Beyond Kissing Babies - Shaking Hands, Visiting Steel Orchestra Panyards and Broken Promises

The Death March of New York Pan and Culture



Words from Josh Quillen looking in on the Brooklyn Steelband community  via Facebook post...

Steelbands in NYC deserve competitive access to real-estate dedicated solely to preservation and advocacy of their culture and art form.  Places to rehearse.

...Places to store instruments. Places for tuners to tune those instruments. Places for teachers to teach and students to learn.

This could also serve as a place to come and learn about the culture and the art form in the United States. As a “foreigner” to the art form, I have to say, my time in the NYC pan scene has changed my life in ways I cannot properly express.

If Pinkberry gets real-estate, so should CASYM, PESO, CrossFire, Despers, Radoes, Pan Stars, and the list continues.

It’s a complicated issue, especially in NYC, but I don’t see any other option than to shoot for the moon, here. As far as I can count, there are literally 100s of thousands of people who are by one degree removed, associated with the steel pan scene in NYC. Anyone in government should see that as a very large demographic to speak to and serve.

#changemymind

hugs and stay healthy.

JQ

Josh Quillen is the respected producer of the Concert Honesty podcast, musician, educator, NYU Steel Director and Panman



The legendary Neville Jules (center), with arrangers Seion Gomez (left) and Leon Foster Thomas (right)
The legendary Neville Jules (center), with arrangers Seion Gomez (left) and Leon Foster Thomas (right)

Brooklyn, New York, USA -  In the Summer of 2014, Metro’s panyard in the old abandoned R&S Strauss Auto Store parking lot at 183 Empire Boulevard  was the place to be for steelpan music and culture in New York.  Band launch after band launch, with people like peas packed to the brim/wall to wall.  On hand: Pan notables galore - the legendary Neville Jules; arrangers Seion GomezLeon Foster Thomas, Ken “Professor” Philmore, Yohan Popwell - just to name a few. With the whole world watching compliments of the internet and WST (When Steel Talks) reporting, it was for that Summer (2014), the “Studio 54” of New York pan. Oh - did we forget: personages like Kings County Supreme Court Judge Sylvia Ash, and, of course, no shortage of politicians promising this, that and the other.

The politician of note was the then-newly-minted Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. He replaced the popular Marty (I’za Trini) Markowitz who never delivered a thing for New York Pan. So here was Adams taking advantage of the large crowd and again preaching that now that he was in office - everything was going to be alright for the steelpan community.

From 2014 to present Eric Adams has served as Brooklyn’s Borough President. His fortunes have gone very well politically in that period.  And unless there is an unforeseen upset Eric Adam will become the next mayor of New York City in a day or so. Conversely, the fortunes of the New York steelband community has gone south in that same time period, becoming progressively worse. Indeed, there is enough blame to go around - from sleazy and corrupt promoters of pan events; envious, inept, distrustful,  and short-sighted band leaders, and, of course, traitorous politicians.

This past week a photo - shown below - that went viral among the world’s steelband communities pretty much sums up the current state of Brooklyn’s steelband community. As horrible as it is - it needs no explanation or finger-pointing - it is what it is.

Brooklyn Navy Yard - scene of crushed steelband instruments and racks
Pictured:  Brooklyn Navy Yard - scene of crushed steelband instruments and racks - photo courtesy Noah Smith

Pictured below is the current president of USSA (United States Steelband Association) Anthony “Big Tony” Joseph (at right), with Eric Adams as Brooklyn Borough President - at the 2014 steelband launch where several promises were made by Adams.  Ironically both Adams himself, and the New York steelband community, had  much potential and promise. Adams has realized his, while the steelband community appears to be on a path to calamity.  And had Adams fulfilled some of those promises he made that night at that 2014 band launch, the situation captured in this Brooklyn Navy Yard photo would never have come to pass.

Eric Adams & Tony Joseph
Pictured:  the current president of USSA (United States Steelband Association) Anthony “Big Tony” Joseph (at right), with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams - at a 2014 steelband launch

Joseph offered this explanation to the Brooklyn Navy Yard  situation in his Facebook post - “I understand everybody’s concern but the navy yard and Haddad, the new tenants, never gave us a chance to retrieve equipment. Every time we tried they told us we needed insurance so we can go on the property. We made numerous attempts to get our equipment and was denied. We even reached out to our local politicians and didn’t get help.”

Gentrification has taken a tremendous toll on the Black community overall. It has devastated the steelband community - in addition to  destroying lives and culture. In what has to be the ultimate and the cruelest of indignities, storage facilities are now built at an enormous rate all over the black communities on what in some cases were opposite or near to, and in other cases could have been - panyards.  In reality these storage facilities are nothing more than coffins for possessions of dead men walking. If you can no longer afford to pay rent in New York how are you going to pay for your possessions in storage?

No shortage of storage facilities surrounding Metro Steel Orchestra's former panyard
No shortage of storage facilities surrounding Metro Steel Orchestra’s former panyard; this is but one...

The truth is the politicians in their unholy pact with developers have the steelband community on a death march. Time will tell if the probable new mayor will finally deliver on the promises he made in a panyard in 2014.

New York has become a city that caters to its most affluent as opposed to its most marginalized.

Another comment regarding the Navy yard pic came from panist, educator, performing artist, tuner and passionate and lifelong advocate for the steelpan art form, Khuent Rose.

Khuent Rose:  “This year I’ve met with USSA, WIADCA, CLACC-C, 12 public officials, 6 College professors, 2 philanthropists and a lawyer about the state of Pan in NY.  General consensus: NY pan is “disorganized”, “bad with money”, “too clandestine”, “afraid of paperwork ”, “unaccustomed to professional business”...”

Ironic, talking about a generation and a people that for generations used Sou-Sou (the ultimate in community trust) to build and buy homes, send children to college, open businesses, provide seed money and investments - with no paper work.  And all the while boasting that your work is not done until all your neighbor’s work is done.

Indeed Noah Smith’s photo has resonated painfully and deeply in the souls/psyche of panists/musicians all over the world. For them, it is a live, in-color snapshot of a crime scene frozen in real-time. And a reality check.

Maybe after tonight’s NYC Mayoral election results are in, there will be another opportunity for a picture session again with Eric Adams, the new mayor of New York City and Anthony “Big Tony” Joseph- president of USSA. But more importantly, promises of change and support made long ago on August 10, 2014  when their first picture was taken, will be kept. And short-sighted and self-serving steelband “leaders” will have no voice this time around.

***   UPDATE:  On November 2, 2021, Eric Adams was elected to serve as the 110th mayor of New York City; he is scheduled to be sworn in on January 1, 2022.

Auto Service Center
November 1st 2021 picture of R&S Strauss Auto Service Center after massive fire, where Eric Adams made several promises to the Brooklyn Steel orchestra community


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Fire at Brooklyn: 183 Empire Blvd - February 22 2021

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