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Guest Opinion

Guest Opinion




By Khalick J. Hewitt
International Steelpan & Calypso Society
Nov 10, 2004

Recently, the Trinidad and Tobago Legal Affairs Minister Danny Montano announced that he was appointing a committee to protect the steelpan from exploitation by non-nationals. I am always amazed at the amount of gallerying that goes on between the Government and the steelband movement. Minister Danny Montano’s latest gallery attempt to hoodwink the steelband movement is doing it a great a disservice. Mr. Montano is offering State-sponsored protectionism for the steelpan. In this age of globalization any form of protectionism is an anachronism. The steelpan can take its rightful place among the other instruments of the world without this futile attempt of State-sponsored protectionism.

On November 5, 2004 I read in the Newsday newspaper that Mr. Montano announced that Government had appointed a committee whose mandate is: to prevent a group of individuals such as non-nationals from copying and exploiting the steelpan; to prevent certain persons from acquiring any intellectual property right over the instrument and associated methods of manufacture; to grant the people of Trinidad and Tobago the exclusive right to make and exploit the instrument; to ensure that any copies of the steelpan indicate that the origin of the instrument is Trinidad and Tobago; to encourage international recognition of the steelpan as a musical instrument originating in Trinidad and Tobago and perhaps as a national icon and national treasure and lastly to maintain the currency of the instrument so that it continues to be played and listened to by the younger generation. The reason that I am outlining the mandate of this soon to be appointed committee is that I want the pan public and the public in general to understand the gallerying that is taking place here.

Now, let me address the Minister’s proposed mandate. The first thing that the Minister can do is get Parliament to pass an Act of Parliament to recognize the steelpan as the national instrument. No statements by any Minister, including the Prime Minister will make this instrument national. Items to be deemed ‘national’ need an Act of Parliament to get any legal standing in the international community. The manufacturers of the steelpan should certainly patent their instruments but that would only refer to the design and not the steelpan per se. There is no need for a committee to grant the people of Trinidad and Tobago exclusive rights to make and exploit the instrument. Already, pantuners/builders have that right and they can have ‘exclusive rights’ if they patent their various designs. I don’t know if the Government can ensure putting the words ‘originated in Trinidad and Tobago’ on any foreign patented design of the instrument. It would be the right of the designer to put the place of origin on his or her design.

How can the international community recognize the steelpan as a national icon and national treasure when the Government has not instituted the steelpan by an Act of Parliament? National treasures are the result of legislation and not by making overtures to the international community for such recognition. In order to maintain the ‘currency of the instrument’ it must be given daily airplay on the radios and television. The ‘national instrument’ should be given its own space on the airways. Perhaps, dedicating a half hour each day for steelpan music would be a start. And, the middleclass must participate in the steelband movement as stakeholders and not just playing in a steelband for the Carnival. Also, the instrument must be given social status. Perhaps, using the instrument to play the national anthem at the opening of each school day would go a long way for social acceptance. All schools should have their own steelband orchestra (instead of borrowing the large steelbands’ instruments) and hold annual national school steelband festival among the different schools.

The Minister said that the committee is mandated to consider the establishment of a programme to grant official recognition to exceptionally talented, tradition-bearers and craftspersons. The best way to recognize talent is to provide a musical scholarship to deserving panists so that they may learn to speak the language of their instrument. What I mean is that panists should be trained in musical theory so that they can better understand their instrument and be best able to represent it to the international community. Too many times you would see a panist being interviewed by the international media but he (and it is usually a male) is not able to put his craft in musical terms. Learning music will enable the panist to explain his instrument to the world.

Lastly, the Government can assist the panist and the steelband movement by addressing the unemployment among the panists by providing jobs and other economic opportunities for them. Most of the employment in the country is situated in the areas where the steelbands dominate. The eradication of the drug trade, that is devastating those areas, can be eradicated by developing economic opportunities in those areas. No, Mr. Minister you are only gallerying with steelpan but I await to see the results of your State-sponsored protectionism.

To the rendezvous of victory,

Khalick J. Hewitt, President & Founder

International Steelpan & Calypso Society


Contact Khalick Hewitt <>


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