Panorama 2005 – Behind Enemy Lines
New York -
It is not a mere coincidence that the
Panorama Competition is held in the shadows of the Brooklyn Museum. The
parking lot behind this grand edifice can be thought of as just another
temporary Panyard. However, in the context of the sacred mission of Pan, it
is a sobering reminder that we are far behind enemy lines and that we must
fight our way back home.
Looking beyond the parking lot,
Brooklyn Museum must be seen not just as a building that houses artifacts of
ancient societies, but as a cold-hearted institution that excuses the
plunder of national treasures and promotes Western European cultural
domination. There is for example, in the Brooklyn Museum, an “Egyptian
Collection.” When viewing the objects in this collection, the accompanying
narratives never say how the objects were “acquired” or that the Nile Valley
Civilization, created by Black people gave birth to European/Western
Civilization. Indeed, western medicine, architecture, mathematics, religion
and philosophy, all attributed to Greece and Rome represents a “stolen
legacy” because the roots of this tradition actually have their origins in
the Nile Valley.
It is against this backdrop of cultural whitewash that the voices of Pan
should come to grumble, to speak their special truth and to inspire
resistance. But the Panorama competition as it is currently conceived is a
grand deception that strips Pan of its sacred mission and its militancy.
Sadly, this process turns steelbands against each other as the competition
is reduced to a set of scores that ranks the bands’ performances. Moreover
the competition itself, while brilliant in terms of the performances,
shamefully functions as a prop to promote interests other than the Panorama
is nothing wrong with competition but when it is not balanced with the
vision of the greater mission of Pan, there is really nothing to be gained.
Every Pan player should understand that they are not simply participating in
a musical competition but that they are soldiers in cultural warfare. That
war relates to a struggle to reclaim our collective African minds, to
restore what was stolen from us and to move humanity forward. In their
participation, every Pan player should understand and embrace that their
performances reflect the beauty of the best of what it means to be “human
and African in the world.”
Unfortunately, Panorama, in its current form, is an event that exploits the
tremendous level of commitment and energy of young people and dedicated
adults as an opportunity to drive people to the bar. Alcohol is not just a
feel-good liquid, it is a toxic tool of oppression that consistently numbs
African people of their pain and keeps us from engaging in real struggle.
The oppressors know that it is impossible to struggle for liberation and
dignity under the influence of alcohol. The appeal to go to the bar is
really an appeal to willfully and ignorantly surrender the mind and
ultimately to give up the spirit of resistance.
question that Pan players must ask of themselves is this: “How have we and
our communities been strengthened as a result of Panorama?” An honest
response must take into account that the prize money or appearance fees that
the bands may receive in no way matches the output of money and energy that
the bands must invest to purchase instruments, costumes, stands, to pay rent
for practice spaces and to administer the organization. It is noteworthy
that while all of the sponsors featured prominent banners promoting their
products and services, there was no banner promoting the support of Pan.
None of the politicians who came on stage were thoughtful or empathic enough
to suggest the creation of a support system for Pan.
silent tragedy that should have headlined the Panorama Competition is that
not one of the steelbands in New York City has a permanent practice home.
Can you imagine the New York City Philharmonic Orchestra, charged with the
task of representing the best of European classical music, having to
practice out of abandoned lots and being harassed by the New York City
police? The question remains, why was this disparity not been brought up to the
thousands of people in attendance? Why wasn’t there a request that the
people in attendance at Panorama become life long patrons of the art? New
York City Councilwoman, Yvette Clarke mentioned that it is wonderful that so
many young people are involved in Pan and that the tradition is being passed
on through generations; but her statement did not elaborate on the adverse
conditions that the custodians and purveyors of the tradition must endure,
nor did it include an appeal to the kind of funding necessary to secure this
Certainly for the joy that it brings and for the embellishment of our
communities it affords, Pan deserves better treatment than it receives.
it is believed that Pan is the incarnation of ancestral voices, then
everything will be done to create spaces and opportunities for a more
profound expression of those voices. Perhaps
there is a place for Panorama as it is currently conceived, but a case can be
made for a Pan Festival that honors the broad range of African music and not
just multiple renditions of the same popular soca or calypso song. Bob
Marley’s, “Africa Unite”, Thelonius Monk’s, “Well You Needn’t”, Duke
Ellington’s, “'A' Train” or MFSB’s “Love Is The Message In The Music” can find
innovative expression through Pan.
It must be remembered that steelband music at its best represents a form of
indigenous technology that weighs against the seduction of our arrogant
machine culture. Indeed Pan music joyfully tunes us into the rhythm and
harmony of the Universe but it is also a critical front to assert a Pan
African perspective. Perhaps this is the more authentic meaning of Panorama.
There is a saying that “When Steel Talks, Everybody Listens.” It is
undeniable that what needs to be heard today is music that speaks to the
enlightenment, the uplifting and liberation of African people throughout the
world. Certainly to create music that resonates with our bones and stirs the
memory of our ancestors is the sacred mission of Pan. With this sacred
mission in mind and spirit, a radical reconstruction of the Panorama
competition and a commitment to build lasting institutions that honors Pan
will come to fruition.
Augustin Hinkson is a freelance
writer who contributed this article on the 2005 Panorama season
©2005 Basement Recordings, Inc. All rights
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