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A When Steel Talks Exclusive

Global Steelpan News

Terry Joseph Speaks
An Exclusive Interview

Terry Joseph is one of Trinidad and Tobago's cultural resource founts. Having worn many hats, from the well-known entertainment editor at one of Trinidad and Tobago's national newspapers, to his current undertaking as producer of the recent Panyard Sensations, Mr. Joseph has practically seen and heard it all.  Always, insightful, informative and thought-provoking - Terry Joseph shares his thoughts on the recently-concluded Panyard Sensations, and some critical steelpan related-issues in this When Steel Talks Exclusive interview.

Producer Terry Joseph thanks the massive audience at Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars' panyard at the end of the March 18 Panyard Sensations concert. PHOTO COURTESY:

WST: As producer of the recently-concluded series of Panyard Sensations steelband concerts what, ultimately, is your vision and expectations for these concerts?

Terry Joseph: I am guided here largely by overwhelming positive sentiments expressed by patrons attending the three concerts, consensus from whom and consequential suggestion was that we simply do not have enough of this kind of pan entertainment during periods between formal steelband contests like Panorama, Pan in the 21st Century and the Music Festival. I would therefore like to woo more sponsors, with a view to increasing the frequency of pan exposure for its evidently starved audience.


WST: What genre of music is featured, and how far away is it removed possibly, from conventional panorama fare?

Terry Joseph: I'm glad you asked this, because I deliberately prevailed upon participating bands, PCS Starlift, Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars and bpTT Renegades to limit performance of their (admittedly outstanding) Panorama pieces, the reason being that those items each require at least eight minutes to reproduce. Given that the concert was 90 minutes long, open season on Panorama pieces could conceivably result in just 11 songs being rendered, and this would reduce opportunities for demonstrating the almost unlimited variety of musical styles mastered by the national musical instrument.


WST: One of the initial reasons for the concerts was to create a sustained market for Trinidad & Tobago's national instrument, to generate activity for the pan yards outside of the traditional season.   Has that goal been accomplished locally from your perspective?

Terry Joseph: Understanding that the Tourism Development Company Ltd acted as executive producer, with collaboration from Pan Trinbago, the goal of generating interest in steelband music in the post-Carnival period, although among the primary motives, was coupled with the concept of attracting an expected influx of tourists for the Cricket World Cup playoffs. Although the level of tourism fell somewhat below national expectation, we did manage to draw some patronage from that niche market, but my observation was that local pan lovers comprised the vast majority of our audiences; satisfying the goal you describe.


WST: Would you call the 2007 Panyard Sensations steelband concerts a major success?

Terry Joseph: If we are to judge by the easiest indicator, patronage, the series was indeed a major success and on several levels. All three concerts were sold out and indeed, at the finale, the bpTT Renegades presentation, we were forced to refuse hundreds of paying patrons, when fire officials insisted we decline further admission, fearing safety issues might arise. Media critique was all positive and patrons insisted we repeat the concept as soon as possible.


WST: What was different this year from the past years?

Terry Joseph: I was not the producer of this event over the past two years, so any comparison may be odious but I can say that inclusion of an opening tableau titled "A Glimpse of Carnival," which featured elements of masquerade, folklore and tassa, did add a different and from all reports appreciated touch. Of course, the selection of featured steelbands added further value to the presentations.


WST: Can the Panyard Sensations steelband concerts finally become that major steelpan event outside of panorama in Trinidad & Tobago, that the world takes serious notice of?

Terry Joseph: It is difficult to assert that Panyard Sensations concerts can become the magic wand for which we have all been searching, if only because audiences for indigenous arts in Trinidad and Tobago are at best fickle and may not gravitate to the same kind of product with unwavering allegiance. Sustaining interest in these concerts, would require fresh additives for each production, which will increase costs well above affordability in the absence of generous sponsorship.


WST: Do you plan to expand in the future - and if so, how?

Terry Joseph: I have already indicated public response to the Tourism Development Company Ltd, suggesting a brand of local tourism that can accrue from continuation of the Panyard Sensations series. Expansion in this context would imply spreading the net, as it were, to include steelbands from other parts of the country. The recently-concluded edition had several constraints, not the least of which were traffic restrictions imposed by the Cricket World Cup which, even when eventually lifted, came too late to allow for variation of the original plan and schedule. Without these limitations, other approaches may allow for expansion of the concept.


WST: Can we look forward to streaming web broadcasts of these concerts in the future? And the possibility of a CD/DVD...

Terry Joseph: Nothing is outside the realm of possibilities available to Panyard Sensations, although the three-concert production was mounted without assurances of what level of patronage it would likely attract. Now that the point has been made, planning future events would undoubtedly embrace all available technologies to further increase reach, as this facet remains among the fundamental concepts being explored in terms of globalizing pan music.


