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No Panorama… or Judges Jumping

Compiled and Written by  D. Anthony Blackman

Desperadoes on stage for Panorama 2008

Trinidad - The home stretch, a grassy dusty portion of the horseracing track, heading west towards the Grand Stand and North Stand now proudly called “the track”.  With temporary stands and bleachers on both sides, it was the venue and setting for Panorama. Pan beating on the move. We stop, roll up on stage, play and exit with proverbial ‘dus in yuh face.’  South Panorama hot too, different blend, but pan fuh so.  Guinness coming down, they sweet and powerful.  Big Sunday, national prelims, we leave de savannah 3.00 o’clock next morning with two bands still to play.  North Panorama is next week Monday, and the national semi finals is Thursday.  We practicing hard we leave de yard 4 o’clock dis morning.  Carnival Sunday night is finals.  Eventually Panorama got so large, it divorced itself from Dimanche Gras and zonal prelims were held in the North, South, East and Tobago regions.  What a thing, look at how much pan beating and bands competing.  Visualize the thousands converging on de savannah, where has all this action, this excitement, the passion, the steelbands, beaters, and supporters gone?  Did this great initiative emanating from steelband’s musical rivalry become misdirected, or misused?

 The competition itself is a monster, it is destructive.  For instance, before winning or focusing on Panorama was the main objective of a Steelband, Pan ruled.  It was the most sought–after music for everything and Carnival.  Pan in de Hollows, Block-o-Ramas, and just listening to bands practice were special events.  Then Panorama “is not everything it’s the only thing” became the mantra, and all the above went, plus, bands began to disappear.  Panorama meanwhile, grew in size and conflicts and clearly, the fire and fever has slipped away.  Subsequently, Steelbands have lost their place in Carnival, because they no longer attract mas players, dictate the road march, and are useless as Carnival music because of no electronics.  Currently a Steelband’s status has been reduced to Pan is for Panorama - full–stop, and such is the mindset of many Trinbagonians.  So where has Panorama reached?  Well, what a headache topic no Phensic or Cafenol could ever ease, poor Patrick[s] it has at least reached San Fernando.

 The moment winning, the prestige and the prize money replaced the passion, the judges became a bigger problem.  We have had injunctions filed, claims of biased judges, rigging of score sheets and clamoring for foreign judges.  Is it a case of sore losers?  Is winning Panorama the vision and mission, problem or ego of the band or the arranger?  Are the local adjudicators partisan or inflexible?  Several years ago an ex–Hilanders player resident in the US claimed that, the ‘JAM’, sweet pan jamming is missing and the tunes are Classical Calypsos.  Another European–based senior but active player/arranger claimed that, the judges are the same every year, are classically–oriented musicians, and are a bit clueless re: jazz rhythms and other innovations.  These comments somehow summarize the winning arrangers and their styles, especially since classically–oriented arrangers have won the most Panoramas.  Unwittingly, there are some judging trends, patterns and unwritten Panorama formulas, e.g. the elusive hattrick and two [2] straight victories.  Tony Williams ’63/’64, Earl Rodney ’71/’72, Bradley ’76/’77, Smooth ’80/’81, Jit ’84/’85, Boogsie ’87/’88, Jit ’89/’90, Dr. Jit ’95,96,97, Bradley ’99/’00, Pelham ’03/’04 and Boogsie ’05/’06. 

 Well, if the “local” judges are recurrent they are also seasonal.  Dr. Jit with the signature Latin beat holds two prestigious panorama belts, the only hattrick and most victories.  Bradley can easily be hailed as winning Panorama at will.  He took an unknown band, assumed the role of a costumed conductor and won.  But, the impact of best–dressed, performing skills, drama, theatrics etc. are supposedly not judged, or carry very little points in Panorama.  Reflect on the crowd reactions and the eventual results when Starlift played Natasha, Guinness Cavaliers, the high pitched bell and thunderous sound, and Solo Harmonites performing with a rack of costumed bongo drummers.  Those responsible for Panorama’s criterion are in denial for pretending that the talented stage performances resulting, do not impact on most of the crowd and the judges’  decisions.  Unconsciously though, pan music is again being removed from its relativity to Carnival and Mas, as above, and as was evident with this year’s canceling of Champs in Concert, the only visibly surviving mix of Steelband and Mas.

 Nevertheless, Panorama has been through a myriad of changes.  The bright idea of panyard prelims magnifies the frustrations of the bands and their players, whose only glory is performing in ‘de Big Yard.’  Loyalty and community participation is disappearing as well, because players migrate from losing bands to the so–called winners.  Many potential bands keep shrinking as a result, making “best of the rest” categorizing, standardizing and downsizing of bands nothing but damage control, the migration and shrinkage is almost uncontrollable.  Pretty soon, if not already, the large band category will be reduced to a BIG 5 competition featuring, All Stars, Desperadoes, Renegades, Phase 11 and Exodus; all other bands will be relegated to the lower divisions.  More seriously however, we have several Panorama casualties, the south zone is paralyzed and wheel chair bound as far as being a panorama or big band force.  No big band victories for 33 years since Hatters in 1975.  Starlift, no victories for 30 years, since Natasha in 1978.  Casablanca, Tokyo, Pandemonium, Harmonites, Merrytones, Cordettes, Valley Harps, Third World, Power Stars e.g. have either been reduced to a lesser category or no longer exist.  Invaders and Silver Stars have been able to survive as big bands, but God alone knows how much longer.

 Panorama has undoubtedly sent and is sending bands into extinction.  “The World Governing Body” should embark on a programme to revive community based and other destroyed bands.  New arrangers will emerge and the battle weary ones will resurface.  They definitely need to revisit the format of the contest, and the judging, perhaps a larger pool, and some foreigners.  For example, bands should play at least two [2] tunes, and judged on the move as well, giving the players and arrangers more work and more music.  In short, make winning more difficult, but more creative and competitive.  Change the focus of winning as the only thing, and create motivationally–intended cash prizes for best bass lines or introduction, to inspire creativity and keep arrangers and players of the lower placed bands enthusiastic about their pan/musical future.  Any abundance of opportunities, competitions and awards, throughout any given year will reduce the possibility of becoming a casualty of Panorama.  Anyway Shadow, “we go ketch dem judges in hell an hah dem jumpin’” or you know what, NO PANORAMA.  Think you can swallow that bitter pill of 1979 again?   Impossible eh?   More like suicide right?  Because nowadays the only thing a Steelband and we Pan Jumbies have to live for is Panorama.

Up Next………………................ New Series
Compiled and Written by ……….D. Anthony Blackman
Copyright Reserved ……………..March 29th 2008

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