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The Demise of the Steelband Panorama
- and the Possible Solution

by Nestor Sullivan, Manager
Pamberi Steel Orchestra

Opinion Piece

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Global - This year, 2010, steelbands in England participating in the Panorama at the Notting Hill Carnival, played for free. That is, the bands received no monies for appearance fees or for prizes. It is reported that this was due to the economic melt-down now being experienced in that country.

In neighbouring Grenada and St. Lucia there were no steelband Panoramas this year. In both cases the lack of appropriate funding silenced the orchestras.

At the Panorama in Toronto’s Caribana celebrations, the bands have been playing for ‘bragging rights’ and little or no money for the past few years. It is anyone’s guess how long this will continue. Miami has now wiped out Panorama completely from the diary of carnival events in that city.

One can even predict that in a year’s time there may be another casualty.  St. Vincent 2010 Panorama attracted more pan players than audience, we can only hope for the best and fear for the worst here.

The remaining ‘safe’ Panoramas are: Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Brooklyn Labour Day weekend (New York Panorama), and Trinidad and Tobago, where it all started almost fifty years ago.

The major problem in all of the above, including the ‘safe’ ones, is appropriate funding. The economic melt-down is taking a heavy toll on steelbands in all these affected territories. The purpose of this piece is to examine this trend of the global demise of The Steelband Panorama and to make some suggestions for its sustainability.

London Notting Hill Carnival

The Greater London Authority (GLA), the funding agency for the Carnival, informed the British Association of Steelbands (BAS) that the melt-down has forced them to cut their annual grant for the 2010 Panorama. This grant was cut from 150,000 to 30,000 pounds, a decrease of eighty percent (80%). It was at the very last minute the bands decided to proceed with the Panorama after much uncertainty. There were only seven bands in the competition this year.

The Voice newspaper (London) has stated that the Notting Hill Carnival generates 93 million pounds in revenue to the coffers of the city. This figure was also given by cultural researcher Dr. Keith Nurse in a document published online.

It stands to reason that there must be a problem in the accounting if there is a profit of that size - and the same city is cutting panmen’s money by 80 percent.

It is the same steelbands that started this Notting Hill Carnival that is now dubbed “The largest street festival in Europe;” it attracts close to 2,000,000 spectators over two days.  The profits of their labour are now enjoyed by: airlines and shipping companies; rail and bus companies; hotels and guest houses; food and beverage companies; the pubs and restaurants and other services.

The ‘little’ that the BAS was getting was taken away, while these businesses are booming and they are smiling...“all the way to the bank.”

Toronto Caribana

When I visited that Carnival in 2008 there were some noises of discontent with the money paid to the bands for Panorama. The panmen complained that the grant for preparation was too small and the prize money was insignificant.

Thousands of people flock to this city for these celebrations, millions of dollars are made and steelbands play for almost ‘nothing.’  Dr. Nurse is quoted as saying that Caribana generates more than $200,000,000 to the city’s coffers.  Again the business sector is smiling while the steelbands are suffering.

The Trinidadians and other West Indians made this carnival the profit-making machine it is today. They have struggled for years to keep this tradition alive in this city against real odds. Pan people and others “mind the goat”...and somebody else...“drinking the milk.”

The Caribbean

The Panoramas in Grenada and St. Lucia were cancelled this year because funding was not available from their respective governments. No one can say for sure, what will happen in the years to come. Those national economies are under real pressure and the future of this event looks grim.

In both St. Vincent and Antigua/Barbuda the Panorama is lacking audiences. Of all the pre-carnival shows the Panorama is the least attended in both territories. Other activities like Soca Monarch have overtaken the Panorama by leaps and bounds.

Brooklyn Labour Day (New York Panorama)

It was reported that dozens of police cars descended on the panyard of the defending champion band Sonatas the night before the Panorama.  The report stated that the police went to inform the band that they must end practice by ten o’clock.

There was a great panic at the Crown Heights panyard when dozens of armed, uniformed officers of the NYPD charged into the area to deliver the message. The unsuspecting people, made up mainly of pan players, their relatives, friends and supporters, could not understand the reason for this massive ‘show of force.’

