Players and Tuners are People Too

Chronicles of a Panorama

by Sharmain Baboolal

Provided by, and republished with, the expressed permission of: the Author

© 2019 -  All Rights Reserved.

Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - Acclaimed tuner, master craftsman, “Birch” Kelman, will be out for the carnival season. He’s recovering from surgery.

Who, besides the bands he works with, is taking note? He's one man- but a rare foundation stone.

It’s tough to get quality steel drums in Trinidad & Tobago to even start to make a pan.

Bertram “Birch” Kelman
Bertram “Birch” Kelman

At the very heart of the thing- even before you get an instrument for a player- there’s a challenge that is nearing crisis proportions.

For the time being, the most vociferous voices in the steel band community are talking about money. Players’ remittance is the road march. Understandably so. The burden is falling on the shoulders of the people who work the hardest to make the annual Panorama competition a success, not that we can even imagine quantifying the back-breaking and mind-numbing work of all the other stakeholders.

What it is showing up, though, is that Pan Trinbago, as it is constituted is not the right organization to lead the steel band community into the future.

Because in the first place it was created to keep a rein on the explosive energy that always resonated inside the panyards which were stronger communities in days of old.

And it served very little positive purpose because of those shackles. When Pan Trinbago hosts an Extra Ordinary meeting on Sunday to discuss plans for the 2019 Panorama season- as much as the new executive may be better prepared because they are challenged to be so or die a painful death, it will be the same old.

Because even from the floor the people who are likely to speak will get all emotional- and they would be the same voices dating back to that fateful meeting on January 1st 2017 which started the ball rolling to move the former President  Keith Diaz out of office.

With that accomplished, some of the voices will now have to speak louder because they realize that the more things seem to change the more they remain the same.

But will they speak louder, saying the same things over and again or bring food for the trough, or fuel for the fire?

For many players it is not just about the money- there could be issues with the management of the bands where they practise and how they are treated.

What about the conditions under which they practice?

Bandleaders need to put their house in order before they start speaking on behalf of the players.

Let players speak for themselves, too.

As for tuners, while some may have a relationship with Pan Trinbago, depending on who the president is, there is already a crisis.

Indeed there may be quite a number of young students indulging in the craft from both the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) and the University of the West Indies (UWI).

But experience shows us that the people who laid the foundation- from the pan makers like the legendary Tony Williams from whom Kelman learnt, like Bertie Marshall from whom Roland Harrigin gained some knowledge - are not being treated with the respect they should be.

Up to the time of his death, Bertie who worked at UTT was owed a lot of money.

And this is just one drop in the bucket. Just one tiny drop.

The quality of the sound will be affected— of the focus is on the Panorama competition alone- and that is bad.

Band leaders represent the interests of their bands when they attend meetings. People talk about score sheets and about the rules.

Maybe they know that within Pan Trinbago there is no room to manoeuvre to take a holistic approach to the steel band.

No one is demanding a united approach, either, which leaves room for the politicians to talk directly to the members of the Pan Trinbago executive as if they are schoolboys at the behest of the National Carnival Commission.

And therein lies the problem.

The band leaders are upholding a useless institution.

We need new wine in new bottles.

The biggest gift from the new executive of Pan Trinbago would be to come down from their positions of authority and admit they need a new approach with a new constitution for all the people, by all the people.  

Author Sharmain Baboolal
About the author, Sharmain Baboolal

A Journalist/Editor based in Trinidad and Tobago, with 35 years experience in print, broadcast and digital media. As a founding member of the T&T Mirror Newspaper, I served as photo journalist, columnist and editor over 23 years.

My experience in broadcast journalism started and ended at the now defunct National Broadcasting Service (Radio 610 AM and Radio 100 FM). I honed my skills in broadcast journalism at the Radio Netherland Training Centre (RNTC) and I am a certified media trainer.

Single-handedly, I established a small but effective News Department at Trinidad and Tobago Radio Network Limited (TTRN). As a seasoned news woman I am skilled in photojournalism, parliament and court reporting, writing and producing for print, electronic (radio and video) as well as digital media and promotions. I have mentored and trained a few younger writers and producers along the way. For this and more I earned a National Award in 2012, the Humming Bird Medal (Gold). I am the mother of a young scholar, an undergrad at Columbia University in New York, and a lover of steelpan music.

contact Sharmain Baboolal at:

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