Let’s face it, notwithstanding the severe difficulties currently being faced by the organisation with overall responsibility for the steel band movement, the annual Panorama competition has not been the “disaster” described by people who are indifferent to the value of the instrument as creative expression and as a socio-economic resource.
It is true that pan is much, much more than this decades’ old contest for musical supremacy employing rather rigid standards worthy of constant review. But it has played an important part in asserting a well-founded truism that in T&T we have the best steel bands in the world capable of playing the music of the greatest pan arrangers, on instruments blended by the leading pan tuners anywhere on the planet.
We also need to recognise that Panorama, as a competitive music festival, is unique in its employment of an indigenous instrument, together with the social and cultural modalities that make steel bands work. In this respect, there is nothing else like it outside of the Caribbean, though we have had to invent and reinvent ways of getting things to work over the many years.
However, none of this is to suggest that we have always been able to get everything right. The recent elections to install a new executive committee to run Pan Trinbago raised most of the vexing issues.
For example, like almost every single national institution, there are issues of good governance to be addressed by the formal steel band movement—however much they are often replicated in the individual pan yards as national or sectional organisational culture. Witness the identical challenges in sport, civil society conduct, the professions, and in politics.
The essential elements of transparency in the conduct of business, together with a high level of personal and collective accountability are often challenged by authoritarian instincts. These are, of course, a statement on the national condition, but no excuse for mediocre performance when it comes to the things that matter most.
The financing of pan was also always destined to reach the point where serious questions of financial sustainability had to be confronted. The current cash crunch nationally and within a debt-ridden Pan Trinbago will hopefully get us to the point of settling the issue sooner rather than later.
Incidentally, I am among those who do not put Panorama in the same column for state support as mas’, fête, soca or calypso. Unlike the others, the nature of the relief required to support pan ought to span the entire spectrum of entrepreneurial initiative, corporate investment, and a measure of state support. The people who want to have fêtes, contests, and shows (including calypso tents) need to find their own money.
The challenge to raise stipends for pan players this year can and will expose bands to possibilities forgone in previous years. The steel band demographic, however, exposes uneven economic terrain, and corporate financial investment ought to follow areas of greatest need, as they will most likely find that bang for marketing buck need not emerge exclusively from the popularity or the past successes of bands.
Finally (for now at least), let’s talk about the 163 steel bands that responded to this year’s Panorama roll call. And let’s be brutally frank. T&T is not a 163-band country within the context of a competitive music festival.
Most people in the know can tell you that big and medium bands routinely rely on a breach of Panorama Rule 4.4 (b) which prohibits the participation of pannists in an orchestra who are also players in other bands within the same category.
This rule either needs to be changed (and there is a case for opening it up) or more rigidly applied.
Ms Ramsey-Moore has meanwhile quite rightly signalled to the freeloaders that this year will not be business as usual. There is also a need to insist on greater orderliness while bands are on stage, and consultations with photographers, videographers, and reporters covering the shows to both set the protocols for coverage and to ensure conditions are right for professional conduct of their duties.
The new Pan Trinbago crew has my support but will remain under the microscope.