Celebration of Women
Tribute To Women In Pan - 2005
The Evolution Of The
Dr. L. Trevor Grant is the author of several books including Carnivalitis: The Conflicting Discourse of Carnival. Dr. Grant has written extensively on the cultural festivals of Trinidad and Tobago and is completing a new book on Carnival entitled Carnival of the Gods. To view published books, visit his website at www.yacos.org .
It is not an accidental or chance occurrence that
women are now active participants in the steelpan movement in Trinidad and
Tobago and throughout the pan-playing world. Women are the majority population
in most countries and consequently, it is only natural that they become involved
in the social, political and cultural dynamics of their nation. Steelpan music
therefore is no exception.
Steelpan music – one of the music of Carnival - is going through its own metamorphosis and like calypso, soca and chutney music – there is no longer a gender partiality in the musical culture because females are encouraged to be active partners in the movement. For example, about 90 percent of the revelers (masqueraders) in Carnival bands are female and they have added not only beauty but also color and excitement to the festivities. Obviously, females have taken over Carnival and are the driving force behind the national festival of Trinidad and Tobago hence the tremendous success and growth of Carnival.
The steelpan movement, now enjoying international status is the new, innovative, acoustic instrument of the 21st century and this exposure from the outside world has brought about incremental changes including an increasing number of female pannists and female admirers. Female pan pioneers like Daisy James McLean, Norma Calender, Gemma Worrel-Sealey, Hazel Henley, Rufina Thomas, Eva John, Merle Albino de Coteau, Franka Headley, Dr. Dawn Batson, Dr. Pat Bishop, Jocelyn Pierre et al., are to be commended for having the hindsight to venture into man’s self-acclaimed domain (without a fight) and are such an important part of the musical culture that without them, the pan culture would probably become extinct.
All of the steelpan orchestras in Trinidad and Tobago (its birthplace), New
York, Germany, Sweden, Canada, England, the United States etc. have women
pannists and in the recent Panorama competitions in Trinidad, many women pan
players shared the spotlight with their male counterparts in the various steel
orchestras. Renegades, Phase II, Desperadoes, All Stars, Exodus, Sforzata,
Skiffle Bunch, Fonclaire, Arima All Stars, St. Augustine Senior Comprehensive,
Renegades Youth Steel Orchestra etc., all had many female players and these pan
orchestras are now dependent on the female presence and influence, in order to
maintain their domination in the various pan competitions.
The steelpan movement in Trinidad and Tobago is having problems with its management, policies, competitions, prizes etc., and has been criticized over the years because of its ineffectiveness, poor management, ridiculous policies and backward innovations. However, the main steelpan event – Panorama – is the most popular and well-attended festivity for Carnival. Obviously, much more could (should) be done by Pan Trinbago, the steelpan organization, to not only improve Panorama and other pan events such as Pan in the 21st Century, World Steelband Music Festival, Schools Music Festival, Pan Parang… but to be more innovative by creating a pan competition for women. This would be a wonderful gesture and acknowledgement for women and would in essence recognize their musical talents and contribution to the culture, and more importantly add another spectacle to the dynamic festivities of the cultural capital of the world.
Of course, much more could be done for the pan movement. For instance, steelpan musicians need to be able to read and compose music and resources should be made available for this. There should also be more experimentation with the instrument and financial resources should be made available to conduct experimentation along with securing permanent, suitable facilities to house steelpan theatres (pan yards). Pan Factories should also be constructed throughout the two islands to educate, teach and produce pans for local and foreign consumption. Finally, ongoing scholarly research and documentation of findings such as by publishing books would greatly professionalize the art form and provide valuable information on the mystical instrument.
Women’s participation in the once male dominated steelpan movement is very good for the pan industry because it creates diversity in the qualitative and quantitative expression of the pannists. The female pan player has increased the life span of the industry and has given new meaning to the once ridiculed, maligned steelband movement. However, as inclusion and progress are being made in the pan industry, other arrangements would have to be made to make women more comfortable in the male designed pan yard.
© 2005 and courtesy Dr. L. Trevor Grant
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March 15, 2005