One eyewitness to these remarkable events noted that...  “because it was a group of black people of mainly Caribbean descent, the police treated the matter so militarily. The truth is that no real threat was made to the community, no one at the Panyard that night had terrorist intentions, no one there had plans to rob and kill. They were there to see their children, grand children, nieces, nephews and friends practice an art form that is indigenous to their Caribbean roots.”

In spite of this gross intimidation marshalled by a seemingly uncaring city and executed by an aggressive police force...Sonatas won the competition the following night... Congratulations to them!!

The West Indian American Labour Day Carnival generates more than $300,000,000 to the businesses and the city of Brooklyn.

This is [in spite of] the treatment meted out to the champion steelband by the same city.


The questions that pose themselves now are... What will happen to Panorama in the future and what can be done to save this critical Carnival spectacle?  In answer to the first question I will say that “the future of Panorama is in serious doubt in most of the territories and it could eventually die out completely.”

In all of the territories where there is Panorama they tend to follow the lead of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T). Our nationals dominate the technical side of most of these Panoramas, services like: arranging; tuning and blending; drilling the band; balancing the orchestra; setting up on stage.  In the area of adjudicating the criteria for judging is the T&T model and the judges are mainly nationals of this country.

In fifty years we have transported this major steelband event to these territories where our nationals have settled. We have created a potential global industry in the process and we are now experiencing the rapid demise of the Panorama, the biggest event on the global steelband calendar.

In Trinidad and Tobago carnival generates profits of more than $600,000,000 to the state and the business sector. These two national institutions that benefit from the carnival should be approached to secure a percentage of the said profits to the steelband movement.

The contribution can alleviate some of the difficult financial situations the steelband movement is facing now. The movement will be able to: pay prizes and appearance fees; complete the headquarters [of Pan Trinbago]; sustain year-round activities for the member bands; re-invest in the steelband industry; maintain and train the administrative staff; undertake more capital projects.


Trinidad and Tobago’s representatives to regional and international organizations like CARICOM [Caribbean Community], OAS [Organization of American States] and the Commonwealth, may want to present the T&T model of support for the steelband movement. We can present this position to the British government in support of the steelbands at Notting Hill Carnival who play for free and are openly exploited. We hosted the Commonwealth Summit last November.  Let us use that goodwill that still exists, for the benefit of T&T culture in Britain.

CARICOM should be the first target group we should convince of our T&T model of Steelband Development through funding from the profits of carnival. In all the territories the role of the steelband was central to the beginnings, development and sustainability of the carnival.

Through the OAS and our embassies and consulates in those cities, we should approach the Mayors and the political leadership of Miami, New York and Toronto. All with one view, that is, to seek their support for the T&T model of steelband development in those cities.

Trinidad and Tobago will also have to convince the Mayor and political leadership of the City of New York that steel orchestras preparing for Panorama pose no threat to the safety and security of the city.  On the contrary these music groups provide important community services especially in the areas of Youth Development, Music Education and Community Building.


It is now for Pan Trinbago, the world’s governing body for steelbands, to convene an urgent meeting firstly with the government and business sectors here in Trinidad and Tobago to come to an agreement on the Carnival Profit Sharing Plan. The next step is for us, as a country, to take this model of steelband development to the other territories.

Pan Trinbago should call another meeting with representatives of: the British Association of Steelbands (BAS); Ontario Steelband Association (OSA); United States Steelband Association (USSA); and the steelband associations of St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada, Antigua/Barbuda and Barbados.

The agenda for this meeting should include other ideas for the development and sustainability of the Panorama in the respective territories. There is a critical need for the global Panoramas to get some sort of stimulus package.  The steelbands are major contributors to the huge profits generated from Carnival.

As a country, Trinidad and Tobago can take the lead role in saving the steelband Panorama in the various territories where it is now under threat. The Profit Sharing Model is a possible solution, we can present it to all the countries concerned.

This is the solution I am suggesting...

Nestor Sullivan
Manager, Pamberi Steel Orchestra
Trinidad & Tobago

Contact Nestor Sullivan - http://whensteeltalks.ning.com/profile/nestorsullivan

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