International Steelband Foundation

How the BIG5 panned out and breathed new life into the culture

by Dalton Narine

© 2017 -  All Rights Reserved

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Dalton Narine

Dalton Narine

How about that. Pan’s new focus. Love it.

It’s easy to see why.

Innovation is always key.

Since the long absence and death of J’Ouvert pan — and the contemporary child-rearing practices of a bulky, muscled Panorama — the newly-minted International Steelband Foundation (ISF), a movement that’s been seven years in the making, seems to have changed the course of Pan in one fell swoop (Cue the BIG5).

International Steelband Foundation

It’s akin to the granular specks of pained rivalry among the early bands that welled up in the eastern hills and the Dry River in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, compared to the mind-bogglingly huge distance Pan has traveled since the birth of Panorama. Out of the dew and into the dawn of a new life.

That’s the great leap of imagination necessary to flush out the tolerance of corruption and mismanagement.

The ISF was brought in to underpin major concerts as well as take the instrument into the worldwide pop culture pantheon.

Well beyond such scope, to be sure.

This is fascinating stuff. The structural engineers ought to be congratulated.

Erotic Literature of the Oil Drum
Amid the darker problems that bubble underneath the belly of Pan, how remarkable the wonderfulness of blazing up everything to do with the BIG5 show. Considering that Pan has been erotically and emotionally charged by the finicky Panorama panatics over the past three decades, ISF has made significant strides in their baptism of fire.

ISF talked big to the panatics and devotees of their culture when it introduced the big do that turned out to be more streamlined, more detailed and less blocky than foregoing endeavors to tone down the steelband mentality (as well as accompanying controversial policies) and make them more palatable to the electorate — the panists themselves.

It was high time that Pan made some headway and a serious commitment between leadership and advancement of the art.

Given the instrument’s fanatical past, capturing and holding the attention of pan lovers and jammers the world over will be no easy task. Good that, with the unveiling of BIG5, ISF has already occupied permanent residence in the elite pantheon of all-time percussion greats. My view.

To paraphrase Disraeli, the nineteenth century Brit novelist, mark this shooting star, and watch these young gazelles at play.

For it wasn’t beneath the dignity of the late politician Theodore (Teddy) Guerra to embrace Pan and the BIG5 committee in his law office.

Their Business is Our Business
Right off the bat, ISF chose the right man. As a client, I had a close liaison with him, mostly about gardening, Pan and rights. Doing business with Guerra was like winking at a chick in the dark. Only you know what you’re doing. Nobody else does.

With Guerra as ISF’s first secretary, point man and the incorporator handling the formation of the corporation, you couldn’t dismiss the significance of the ISF committee. The business at hand was serious.

Exodus Steel Orchestra - Big5 Concert
Exodus Steel Orchestra at the Big5 Concert

Ainsworth Mohammed, current ISF incorporator and CEO of Exodus Steel Orchestra, early o’clock informed then-Pan Trinbago president Patrick Arnold and the Executive that ISF was deep in the throes of establishing the Company and the reasons members felt it was necessary to do so.

“The Bands whose representatives formed this Company know what they are about and do not depend on handouts,” Mohammed says, “so there was no reason to be clandestine. We’ll build the foundation block by block.”

ISF announced prominent pan leaders Clary Benn, Beresford Hunte, Lennox Sharpe, Michael Marcano and Finbar Fletcher to “align” with an advisory team that features a who’s who of local art and culture:

Martin Daly
Terrence Farrell
Brian Copeland
Ingrid Lashley
Hollick Rajkumar
Dennis Ramdeen  

Phase II Pan Groove at the Big5 Concert
Phase II Pan Groove at the Big5 Concert

Among ISF articles of incorporation, the company touted its goal to benefit all panists:

Gambling on Future Returns
When you scan ISF’s imposing list of thirteen activities, produce and promote stage concerts, festivals and competitions jump out. No wonder good coordination played a big role in jump-starting the BIG5 drive.

Exodus, Trinidad All Stars, Desperadoes, Renegades and Phase II were eager to flaunt their prosperity and success for all.