WST: Do you see sometime in the near future when an event, maybe similar to the Tobago Jazz Festival, can feature nothing but pan and achieve the worldwide interest like the St. Lucia Jazz festival?   Why hasn't it already happened in Trinidad ?

Terry Joseph: Well, it has to be said that the Trinidad and Tobago Steelpan & Jazz Festival, which is also supported by the Tourism Development Company and Pan Trinbago, and with which I have been involved at executive level for several years, does offer a singular level of steelband involvement but again, the issue here is funding to a degree that would allow advertising saturation on global media and sustaining interest for months a highly expensive proposition. Contrasting our efforts with that of St Lucia Jazz invites a comparison of funding sources and that could well require a separate interview altogether.


WST: You carry with you a wealth of experience, knowledge and history on all matters related to pan.   Is the newest group of media and journalists as equally committed to their craft in general, and more specially, understanding of all the nuances of the instrument, the people and the movement and its respect?

Terry Joseph: Thank you for the very flattering comments, Trevor, but I still consider myself a mere student of these matters, which is probably the discernible difference you are here trying to establish between my own approach when I was an employee in mainstream media, and that of the current crop of writers. The matter of someone else's commitment to the same task is always difficult to measure and, to be sure, some of the contemporary writers on pan issues apparently think far less of their responsibilities than tradition implies. I came to the table with certain advantages, not the least of which was my proximity (in every respect) to Bertie Marshall and the legendary Hilanders Steel Orchestra, a brief but rewarding experience as a player and, having secured a level of "conventional music" education, was able to speak in a way that defended my sometimes contentious criticism. I have no evidence of matching bona fides among those who do similar jobs today, but this problem should more properly be deposited at the feet of their employers who, for the most part, no longer seem to consider these attributes essential.


WST: What do you think is the role of Global Media coverage, broadcasting, and the internet in the furthering of the steel orchestra?

Terry Joseph: This remains a ticklish question, given the often competing issues of globalization and copyright protection. One school of thought suggests every reporter from no matter how obscure a publication or program should be allowed unbridled access to steelband events and, by so doing, furtherance of pan music will be swiftly achieved. The contrasting theory implies that plagiarism and piracy will become commonplace, leaving the pan principals no better off for the warmth of international embrace. To my mind, more dialogue on the subject is desperately needed, so as to secure the rights of the steelband practitioners while engaging the influence of those who would advance pan's currently precarious condition. For openers, we can certainly pay more attention to institutionalizing local media coverage when the government takes pan abroad.


WST: What is the future of pan in TnT from your perspective?

Terry Joseph: I always rush to reinforce the point that pan is a relatively new instrument in the music pantheon, as distinct from the guitar, saxophone or piano and, having originated in circumstances far less prestigious than any or all of the above, will find "progress" a daunting challenge; given today's level of competing interests. Remember that Panorama annually produces circa 10,000 pannists, a formidable proposition if one is considering full-time employment or even regular engagement. In addition, our tradition has appointed events like Panorama as the ultimate assessor, even if the size of a large band at this event renders it impractical for most local applications, when you consider the economies of scale. Pan therefore has to deduce more ways of fitting the formula, rather than hoping the formula will adjust to its more often than not emotion driven aspirations. The critical area of research and development is not being addressed in any meaningful way (again, funding is an issue), which means that the sheer mass of even an exclusively acoustic steelpan ensemble will continue to render it far too cumbersome for most relevant off-season applications. To distill what could be a very long conversation, we have to step back and take a fresh view of pan, a more practical way of packaging and presenting it, if hitherto elusive commercial benefits are to spring from this family of truly marvelous instruments.


WST: What is TnT's role from a global perspective?

Terry Joseph: If you mean the government's role, then we will, quite likely, never have a global perspective. For reasons that remain unclear, Trinidad and Tobago has never been blessed with a government which demonstrated anything but cosmetic interest in pan, calling it the National Musical Instrument or any of the other seemingly supportive epithets accorded the steelband have all been transparently deceptive, as were dramatic increases in Panorama cash prizes and other such gestures that remain without substance, long-term rationale or follow-up action. It is only when we have a government that understands the value of this extraordinary creation and its worth as a self-replenishing asset; are we likely to enjoy global reach in the way Jamaica, for instance, promulgated reggae. For a quick example, just look at how we treated the opening ceremony of the Cricket World Cup, sending a single pannist (albeit virtuoso Len "Boogsie" Sharpe) in lieu of a full orchestra, and then not even worrying about the fact that his work was not heard by the estimated one billion persons viewing the event.


WST: What are your thoughts on the new entertainment center to be constructed in the place of the Grand Stand and surroundings in the Queen's Park Savannah?

