Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - Len “Boogsie” Sharpe played ‘Yesterday’ on the pan at about 6.35 p.m. on Saturday May 9, 2020.
This story could have ended right there. But then somebody posted in the comments section of the YouTube stream: “I am in tears. Is this normal?” Fingers frozen, I could not type a response. We’d been busted. Many of us, I presumed. Someone else chimed in with something I cannot remember.
It happened so fast. Boogsie had been showing off on the double seconds with speed and an amazing command of complex riffs on The Mighty Sparrow’s ‘Rose’. Then, inexplicably, he changed mood with a Beatles/Lennon suite that eventually landed, near the end, on ‘Yesterday’.
At that moment, those of us who have been following what has been happening to pan, its players and its music over this lockdown period, found in Boogsie, the ultimate resort to art as anodyne.
It was Robert Greenidge’s turn on Sunday before a camera. The applause comprised three or four muted pairs of hands and the compliments of online commentaries. Ditto Dane Gulston a little earlier. Aviel Scanterbury and pals have been having “Transcription Tuesdays”.
The instrument, through these times, has indeed been capturing the role of music as supreme emotional expression. There are also hints that the end of the current phase of Coronavirus lockdown would bring to pan - both as instrument and as a form of social mobilisation and organisation - increments of change it had never before contemplated.
This is more, much more than a change of venue or a programmatic innovation. We might well be looking at change that presents the instrument and its meaning in ways we have never before envisaged.
Yet, we had been receiving clues and tips. Before Boogsie took to the WACK TV screen last Saturday, there was Barbados-based Trini Nevin Roach’s ‘Panograma 2020’ competition (so we should have a 2021 version, I hope). All online. All solo. International – the finalists came from Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Sint Maarten and T&T. Earl Brooks Jr topped the final 10.
But, that’s just the thinnest end of the wedge. For, these are the frontline instruments only. There must be space for the mids and the basses and the percussions. People like Roach et al will get there.
Then there were the global collaborations that brought us BP Renegades’ production of ‘Heal the World’ with more than a dozen players from the US, Japan, the UK, France and T&T.
Speaking of which, Duvone Stewart has been having a ubiquitous presence through all of this and his home-based promo of Boogsie’s one-man show was a show in its own right. Out on his porch (presumably in Tobago), waving to and greeting passers-by.
There was another international collaboration called De Coalition you can still find online. These were the young bunch on a variety of instruments.
The “Just Flow” Challenge was hosted by another youthful group of accomplished pannists bearing names such as Chuma Akil Jahi Watson, Triston Marcano, Andre White, Hammond Mitchell, Stefon West and Scanterbury.
There have also been several online tutorials initiated by players/instructors both in T&T and overseas. I follow Sterling C Semple Sr on Facebook for the latest.
What I am saying is that the pandemic has the potential to revolutionise pan in ways we had never before envisioned.
True, to many people this means absolutely nothing. I don’t particularly like the accordion, for instance. Others may not prefer the ukelele. So, it’s often difficult to discuss pan with people who do not understand its meaning as something more than a musical instrument within the context of T&T development. That’s fine.
The current period is however revealing that a tidal wave of change for pan is upon us. Musicians, Pan Trinbago, the Ministry of Culture, bankers, educators, manufacturers, businesspeople take note.
Don’t be surprised if Panorama 2021 (if it happens) does not look anything like what we have known in the past.
At the height of the recent WTI crash in oil prices, somebody memed the value of an oil drum filled with oil and another crafted as a musical instrument. Book closed. Story done. Boogsie played ‘Yesterday’, and tomorrow will never be the same.
Wesley Gibbings has been a print and broadcast journalist and media trainer for over 30 years. He is a columnist/feature writer for the T&T Guardian and contributes to several news agencies in the Caribbean and overseas. He has authored numerous papers on the media and journalism and is a campaigner for press freedom in the Caribbean and internationally. He is President of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) and sits on the Council of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) and was a member of the inaugural Steering Committee of the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD). Gibbings is a former journalism lecturer at the Caribbean Institute for Media and Communication, UWI, Jamaica and has co-authored and edited journalism training manuals on the environment and elections.