It would’ve been the BIG6 had Silver Stars not backed out, having lost its leader and arranger Edwin Pouchet, who passed away in March 2014.

“This was almost a gamble,” says ISF chairman and Renegades manager Michael Marcano. “No sponsorship. Five bands putting out the money to produce a concert. The feedback was quite positive.

“We plan to work with other bands, mix it up. We’ll always demand professionalism. The bands funded their own guest artistes and outfits. The objective is long-term and medium-term. For now, pick low-hanging fruit. Foreign artistes come in and make a splash. We say, let us be our own promoters, and we did it. Future performances would need to meet the criteria the BIG5 has set.”

Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra at the Big5 Concert
Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra at the Big5 Concert

Other bands will have some Big shoes to fill.

Marcano has reason to sound ebullient and happy.

“Sure, we took risks. We tried to be self-sufficient. It was a deliberate move, our decision not to seek sponsorship for the show. The way we looked at it was ‘Just buy tickets.’ The steel band is trying to do something for itself, create an industry that works.”

Curiosity Piques Our Interest
For me, the BIG5 happening was an ecstatic experience in which I was in union with good music.

As for ISF, it plans to promote shows involving other steelbands. The next one is scheduled for October 5, at Southern Academy for Performing Arts, featuring Supernovas, Skiffle and Trinidad All Stars.

I’m ecstatic, though, at how beautifully the Foundation has worked toward cleaning up Pan’s act.

Then again I shouldn’t be amazed at ISF’s early achievements, for within the civic grandeur of the concert, panists were able to boldly open up and expand their art in a stylish setting. The wonder is that the foundation and the BIG5 scored handsomely.

Right now, the musical and material prospects of the steelband have panned out of dire circumstances, and from what I heard and saw, the foundation has struck flecks of gold.

Desperadoes Steel Orchestra at the Big5 Concert

That the BIG5 concert was bathed in the sensual sounds of Pan and varied other instruments, and with musicians getting together to perform our favorite tunes and eclectic pieces certainly moved me and tore my heart apart, all in a single breath.

And though the romantic sensibility for the instrument has always been keen, I still need to satisfy curiosity and delve deeper for clarification. I’ve come to depend on ISF to slake my thirst by following through on its goals and activities. I’m banking on their success. Shucks, I’m relying on our dear instrument. Play on.

What others are saying:
The idea is a good one from an entrepreneurial perspective. There will be opportunities for showcasing creativity and broadening horizons for Pan. But a way must be found for unsponsored bands to broaden this type of initiative in order to guarantee sustainability. Use of technology will become increasingly important — Simeon Sandiford, director, Sanch Electronix.

My feeling is that instead of the “Big Five”, which by the way was a stellar start, the format could have been say one or two big names with lesser “stars" or upcoming bands. For example, using the Apollo format with a headliner or two, thus giving many of the bands a time to be exposed and shine. The broadcasting, lighting and the camera work left lots to be desired. Anyway it was enjoyed and ideas should flow for making it marketable going forward and hopefully not a one-shot wonder. Panyards are like cemeteries after Carnival, so here is an opportunity not only for the benefit of musicianship, but more importantly occupying idle time which as you know can contribute to many of the social ills that the nation faces today — Gaston Maloney, musician.

Renegades Steel Orchestra at the Big5 Concert
Renegades Steel Orchestra at the Big5 Concert

   Performances -  Big 5 - The Pan Concert

Dalton Narine
About the author, Dalton Narine

Dalton Narine watched a movie among friends and was harassed for watching the credits roll. He was 12. They laughed at his quip that someday his name would be scrolling like that on a movie screen somewhere. Little did they know it was a prescient warning.

A similar scene played when Narine stopped learning the piano and walked into a panyard. Nobody believed him until they saw him playing classical music on pan on J’Ouvert. Eventually Narine co-founded the iconic PAN magazine and became senior editor.

Narine, an award-winning writer for two newspapers and a magazine, started working on a novel. But the chair of Columbia University film school steered him toward a screenplay instead. Your story is a movie, the professor said. Today Narine is working on his final draft, with two more screenplays in his head.

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