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Open Steelband letter to the Mayor of San Fernando, Trinidad

An Opinion by Michael L. Joseph (Trinidad & Tobago)

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Trinidad and Tobago, W.I. - I am one who always admired the courage and strength of the present lady Mayor of the city of San Fernando in Trinidad & Tobago, Alderman Marlene Coudray, more so when she stood up to a past Prime Minister who tried to impose his will on her, when she was CEO of the City Corporation.  Now that she is the Mayor, her utterances as reported in the Trinidad Guardian newspaper dated Tuesday 23rd 2010, on the cancelation of the Pan in the City carded for Sunday 21st November 2010 on Coffee Street, are very unfortunate and disturbing to Steelband leaders in and around the City of San Fernando.

As one involved in Steelband nearly all my life, I take personal offence, and as such, I must set the record straight, to the extent of risking victimization of my band.

Who are these greedy people that were trying to hold the Mayor and the corporation to ransom by playing politics? Surely not the leaders of Steelbands, who have been making personal sacrifices over the years to keep this Art form alive, and contributing to the holding of the fabric of our fragile society together? People who have been prosecuted and persecuted from day one to this very day, by their own people, but stood their grounds so that the Steelpan can be recognized as the National Instrument of Independent Trinidad and Tobago, and be appreciated by people all over the world?

When one talks about playing politics, let me state loud and clear, that my politics never began and ended with voting on Election Day.  My very existence depends on the political behaviour of those elected to office, so for me, politics, like the Steelpan, is my life and the Steelband movement has been a casualty of politics and politicians for years.  Steelband and the Panists have being used as a convenient political football for far too long.

Imagine in the year 2010, the City Corporation of the Industrial capital of Trinidad & Tobago is offering a Steel Orchestra, three thousand dollars (TT$3,000.00) (circa USD $475.00) to perform in a City celebration, and have the audacity to find them greedy, if they should find that figure insulting.  I often wonder if they know what it takes to prepare a Steelband for an engagement outside of its yard.  Let me inform.

Every night of practice, the leader must have money to transport players to their homes. During the practice sessions, the leader must provide some sort of refreshments, even water and toiletries, because players are coming to the pan yard straight from work or school. They must find money for the arranger if he should do a tune or two to strengthen the band's repertoire. It is very important that the sound of the band is enhanced, so blending of the instrument is necessary. The band is not out of the yard as yet and three thousand dollars have been spent.

Yet the promoters are telling you that they only sending transportation for the instruments, and you must provide your own refreshments and transport for your players. And when you tell them that the money cannot compensate, they find you greedy and playing politics? 

But I am yet to see these greedy Steelband leaders living large and enjoying the finer things in life. As a matter of fact, most of them who don’t have a proper paying job end up dying poor, and neglected by their family who find that they were stupid for spending so much of their time and what little money they had, behind Steelband.  Maybe some politicians believe that they are stupid too, hence the reason for the contemptuous treatment. 

Very often, after an engagement, the Steelband is the last to be paid and payment could take months in some instances.  Everyone else is catered for up front, and we “playing politics” if we refuse to be misused and abused?

The DJ, who doesn’t have to rehearse nightly, is better compensated than the Steelband.  One Calypsonian making a guest appearance and singing one song is better paid than a Steelband with over fifteen players. 

Come on, we are the unsung heroes that are making sterling contributions in our respective communities, by keeping so many young people out of criminal activities which seems to be the norm today.

We demand more respect and appreciation from those in authority who should know better. We are helping to make your job easer, stop the disrespect and insults. We are no longer living in the fifties and sixties when we were forced to accept anything, just for the opportunity to play to an audience. Steelband is now a professional business enterprise.

Madam Mayor, I expect higher standards and better conditions with you in that position; please don’t let me down.  Be very wary of your advisers, especially on matters related to Steelband.  Sanitas Fortis!

Michael L. Joseph
Bro. Scobie

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