Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - Is it a strike (by players) or is it a boycott (by bands) that is looming like a massive storm, with the potential magnitude to forever change the face of the prestigious annual steelband music competition of Trinidad & Tobago, known as Panorama? Depending on your point of view and who you talk to it is neither, both, or one or the other. Regardless - all is not right in the land of Pan. This has been a season of discontent.
Normally this the point in the year when drums of steel begin to rumble on the twin-islands of Trinidad and Tobago while shaking the earth into a powerful, harmonious and joyful dance with its people, while iron men simultaneously rattle ancient rhythms that allow direct communication with the Gods - all through its pulsating, Calypso/Soca music. Indeed, this event has a special spiritual component that cannot be explained by ordinary means. But not so this year - thus far. The melodies are in the wrong key and the rhythm is clearly out of time. Panorama, the greatest musical competition and expression of culture on the planet is in serious jeopardy of not happening.
Almost from the completion of Panorama 2016, the trade winds for this disruptive storm began developing within the underbelly of the steelband art form's caretakers, and the fermentation of poisonous spirits was well underway. At first glance the issue would appear to be the non-payment of government-issued stipends to the players for participation in this national event. Said stipend is a negligible amount that could never compensate the players for their time invested, and commitment to the artform. Instead it is the lack of principle displayed, with non-payment being the order of the day for almost one year - that raised the ire of the musicians. However, a further study of this eruption suggests much more in play than the ill-advised, and possibly even contemptuous disregard of what was owed to thousands of players, who are the foundation of the entire structure of this annual national music festival.
All indicators point to the executives of Pan Trinbago, the governing body of Pan in Trinidad and Tobago. The players have openly and very publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with the organization. Prominent members of the steelband community have called for the outright and immediate resignation of the executive board. Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts has shown its dissatisfaction with Pan Trinbago through its own recent abrupt change in operational procedures with the pan body, and in recent months and on more than one occasion, the Minister has publicly voiced her concerns with the organization, which were reported in local media. And of course there are the now- infamous allegations by the organization's now-former Vice President, taking Pan Trinbago to task for alleged improprieties. Indeed the organization has suffered serious tarnishing of its brand that could prove terminal to its executive board in the future.
Yet through all this turmoil the steel orchestras are proceeding with caution with their preparations for Panorama 2017, with the awareness that this may very well be an exercise in futility. Clearly in the age of the internet and social media the time of ‘shut-up and get behind your pan’ has long passed. There has been a seismic shift in how pan matters are now viewed and reacted to, and will be in the future.
In any regard - the global steelband music world is watching to see what type of respect, expectations, safeguards and realizations are in reality afforded the steelpan instrument, players and art form in the birthplace of Pan - Trinidad and Tobago - by all involved, going forward. The magnitude of this ongoing eruption is still unknown. Are these the foreshocks to the ‘big one’ that is coming down the pike, or is this the ‘peak,’ with only minor aftershocks down the road?