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I Remember

I'm listening to a recording of Carib Pan Jammers playing "One for De Savannah," their 1997 Panorama tune. It's bringing back a feeling of nostalgia from the days when I knew nothing about the inner workings of the pan fraternity: the trash-talking, the womanizing, the politics, the favoritism, the controversies, or any of that. I can remember spending hours watching my '97 Panorama video and being amazed at the pannists, especially the basses. It wasn't about watching the guys...it was about the amazing passion the players showed, the marvelous music, and the synchronization of the bass players hands as they did their thing.

Back then I wanted to be part of a steelband so bad, I ached for it.  My hands itched to play. But I also wanted to be part of a band's "in" crowd, respected by some of the people in authority in a band. I wanted to be taken under someone's wings as "special" and "talented," and I wanted to have some influence on what was done. I wanted to be a part of the inner workings.

Don't sit too close at the ballet: it spoils the illusion.

For the past couple of years I have been trying to recapture that sense of awe in pan, an awe which has been replaced by increasing disillusionment at all of the negative things going on in the pan fraternity. I have talked, I have listened to others talk, and things have remained the same all over. The same politics happen. The same trash-talking happens. The same favoritism happens. Horning is rampant all the way up the chain of authority, even to a band's arranger in some cases, and people turn a blind eye to it. The same the same the same... It's tiring and disgusting and almost ruins what would otherwise be a glorious musical experience for me. (Because of all of this, I was *happy* to miss T&T Panorama 2004, to spend that night enjoying the final night performances from the comfort of my living room, instead of being back in Trinidad. If I hadn't had to cancel due to financial constraints, I probably would have chosen to miss it, anyway.) But somehow, underneath all of that garbage, the MUSICAL passion is still in me, and that is what keeps me coming back despite all of the mess and unnecessary drama. 

You know what would help? Here it is: not knowing what is going on in a band outside of what notes to play, the names of my fellow players, what time to report to the yard, and whom I can go to for help when I am struggling with a part. The pan articles and band meetings and online forums are so much repetitive talking with no action behind it, it isn't even funny. In general, they waste my time. People lay down the law, others break the law, and absolutely nothing is done. "But THIS time will be different!" I have been told, but it never is. People cry out for unification with one side of their mouths, then with the other side they put down someone's arranging as "not real music" and other arrogant declarations. Using the media and online forums as their pulpit, sore losers trash-talk others' achievements, and sore winners all but spit on everyone else's heads... and they would actually spit, if they thought they could get away with it. The politics and all inside and out side the bands remain the same. That's why I've mostly stopped following individual band news and pan news worldwide. I don't want to know what's going on, because what's said is often either biased and incomplete (if not an outright lie) or unrealistically optimistic and head-in-the-sand-ish. It's enough to give me indigestion.

Yet, when I remove all of that from my mind and just lose myself in the music, no matter what band is playing it, no matter who likes who and who dislikes the other and whose score sheet doesn't add up and who slants the competition results in this, that, or the other one's favor, when I am able to filter out the harsh human voices and focus solely on the instrument's voice, I feel that passion, once more. I remember the vibrations that called to me from thousands of miles away during a lunchtime picnic in Syracuse, NY. I remember following those vibes to Port of Spain for Panorama Finals 1998 on the evening of my 29th birthday. I remember pushing the bright, yellow bass pans of Trinidad All Stars through the streets that Carnival Tuesday on a freshly-sprained ankle, knowing nothing about the band except that they were the band which raised my pores a few nights prior, and I wanted to hear them play, again. I remember making up my mind to learn to play, returning 3 years later with bass sticks in hand, and, against all odds, making All Stars' Panorama side. I remember feeling the music from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, no matter which band I was listening to. I remember...

I don't want to just remember. I want to live it, again.

Wanda McCrae

ps - For the past couple evenings since I wrote that essay I have been watching my old Panorama videos.  Putting aside all of the negative realities and judgments for or against one pan side or the other, I just focus on the energy in the music and the passion of all of the players.  It's wonderful.  My passion is returning.  I've missed it.

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