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New York Panorama 2005

Panorama 2005 – Behind Enemy Lines
Augustin Hinkson


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, the 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 itself.

There 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.

The 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.

The 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 tradition.

Certainly for the joy that it brings and for the embellishment of our communities it affords, Pan deserves better treatment than it receives. If 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  newjewel@verizon.net
©2005  Basement Recordings, Inc. All rights reserved

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