Stop using Hells Gate Steel Orchestra as a scapegoat


by Stafford Joseph - Senior Panthologist

This piece originally appeared in the Antigua Observer on May 30, 2023. Provided by and published with the expressed permission of, the author

On Sunday May 28, during the Sessions in Steel programme, from the level of discussions held and the input by some individuals who are known principals of the Antigua and Barbuda Pan Association (ABPA), I deem it a covert and overt attempt by these individuals to use the Caribbean Union Bank Hells Gate Steel Orchestra (CUB-HGSO) as a ‘scapegoat’ for the ABPA leadership’s continued failure to appropriately manage the association’s affairs.

It also appears that the host of the show found great pleasure in aiding the diatribe against CUB-HGSO.

CUB-HGSO, effective 2009, organised and held its show “Panorama Launch” as a precursor to Antigua and Barbuda National Panorama, based on advice from the ABPA that a Panorama is officially scheduled to be held.

The ABPA advised its member bands the 2023 Antigua and Barbuda National Panorama will be held on August 5.

CUB-HGSO, based on the ABPA’s confirmation that Panorama 2023 is on, started to advertise its annual ‘Panorama Launch”, at which other member bands are invited and accommodated. A gate price was established as has been for each such former annual Panorama Launch.

At no time since the inception of the CUB-HGSO ‘Panorama Launch”, to date, has CUB- HGSO mentioned that is “Panorama Launch” show was a fundraiser. Hence, it is clear that the individuals who are guilty of spreading this diatribe are only doing so for a sole purpose. That is to have an excuse to call off Panorama 2023.

The nation of Antigua and Barbuda, first and foremost, and the global community must know that the CUB-HGSO has over the years and continues to be grateful for and places significant value on the financial and in-kind assistance received from former and current corporate bodies, the government of Antigua and Barbuda, individuals, supporters, the dedicated youths and their parents and families.

The CUB-HGSO is very much aware that corporate bodies and the government have their limitations. This we respect. Hence, in order to fully achieve our development goals, we internally employ self-help / exploit our full potentials, through ‘capacity building’.

The involved individuals who were trying to tell the listening public that CUB-HGSO has “deep pockets” were only doing so to sell the idea that CUBHGSO is hosting a fundraiser because it is now facing financial difficulties. Hence, other bands can opt not to participate in Panorama 2023. 

The involved individuals are very much aware that no national Panorama will come off without a stipulated amount of participating bands.

CUB-HGSO does not view corporate bodies and the GOAB as “milch cows”. Never did and never will. The involved individuals seem to think otherwise.

The diatribe spewed against CUB-HGSO by the involved individuals is seemingly the mental attitude of the leadership of the ABPA. Each year, the leadership of the ABPA hibernates from “Carnival Tuesday” in August one year, to at times mid to end May the following year, then wakes up with “cup-in-hand” and makes demands from the government. The government never sleeps.

It is glad to have such mentality as the leadership of the ABPA to deal with, because it knows that the principals of the ABPA are very disorganised, weak, and not in a position to seriously negotiate on behalf of its membership.

Until the principals of the ABPA fully understand the importance of collective input within an organisation, it will remain in the position it is in forever.

Is the ABPA a registered institution? Is the ABPA governed by an established constitution? It appears that the answer is no.

Hence, the reason for the involved individuals using the media to launch such diatribe against CUBHGSO, a paying member of the ABPA. It is also alleged that some of the involved individuals are sitting members of the ABPA executive body.

During the talk show, I heard mention about a reduction of the maximum size of participating bands for the 2023 national Panorama. This, the involved individuals indicated, was due to financial constraints. Clearly, another ploy to avoid participating in 2023 national Panorama.

Bands that are not interested in entering the Panorama should not be allowed to cripple the efforts of the other bands that are willing and ready to move forward. Should we allow them to have their way, it could mean the demise of the youth programmes of all the seriously committed bands.

What is the rational for reducing the maximum size for bands participating in the national Panorama from 110 to 75? Then the member bands that are pushing for this change subsequently receive government subvention (taxpayers’ money) and utilise it to import players from overseas while at the same time denying the children of our taxpayers the opportunity to participate in our national Panorama?

These individuals don’t see the necessity to look within their communities for youths to grow their bands. They lack the intestinal fortitude to do so and to a great extent seem not to place any value on youth development.

Don’t blame CUB-HGSO for its proven successful ongoing youth and adult programme. Children are the future of the world.

I can recall that when the Hon Baldwin Spencer served as President of the ABPA, a minimum of four bands were required for Panorama to take place. CUB-HGSO, then HGSO, unsponsored, would participate. Notwithstanding being the smallest size band.

Thanks to Aska’s Grocery Shop, Brownie’s Bakery, Destin’s Hardware and HGSO self-help initiatives.

Effective 1996 - 2000, there was no Panorama, due to the passage of Hurricane Luis, a natural disaster.

Effective 2001 to 2019, Panorama again became a reality, resultant of the yeoman service and efforts of the genuine steelpan activist within our steelpan fraternity.

Effective 2020 to 2021, there was no Panorama, due to the virus. Despite its very negative effects, CUB-HGSO was omnipresent locally, regionally and internationally, promoting and preserving the steelpan art form.

In 2023, it appears as if a new virus, “PANTICKS 2023”, created by some very disingenuous make-believe steelpan enthusiasts, is about to be released deliberately, to cripple Panorama. A watered-down Panorama is not a Panorama.

The future of the steelpan movement is our youths. Its effective survival will become their responsibility. We must vehemently oppose any and all attempts to destroy our youths.

The very selfish mentalities and mannerisms that are rearing their ugly heads within the steelpan movement must not be given even a pinch of breathing space to effect their heinous plot.

Hence, while they plot, we the genuine up-keepers of the steelpan movement must plan for the greatest good, for all.

Stafford Joseph
Stafford Joseph

The problems with bands that are failing is that of poor management, lack of imagination, lack of creativity, greed/selfishness, and laziness. They are the sole reason for the stagnated situation in which they find themselves. We, the genuine ‘culture bearers’, cannot and must not allow them to drag us down to their no dimension level. They are not even vegetating.

From my personal experience and serving on two occasions as President of the ABPA, I was left with no alternative but to resign from the position twice, resultant of the mental attitude/thought patterns and behaviour of some key executive members and band leaders. That mentality permeates the ABPA to date.

Genuine positive change will only become a reality when those amongst us, who want a positive functioning ABPA, discreetly radicalise and organise ourselves to achieve our goal.

“Organisations are created for the greatest good of the greater many. Not for the benefit of any individual or special interest group.”

CUB-HGSO is fully cognisant of the below stated: “Without preparation, the managing of institutions is unfeasible. Preparedness against the unexpected is a way of good governance and leadership. Even bees have venom; how much the more do nations/institutions. If you are unprepared, even if there are many of you, mere numbers cannot be counted on. Only when we do our tasks are we prepared: when we are prepared, there is no trouble.”

Therefore, the actions of institutions must have preparation.

HGSO is not just any institution, but a local and internationally recognised institution.

Its remarkable survival to date is resultant of its preparedness for the unexpected.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Hells Gate Steel Orchestra on stage at the 2023 Antigua & Barbuda Panorama
Hells Gate Steel Orchestra on stage at the 2023 Antigua & Barbuda Panorama

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