Real Talk - From New York Pan Men and Pan Women - But Is Anybody Listening?

Partially crushed 6-Bass pan in Pan Evolution’s pan yard
Partially crushed 6-Bass pan in Pan Evolution’s pan yard - picture by Wayne Bernard

New York, USA -  Not even a stray dog, wayward mouse or lunatic Brooklyn mosquito to call a friend in the yard on this mid-September evening. Only parts of racks, a partially-crushed 6-Bass pan (compliments of a J’Ouvert morning collision), and a large Ryder truck outside the front entrance blocking the soon-returning-to-its-former-self, unlit lot of land, served then as a reminder that only two weeks prior, this spot was a live cultural music and arts “facility” - vibrant, with hundreds of people coming and going, soaking up the sounds, the passions of the players and the music.

Go directly to the full discussion on the issues impacting and facing the current and next generation, of the people in Pan in New York - below.

Empty pan yard, with a few pan stands left
 Empty pan yard, with a few pan stands left - picture by Wayne Bernard

With resounding clarity and honesty, members of the next generation of leaders, arrangers, tuners, owners, players and managers speak to the dangers and perils that face New York pan. And moreover, that which threatens the New York steelband art form’s very existence from within and without. But is anyone listening?

It was the brainchild of one of the young leaders who was very interested in the general public getting a first-hand understanding of the blood, sweat and tears that go on behind the scenes in bringing out a New York Panorama steel orchestra. The normally-reserved, quiet and extremely hard-working manager/founder of Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra [PESO], Wayne Bernard, invited WST (When Steel Talks) to listen to and document, what key young people in New York Pan had to say, felt, and lived – all for Pan in the community. As Mr. Bernard put it, in part - “There’s a lot of young people who do this Panorama for the culture… It would be good if those people got together and [gave] a real insight of what they endured day in and day out for one, special, short-lived moment [ten minutes on stage for Panorama] to happen.” 

And so it was that in attendance on this evening were those who played major parts in the then-just-concluded New York Panorama-season:  Wayne Bernard, Markus Garceran, André White (Pan Evolution); Damany James (CrossFire); Travis Roberts (CASYM); Odie Franklin, Kamau Hutchinson (Despers USA); Sadé Constantine, Natasha Edwards-Isaac (Genesis Pan Groove); Marc Brooks  (ADLIB); Khuent Rose  (tuner), most pictured below.

Younger generation of movers and shakers in the New York steelband community - 2019
Younger generation of movers and shakers in the New York steelband community at the meet-up hosted in Pan Evolution’s pan yard post-Panorama

Yep, here we were at Pan Evolution’s yard, the life of the party no more, for another Pan season had come and gone.

Ironically it had been during the same week we were ironing out the schedule for the Basement Recordings visit to PESO’s yard to capture the band, when Mr. Bernard pitched the idea of providing a platform where people could talk about the real issues they faced in fielding an orchestra for the annual steelband music ‘game of thrones’ known as Panorama.

And in this regard Mr. Bernard invited a cross-section of the younger pan people in management roles/positions of authority within New York pan to sit down and air their thoughts and issues.

Appropriately so, on that day and in fact in the immediate hours prior to the meet-up, Mr. Bernard was in between moving his racks to storage; no pan fans, no ‘hundred players,’ no band members. Just Wayne and whatever help - essentially one other individual - he could muster, a theme that had played out over and over throughout the New York pan yards. For example, on Facebook Mr. Roberts of CASYM Steel Orchestra stated that he “just wants to sleep, and never see another rack.” Such is the lonely road after Panorama.

This “assemblage” for discussion was critical as it highlighted, among other things, the dysfunctionality between the New York pan community and the promoter of the Panorama, W.I.A.D.C.A. (West Indian American Day Carnival Association). Paraphrasing the words of attendee Khuent Rose as he so appropriately defined the relationship: “tolerating bad governance under the guise of supporting culture.” Not to mention, through the repetitive, unchanging experiences of the annual ‘interaction’ between the two parties – the NY pan community and the promoter – the [bad] examples and lessons that were being taught to the upcoming steelband generation.

Pan Evolution’s pan yard in full rehearsal mode the night before the August 31, 2019 Panorama competition
Pan Evolution’s pan yard in full rehearsal mode the night before the August 31, 2019 Panorama competition

This dysfunctional affiliation is taking its toll on the survival of Pan in New York and is equally, if not more - as destructive as the violence of gentrification on the pan community. The latter, being perpetrated when the “new” residents move to have rehearsals shut down with ‘noise complaints’ and other objections, and also as the result of disappearing pan yard options.

The well-known abusive relationship between the pan community and W.I.A.D.C.A. has contributed mightily to the rapid decline of pan in New York, which once easily placed up to fifteen orchestras in a Panorama. This year there were only seven—an eighth having been blocked by W.I.A.D.C.A. from participating—New York bands, and even these were heavily dependent on “sharing” musicians.

Throw into the mix, “informality.” Some (not all) players sauntering into pan yards at different times, ‘hanging out’ for a period of time, before finally getting to work for the evening behind their instruments. Productivity, practice getting underway in some pan yards somewhere between 9:00 and 10:30 p.m.

New York Pan

Another element is the ‘prize-freeze’ in the competition, which points to the total lack of unity among the bands, and incompetent and self-serving leadership among the band management. Imagine there has been no increase in prize monies in sixteen Panorama seasons. The first prize is still $20,000.00 from back in 2003, through 2019, the present.

It was also highlighted during the discussion that pay out of prize money by W.I.A.D.C.A. over the years remained a constant issue; and that in at least one case, prize monies were outstanding, remained owed to the steel orchestras, and only paid out just before the bands pulled numbers for appearance order in the next Panorama. Meaning just ONE week shy of a calendar year of the previous competition. Incidentally, the 1st prize amount of $20,000.00 was only boosted ‘by force’ when almost all the steel orchestras boycotted W.I.A.D.C.A. in 2001 and 2002. Before the boycott, that first ‘prize’ dollar amount was around $5,000.00 back in 2000.

   Beyond the passion and love is a whole lot of pain - Pan In New York...

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