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The 3rd International Conference on Steelpan

‘Integrating The Three Elements of Carnival, Steelpan, Calypso and Mas’ is imminent

by Professor Haroun N. Shah

London, England - Four years ago Nostalgia Steelband members organised the first European Steelpan Conference (perhaps the first globally) in collaboration with the University of East London entitled “Steelband Music and Education in the 21st Century; Projecting a Vision of the Future through Global Experiences,” immediately after London’s Notting Hill carnival in 2006.

Although steelband started making its entry into London schools from 1964, our view is that even at the present time, it is still not taken seriously and is merely used for events such as summer fetes or shows in parks to provide background music etc. Because 90% of Nostalgia’s members are teachers at various levels including universities, we took it upon our shoulders to try to push its boundaries into higher education, especially universities in the United Kingdom (UK). Both of Nostalgia’s directors have appointments at the University of East London (Dr. Lionel McCalman holds a full-time lectureship in Education while Professor Haroun N. Shah has a part-time Chair in Science) - hence a natural collaboration was forged and supported by the Vice-Chancellor who opened this conference at the university’s impressive Dockland’s Campus on the banks of the Thames between  August 30–31, 2006. There were several major outcomes from this meeting; one of which was that we should aim to develop a grading system for steelpan along the same lines as those in existence for traditional instruments such as the piano, violin etc. This was actively pursued by the group SV2G (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 2nd Generation) which will be reporting back at the 2010 conference. It has been a very successful programme which was developed with the University of the West Indies, Trinidad and the first students have already successfully taken examinations. At the closing stages of this meeting, the audience of just over 130, voted unanimously to hold these conferences biennially.

Nostalgia Steelband playing at the opening ceremony - July 30, 2008
Nostalgia playing at the opening ceremony - July 30, 2008 in the Accolade Recital Hall, York University, to open the 2nd International Conference on Steelpan

Nostalgia took on this responsibility and, in 2008, with Trinidad reaching the football world cup finals and playing its first match in Dortmund, Germany, it was decided that Dortmund would be used to hold the 2nd conference to coincide with the presence of the ‘Soca Warriors’ and, an application was submitted with our collaborators there, Pan Kultur to obtain EU (European Union) funding to support this event. However, we soon became aware of a carnival conference planned for Toronto by Professor Christopher Innes entitled ‘Carnival, ‘A People’s Art’ and ‘Taking Back the Streets” scheduled for July 30–August 3, 2008, Toronto, Canada.  We immediately contacted Professor Innes to discuss a collaboration, with Nostalgia to bring in a steelpan component to the conference. We were warmly received and played at the opening ceremony while members presented 5 papers on on-going projects in London (see Pan Podium Issue 18, pages 8-9, 2009). However, what became so apparent at this highly successful meeting, was that some of the icons in the field such as Peter Minshall spoke so naturally about the logical cohesion among steelpan, calypso and carnival; something that drifted apart markedly as the carnival arts left Trinidad and began developing in the UK and other countries. For this reason, it became the theme of this meeting scheduled for October 23–24, 2010.

The 'Artists of Notting Hill Carnival' post-card by Ruth Tompsett and Carl Gabriel, both of whom are organisers of this year’s conference and are presenting.
The ‘Artists of Notting Hill Carnival’ post-card by Ruth Tompsett & Carl Gabriel, both of whom are organisers of this year’s conference and are presenting

October is designated ‘Black History Month’, so it seemed appropriate to schedule this conference, entitled ‘Integrating the Three Elements of Carnival - Steelpan, Calypso and Mas’ during this period. To extend our remit so broadly beyond steelpan, necessitated help from relevant organisations such as the ‘Association of British Calpsonians’ (ABC), the ‘British Association of Steelbands’ (BAS), the ‘UK Centre for Carnival Arts’ etc. The organising committee comprising Haroun Shah (Chair), Lionel McCalman, Alexander-D-Great, Ruth Tompsett and Carl Gabriel have arranged an exciting programme with an international line-up of experts in the field to execute this.  Alexander-D-Great is the UK’s Calypso Monarch for 2010 and will speak about the craftsmanship of calypso including its political views, while Ruth Tompsett, who has been organising university courses in Carnival Arts for over 30 years and is currently taking her major exhibition ‘Midnight Robbers’ around the globe, with her collaborator Lesley Ferris, will chart the origin of carnival out of Africa. Carl Gabriel is an internationally renowned artist who sculpts carnival figures in wire, while Nostalgia is the UK’s oldest steelband and still retains the ‘pan-around-neck’ tradition. Judge Ray Funk, from Alaska, an internationally recognised authority in the field, will deliver the Plenary Lecture entitled ‘Documenting the Calypso Art Form and Carnival’ and will feature hitherto unseen footage of some of the most poignant moments from legends in carnival arts. Anthony Joseph - poet, singer, writer and university lecturer, will present some of his most recent work on the great Lord Kitchener, while there will be several commentaries on the progress of steelband in schools and universities including presentations from Britain’s premier university, Cambridge. A presentation by Keith Khan who used his skills at Notting Hill carnival to showcase some of the biggest events globally, such as the Millennium Dome show in 2000, the Queen’s Coronation Golden Jubilee parade in 2002 and now London’s Olympics 2012, will present the audience with his experience in organizing events of such magnitude. Notting Hill Carnival is central to carnivals in Europe and over the years this has been documented by Dr. Yoko Kimura from Nagoya University, Japan. She will join us in London to speak on the sociological aspects of carnival while Nestor Sullivan from Trinidad (Pamberi) will present the audience with a view of Notting Hill carnival as an invited judge. A presentation by the ‘UK Centre for Carnival Arts’ will show the audience some of the secrets of the trade in a workshop entitled ‘Behind the Scenes Construction of Mas.’

This promises to be a watershed in the field of Carnival Arts and we are urging anybody who can attend to do so and share your experiences during two days of excitement at the University of East London’s newly built state-of-the-art facilities, close to the site of London’s 2012 Olympics.

Professor Haroun N. Shah
Nostalgia Steelband
25 Hillside
London NW9 0NE

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