of the members of the first steelband in Tacarigua were all proponents of the then despised Orisha religion called also known as Shango which incidentally was then quite prevalent in Tacarigua. My uncle Bernard Mack Thomas who was also known as Zoro was the top Orisha drummer in the district during the 1940s who became one of the main person in the establishment of the first steelband in Tacarigua which was based at his home in Dinsley Village in Tacarigua. My aunt, Zoro’s sister Rufina Thomas-Thompson was greatly despised and ridiculed by her friends and even some relatives whom she dared and join her brother and others in the 40’s in the steelband fraternity.”
The book’s publisher, Ian Isidore Smart, of Original World Press, said the book is a very important missing document in our steelband history. He noted that Tacarigua has made a substantial contribution to the pan which Thomas has tackled with integrity.
“Pangria is an important line of defence against T&T’s cultural sovereignty. Many are the forces at work today trying to wrest from us the ownership of this artform but a book like Pangria is an important line of defence against those assaults,” Isidore said.
At the launch, Pan Trinbago president, Keith Diaz, called for the book to be available in schools. Former member of Parliament Eddie Hart said Thomas was his mentor. He said Thomas played a major part not only in his development in the pan but also moulding him in other fields. He said steelbands continue to face many problems. “I am still looking at some of the problems that steelbands continue to encounter right now like tenure of land. Also many bands are not sponsored and it is not easy to bring a band without sponsorship. It is still debatable who played the first tune on the pan and all that sort of thing but the fact remains that the steelband was born here and we should all be very proud of the pan and do all that we could do to help the bands that need help,” Hart said.
Kenrick P Thomas was born in Cane Farm Village but grew up in Dinsley Village, Tacarigua. He became directly involved with steelband music in 1946 at the early age of 13 when he was drafted into the village’s steelband, Boom Town, to play one of the pans called the “kittle”. In 1962 he was elected to the executive committee of the National Association of Trinidad and Tobago Steelbands men (NATTS) He demitted in 1971, the same year in which NATTS evolved into Pan Trinbago.