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Pan music in we pweffen!

Published: 
Sunday, September 2, 2018

An Independence gift to ourselves as an inchoate nation would be to embark on a full appreciation of how steel band, the music and the instruments, trigger impulses in our collective selves across a range of feeling positive and negative, and how we have to learn from those impulses.

Back in the period (1940s and 1950s) of its creative emergence, when the underclass, which discovered this instrument and began exploring the music that could emerge from it, the “social classes” of the day frowned on it, and saw demonic forces in those who were creating, experimenting and engaging in the instrument, and the music they could begin to generate from the rough pans.

Neville Jules once told me that he was often bathed with wastewater from those who lived in the upstairs homes on eastern Duke Street, as he struggled to make something out of the pans brought to him by his colleague Prince Batson—Cross of Lorraine and Trinidad All Stars.

“Play One” for Ellie Mannette, who beat the pan inside, expanded notes its range, and became one of the first waves of tuners/arrangers and steel band leaders, Invaders.

“Play One” too for Rudy Piggott, the historian of the contestations among the bands to protect the instrument and the panmen from imploding against themselves through the “badjohn” culture. Rudy often referred to the “badjohns” as the generals of the steel band who fought to preserve the advances along the way.

“Play One” too for the misguided ruffian police officers and the high and mighty magistrates who hounded and jailed the early panmen who were struggling to create the instrument.

“Play” a positive one for the “white boys”, the “college boys”, Ferreira, Pierre, and the Pouchet brothers who fought against the social prejudice of their social class and put Dixieland and Silver Stars on the road.

Ferreira told me the story of Dixeland in the 1950s, tentatively venturing into the “Behind the Bridge” Carnival, advancing east along Park Street and Tokyo going west.

Fright and panic set in among the Dixieland panmen; but Destination Tokyo from John John shared the road equally with the “white boys”.

That was the 1950s and “we ent learn that lesson yet” from the panmen, that we have to share this place and the culture we have been creating for 500 hundred years.

That is one of the things I mean when I write about steel band and the music reflecting the best of our impulses.

In today’s steel band land, the social lines are crossed between steel band day along the Eastern Main Road in Laventille and on the Avenue in middle-class Woodbrook.

At the moment of 56 years of political Independence we have not yet learned how to infuse into the social, economic, and cultural aspects of our lives, the impulses, characteristics, and lessons of the steel band, and the music it produces to assist with the challenges we face.

I am not referring only to concerts, reinsertion of the steel band into the Carnival and creating space for panmen, arrangers, tuners, flag wavers, pan makers, pan pushers (there is still need for them notwithstanding motorised transport) “toute mounde.”

Those are but a few of the mechanisms to be used to have the pan and the music impact our lives. Utilised in such a manner, the pan, the music, the players, the arrangers bring joy to our lives.

Beyond the practical application of the steel band and its music, it impacts at the metaphysical and spiritual levels which we need to understand, experience and to allow it to impact the ethos of our existence.

I am neither student of metaphysics or spiritualist, but my rudimentary understanding of those two phenomena, coupled with my experience of steel band music in pan yards, on the streets, at the concert halls, along the “Drag” and elsewhere lead me to conclude that there is something ethereal, celestial, in the feeling of the steel band and the music, its ability to transport you to a higher place of understanding and being.

I have been observing how the young players, such as those in the St Margaret’s Youth band, and those in the big bands are “playing themselves” and instruments; how the younger arrangers are interpreting the music of the likes of Voice, Kes, and others of the present age, who are adding to the legacy of Kitchener, Sparrow, Blue Boy, Scrunter, and others of that generation.

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