Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - I finally gave up on the battle with myself, trying to keep out of what I carelessly term the people's business; trying to believe that this Steelpan organization business is no longer my business, just for peace sake.
But the warrior spirit in me, keeps tugging at my conscience and better judgment and I can no longer stay silent in light of the road that my organization, our organization, Pan Trinbago is now heading.
Mind you, I am in no way expressing an interest in holding executive position again, given the mass of young, intelligent and energetic Panists out there. I hope that they will learn the true history of our organization's evolution from rogues and vagabonds to respectability, and maintaining a certain amount of independence, protected by an act of Parliament, Act 5 of 1986, which we strived to fulfill with pride and passion over the years.
It is sad to see the status that we fought to achieve, now relegated to that of mendicants, where we have no autonomy over our own affairs.
Divide and rule seems to be the order of the day. Over the years, we all have been meeting as one body, Pan Trinbago, to discuss all the business of Pan. Now we are called to meet by categories, and the new mantra seems to be, We and Them. This goes against the very tenets of how our organization was meant to function, in order to advance its cause to the benefit of all.
Our representatives now, seem to be messengers of the National Carnival Commission, in contradiction and contempt, of the high court ruling made very clear in the judgment of justice Vashist Kokaram in his verdict in the case, Pan Trinbago vs the NCC. It was made very clear that Pan Trinbago is not a ward of the NCC, and must maintain its independence.
Speaking with one voice, our organization was able to negotiate improved terms and conditions for its members over the years. Because of its sterling contribution to the cultural landscape, Pan Trinbago was able to rise from a position of patronage, to that of rights and entitlements, attracting two National Awards amongst its many accolades. Steel bands, and I mean from Captain to Cook, - not just the pannists as some see it, - always make that necessary sacrifices, as they are doing presently, to make our national festivities the greatest show on earth.
Adequate compensation was never accredited, but the pittance pannists were able to attract, was arbitrarily slashed by one esteemed functionary, who seems to be harbouring ill will and disaffection against the proponents of Steelbands. After the NCC was advised to sit and discuss as equals with Pan Trinbago to work out the best strategy for the advancement of this art, the Steelpan adversary in the NCC returned in another dispensation to reap havoc on Pan people by taking away all financial incentives, “and they Ent riot yet”.
Men of testicular fortitude, who have passed on to the great beyond, must now be restless in their realms given the rate at which this organization is losing its way. They left here knowing that Panorama starts the Carnival, but today we have bands fighting a losing battle for space in the Christmas season, with no financial assistance from any quarters, and are thrown completely out of the national festivities. Only because we no longer speak with one voice. In the shortest of seasons, everything used to fit. I know that talking out attracts victimization but I am quite aware that what goes around, comes around So? I refuse to sit idly by and say nothing, while a people's movement that was built from the ground up, is now being brought to its knees and no one is speaking out against this betrayal. The NCC is now dictating how we manage our Panorama/Carnival products. Our national Festival has changed from a people's thing, that the government supports, to a government thing, where the people get the opportunity to participate. Government’s contributions towards our national festivities, does not give them the rights to own and control our intellectual property. That action is downright highhanded, manipulative, domineering, suppressive, oppressive and very dictatorial.
Culture is not something to be manipulated by esteemed functionaries. It's the soul expression of a people that cannot be reined in by anyone, because it is not governed by ego. Any and everything relevant to our culture, must be discussed and agreed to with the practitioners. That right to freedom of expression, that spirit was never nurtured on money. So why should our tax dollars be used as a whip of control?
As the poet David Rudder sings,” it’s a living vibration, rooted deep within our Caribbean belly” and, governments are constitutionally bound to support the people's culture, especially one that is attracting much needed foreign exchange to our coffers. The disrespect meted out to the Steel band movement today, in the land of its BIRTH, is maddening, saddening and frightening. According to my dearly departed friend and comrade Cliff Alexis: in spite of all the confusion created, the Steel bands are still the best community vehicle for curbing juvenile delinquency and crime.
Dr. Eric Williams had so much respect for the Steel bands that he instituted corporate sponsorship for Steel bands, and time off for preparation for national events. Today, we are participating in our national festivities where the suppliers of goods and services are timely and adequately compensated, while the producers and performers of the greatest show on earth, are treated with little regard when it’s time for compensation.
Instead of lending support to our efforts at capacity building and institutional strengthening, they try to belittle our integrity with maliciousness? Some selling a false notion about a debt of sixty million. If there's evidence of malfeasance, let the law take its course. We in the Cultural fraternity have been calling for a forensic audit on the National Carnival Commission, and to be made public. But this request is met with a deafening silence.
What has become of all the projects on our drawing board? The Headquarters completion project, the regularization of land tenures for bands, the upgrading of physical infrastructure, the heritage site status, the contract to supply and maintenance of instruments in schools, the Cooperative for our membership, the Steel drum and production line project, the internationalization trust, the proposed Lottery scratch game for Pan, amongst the many other projects we pursued. If we are not speaking with one voice, and our executives are controlled by the NCC, then ours goals have become elusive dreams.
The new method of governance seems to be spending time blaming the previous regime for the inability to go forward. How is that helping the organization, when the mantra coming in was, we can do better?
Ours is not an organization of categories. That is a requirement with good reason for bands participation in our national panorama competitions. Carnival/Panorama is the high point of Steel bands participation in the national festivities, and it is a total disrespect to kick some Steel bands to the curb, by having them fighting for space in the heart of the Christmas season.
There is a reason for every season, and a competition could be organized relevant to any season, but Christmas and Carnival don't ever mix. Panorama starts the Carnival celebrations, like good Friday start the Easter celebrations for Christians.
I see no consideration was given in to our pannists and pan lovers in the diaspora, who would set their holiday time table to come and play and support their favourite bands in the Carnival season. Steelpan in Carnival is still a cultural community event, and not only the larger bands have foreign supporters. Charity begins at home and ends abroad. Divide and rule will only keep us apart.
Pan Trinbago must always speak with one voice on all matters, and Panorama/Carnival must not be the main focus. The powers that be must understand that the incentive for pannists must come from the tourist dollars that the Carnival product brings into the country. We create our own wealth, so Steel bands should be incentivized to be on the roads for the Carnival. Mobilization is costly; respect the national instrument.
A merry Christmas to one and all, especially members of our Steelpan family at home and abroad, and we look forward to a bright, enjoyable and peaceful Carnival celebration 2020.
Michael L Joseph
Former executive officer
Pan Trinbago. Inc. TC.
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