“Competition raises the standard and levels of individuals and groups as proven in so many other events.” Salah Wilson
WST - Is Pan where it should be after 50 years? Or is this journey so improbable that it can’t really be measured or quantified?
Salah - “The Journey of the Pan can indeed be measured and quantified. As an instrument one can turn back the pages of history to acknowledge the leaps in innovation that have been made from the crude instrument produced at its inception, to the present quality, precise instruments that are today available.
“From the cultural aspect, one can compare the similarities with the Pan movement to that of the Jazz movement. For the people who invented these two cultural movements, how were they treated at the inception and the struggles that were undertaken, to be accepted and recognized? The rise of the Jazz culture came about when it was accepted by people other than who invented it. But where was the Jazz culture after 50 years in comparison to that of the Pan culture? We can take solace in that the Pan still has an untold future. The meteoric rise of the Pan internationally in the last two decades is evidence of a perceived longevity.”
WST - Do you believe that there are any significant challenges along the journey of Pan?
Salah - “I believe that one of the handicaps for the last 50 years notably in the Pan Yards of Trinidad & Tobago has been the lack of theoretical musical education. This has not only affected the musical progress of the masses of Pan players but has delayed acceptance of the Pan players by the public as authentic musicians. As an author I have written and published six Steelpan text books to date to assist in bringing musical literacy to the masses to alleviate this perceived handicap of musical illiteracy. However it must be noted that great strides have been made within the last decade towards this goal of musical literacy. Pan in the public schools, courses offered at the Universities, etc. Moreover a strong desire by the individual Panist to become musically literate.”
WST - Flamingoes’ tune of choice is Gie Dem Tempo - why this song?
Salah - “The song “Gie Them Tempo” by the winning combination of Edwin Pouchet and Alvin Daniell is a great Panorama song. They have produced many notably great songs in the past. One of their most played and most won song internationally was “Battle Zone” in 2010. I have won the Panorama in both Montreal and Toronto with this song in 2010. I believe that “Gie Them Tempo” offers an arranger room for expressions. I also acknowledge that there are other great songs out there for 2012.
“I know that I have a good arrangement of this song but also am aware that in Flamingoes I do not have the players and the quality instruments needed for proper execution… that said and done, we give it our best shot, hope for the best and continue with our community development of rebuilding the band.”
WST - What has been your great disappointment, and great joy - in Pan?
Salah - “One of my great disappointments so far is the fact that I have, since 2002, presented a “National Musical Literacy Program for the Panyards of Trinidad & Tobago” to the former and present administrations of Pan Trinbago, and also various ministries in the government including those of Education, Culture and Community Development - but there has been no movement or progress in this area. I have to believe that they do not see the picture, they do not see the need for such a project …they do not understand. A decade is now going by.
“In a nutshell the program is a 5-year cycle which at the end of the first cycle, would have brought musical literacy to close to 90% of all participants. Education opens the doors to all opportunities. Everyone would benefit from this type of program. The players would be empowered with musical education, the status of the steelbands would be enhanced. Over 100 people would be continuously employed as teachers and administrative staff. The Ministries of Education and Culture and universities would be involved. Accredited diplomas would be given to the graduates at the end of each cycle of the program. The steelbands would be converted to Steelpan academies, the pan yards would be converted to off-campus institutions. Foreign students would be able to enroll into any steelpan academy of choice, bringing in foreign currency. The program could be exported possibly first to the Caribbean and then internationally… yes, there are many possibilities… but is anyone listening?
“My joy is simply being around the Pan environment be it in Canada, Trinidad or any part of the world.”
WST - Pan is much more than an instrument - it is a culture. Will the cultural aspects of Pan eventually fade as it moves globally?
Salah - “Well the Pan is no longer just an ethnic instrument relegated to playing only “Yellow Bird” or similar island songs, neither is it just conjuring up images of “under a coconut tree on the beach... don’t forget the straw hat.” But it is still seen this way by many. However Pan music has gone mainstream in Jazz, classical and other genres of music, now that it is prominent in high schools, colleges and universities internationally. Nevertheless it will still retain its culture and tradition, as Trinidad-style Panorama competitions are also celebrated in many major cities of the world.”
WST - Is Panorama a curse or a blessing? Has the competitive aspect of the event curtailed creativity, or has it inspired, and continue to - musical pieces that last a lifetime?
Salah - “It certainly is not a curse. Where the Pan is at in Trinidad cannot be blamed on Panorama. What should have or could have been done by the government, or Pan Trinbago, or the bands and individuals - is a topic for another discussion.
“Competition raises the standard and levels of individuals and groups as proven in so many other events. We certainly do have musical pieces and performances that will last a lifetime.”
WST - What’s the cultural significance of Panorama music? Should the music attempt to reflect, rebuke or reshape the society?
Salah- “Panorama music is a unique genre that reflects the culture of Pan. It is emulated all over the world where there is a Steelpan Panorama competition.”
WST - Kindly contrast Boogsie, Bradley, Jit and Tony Williams, both musically and culturally?
Salah - “More names can be easily added to this list that is given and deservedly so. Each one of the four has made a significant contribution to the Steelpan movement of which the whole world is a benefactor. We just have to tip our hats to them …Bravo.”
WST - As the “old guard” step to the rear, are the up-and-coming talents prepared to maintain and further develop this great gift called Pan - which the elders bestowed on them?
Salah - “Certainly they have already stepped up to the plate and are producing in all areas of manufacture, arranging, improvising, business etc. We can also hope for some evolution of Pan Trinbago itself, this is lacking and is necessary.”
WST - What are two things in Pan that are totally intolerable and must change immediately?
Salah - “Pan should not be seasonal in Trinidad and Tobago and the Pan Yards should be in use all year round.”
WST - What should the role be, of the Trinidad and Tobago government in - Pan?
Salah - “Well it should put into effect a concept like my proposal for a “National Musical Literacy Program for the Panyards of T&T.” I would be quite willing to sit with them and work out the implementation of such a program. It would be also good if they could offer bigger incentives to the business sector so that a better sponsorship program can be offered to Steelbands in general.”
WST - What are your expectations and vision for the future of Pan?
Salah - “I would like to see the Pan take its rightful place in Universities, colleges and institutions of learning on an equivalent basis as that of strings and horns. I am working towards this goal.”
Salah - “My work with Flamingoes is essentially community development. Since the 80’s when Exodus was formed from Flamingoes, the original band has only remained a shell of its former self. This has always bothered me whenever I returned to Trinidad in my village (St. John Village) in St. Augustine. I recall how important the steelband (Flamingoes) was in the village when I grew up there as a young man. So instead of putting out my time with already established bands like Exodus, Desperadoes, Starlift (bands that I have played with) etc… I have decided to devote my time and energy to ‘bringing back’ Flamingoes, if for one reason, to allow the youths of the village to have a similar experience to what I had. It is in my opinion an honourable thing to do.
“It is a long journey because whereas there were so many prolific players to come out of that village (at one time there were three functioning steelbands) - now it is a great struggle to even field a small band. It will take time so I am working with the youths of which many are now first year players. Nevertheless I am always optimistic when it comes to Panorama despite the odds. I have won Panoramas in Canada with relatively small groups compared to the other groups.”
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