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The Best Pan Plan

Keith Smith
Friday, October 1st 2004

"Somehow," Lloyd Best began his seminal La Joya lecture three years ago, "I sense that this is a propitious moment. Keith Smith once wrote a series of articles in the Tapia newspaper about Bertie Marshall which he called "Pan Is Mih Gyul." They were delightful pieces." I was so moved, I dared to make my first ever proposal to the pan community. It was a proposal for a Pan Theatre somewhere. That was 30 years ago."

I have seized upon Mr Best's introduction ("Tuning Up", he called it with instructive wit) not because I want to court praise but to show that Best and I have been after this "pan ting," revolutionary intervention really, for a long time but as he went on to note:

"Of course nothing like that has happened, despite the petro-dollar bonanza we enjoyed in the years between 1973 and 1982. And then one magnificent dry season evening, not very different from this, Scherzando invited me to the panyard in Curepe, a little way up the road from here. That was in January 1995. Now six years later, the ideas we then traded on "School in Pan" have gained such currency, Pan Trinbago has asked to see the text.

"Here we are this evening, at this festive occasion at La Joya to present the awards competed for during the World Steelband Festival 2000 and Panorama 2001, with a preview of Panorama 2002. I take note that Boogsie has only just announced his programme to promote activity all the year round at the Phase Two panyard. In this morning's Express, Terry Joseph reports on a brainstorming on Pan held in New York a few days ago. So it does indeed feel like the season to come back to School in Pan. I admit to being encouraged, not the least by this assembly of pan enthusiasts. It is an opportunity I feel duty bound to seize. What we have to talk about tonight is the reform of Panorama, long overdue.

"I must confess I've not met any member of the Pan community for whom the compelling requirement of reform is not money, meaning that our premier competition cannot continue not to seek to transform Pan as art and entertainment into business. Its mandate cannot but be to convert the panyard into an economic zone and an education plant as well as a breeding ground for community and culture. The priority now can only be to offer a combination of jobs and incomes. I mean profits, salaries and wages, money.

"We know that Pan cannot help making music, of course. But can it hope to survive and endure for another 60-70 years, unless it also made money by triggering economic and industrial transformation, along with social rehabilitation and civic welfare for the great multitude of the people? Emphatically, the answer is no. However, the one thing we're not talking about here is outdoor relief or handouts to the needy.

"We do indeed envisage public as well as private spending on a considerable scale. But the purpose cannot be to subsidise popular amusement at Carnival or to encourage bragging about what Trinbagonians are proud to say we invented during the course of the 20th century. What is in prospect here is remuneration for work, value for expertise and art, payment for service.

"The only conceivable ends are viability and prosperity. The only conceivable means are what already exists, what has been proven and arrived with a track record. From a practical standpoint then, what we have to deal with is Panorama. There is no other starting point. The task is to convert it and employ it. What has been an engaging show and showcase of talent in the 20th century must in the 21st century be transformed into the dynamo, the generator and the motor of Pan..."

Since then, as we know, self-generated pan activity has increased exponentially-but most people, including those willing to pay for just about everything else want pan pleasure "for free" or they not going and, as for the government, well, Bertie Marshall will tell you how aghast Dr Eric Williams was when the ace-pan tuner suggested that government should invest serious money in steelband's development, "The Doc" biting off Bertie's head with:

"What! You expect me to take the country's money and put it in pan!"

Lest you think I am making this last up let me tell you it is all there on the public record (Dalton Narine's delightful documentary The Bertie Marshall Story, aired on TV6, September 24, 2003) and I drag it up only to suggest that that is the enduring PNM attitude to pan, not that succeeding administrations have not given financial assistance, only nothing like on the scale necessary and, certainly, nothing to suggest that they see steelband as anything more that Carnival entertainment.

But, then, why should I expect anything more from a party that justly prides itself as being the harbinger of the nationalist movement but has never had a clue as to that movement's requirements, not least when it came to representing the long-term interests of Afro-Trinidadians which, come to think of it, is exactly what Indo-Trinidadians could say about the UNC both observations, let me tell you, testifying to the poverty of representation the majority of the country has endured and we are not even talking about the representation required were we to emerge as a resourceful Republic, free, rich responsible and, above all united, but I am getting beside myself with vexness, all these PNM eyes blind to the wanton waste of the patrimony in the past, now at present and, God and the young people forbid, in the future....


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