Terry Joseph: Frankly, this all remains a puzzle to me. All I know of it is what has been published in local media by the State's spin-doctors, who would have us believe that we'll all be better off for allowing them to proceed with this magical facility, as though it would with the sweep of a wand erase all the extant difficulties regarding presentation of our culture. The most astonishing thing about this Cultural Center is that the State saturated our people with propaganda about the irrelevance of a stage, when they wanted to convince gullible carnival band leaders that they should parade outside the Queen's Park Savannah; then proceed to construct a TTD$500 million Carnival Center with a stage and, most curiously, with full compliance from the festival's special interest groups.


WST: How do you see this new facility as impacting, if at all, on the social structure and community culture that was the 'drag' at panorama time?

Terry Joseph: Firstly, it would be important to put some kind of estimate on when the facility will become available to the people. Initial estimates keep changing. Perhaps by the time it is commissioned, our people will become accustomed to the Panorama final being held in San Fernando, or the political directorate may even find it expedient to shuffle the event around the various counties. Assuming none of this occurs, the design of the Carnival Center is not friendly to the traditional conduct of Panorama and the event may require further social adjustments to its already disrupted "community culture" template. If at that time the State raises the prize money again, there might be even less protest than obtained this past season.


WST: It appears that there are those who feel plans for the center lack pan people's input.   World-renowned costume designer Peter Minshall came out pretty hard against the proposed structure.  What do you think?

Terry Joseph: Minshall's opposition to the plan is steeped in long-standing debate over putting any hard structure in the Queen's Park Savannah, which he frequently describes as "the lungs of the capital city."  He is not lonely in this view and, as you may remember, paving of the stretch west of the (then) Grand Stand, while ideal for the movement of pan-racks, did not find universal favour and certainly was not toasted by environmentalists. Incidentally, a presumably homeless person is quietly constructing a fairly large shelter on the south side of the Peschier Cemetery and no one in authority seems to have noticed this development. On the matter of public involvement with the plan: There are those who insist consultation was effective, although the majority have not a clue as to what is being constructed and, pointedly, a number of cultural organizations complain they have not been shown the plans nor asked for reaction. From where I sit, all that was needed was correction of the line-of-sight difficulties at the Grand Stand which, if we were like most civilized countries inclined to respect cultural heritage, would long have been declared an iconoclastic building; as observed by Pat Bishop.


WST: What are your thoughts on going to San Fernando, South Trinidad, every other year for the finals of the Panorama competition, as some people have proposed?

Terry Joseph: My thoughts are no different from that which would obtain if government decided to move the annual Calypso Fiesta or Southern Games from San Fernando. Again, tradition and cultural heritage seem to have been sacrificed in favour of what, lest we forget, is really reckless repositioning of this traditional event to the Prime Minister's political constituency. The parochial arguments that ensued, largely implying that San Fernando is also part of Trinidad; may soon be stretched to include the reality that Castara is part of Trinidad and Tobago. Panorama was originally situated in the Savannah for a set of reasons that had little to do with geography or other equally simplistic views.


WST:  What are the biggest challenges facing the steelpan industry in TnT?

Terry Joseph: We must first understand and internalize the fact that pan was initially offered at no cost to the consumer. People were encouraged to come to panyards and hear music for free. Then, pan was described as "we t'ing" implying shared ownership and consequently found it increasingly difficult to attract a paying audience. The shift from "playing for the love of it" to a requirement for remuneration has forever altered the parameters and therefore, one has to factor in more than merely token payment for pan music. It may be difficult to support every pannist or steel orchestra but, remember, nowhere else in the world is indigenous music pampered in such fashion. The best bands will no doubt survive and that, perhaps, is the first lesson players and steelband managers should receive. The exaggerated "democracy" of giving each steelband a "turn" at events which the State underwrites can lead to massive mediocrity. Just like bands should earn graduation from single-pan to conventional status, the concept of longevity should be ruled out as a form of merit. For the industry itself to survive, it needs an initial injection of cash to set up necessary infrastructural delights. For years we have been hearing about seed-funding for a chroming plant and that remains only talk. Experiments in metallurgy are supported by those persons (like Prof Clemont Imbert, Dr Derek Gay, Dr Brian Copeland et al) who conduct them; and not the State on behalf of the national musical instrument. No one has gone into the core reasons why factories operating in the USA can sell a soprano (tenor) pan for USD$5,000 and in Trinidad and Tobago, you'd be lucky to get that figure in local dollars, which rate at less than one-sixth of the same US denomination.  The challenge, therefore, is to reverse a dearth of information on the complexities of marketing pan and that commodity will only become available if the interest-level of the State is heightened by a perceived need to "push" pan. The artisans clearly have neither the financial nor intellectual resources required to compete on a grand scale.


WST: The present government administration has put into motion, an audacious agenda for Trinidad by the year 2010, it's called "Vision 2020."  Do you feel enough consideration and thought is being put into the role of cultural activities and art, (such as all aspects relating to steelband, including pan education), as part of this grand plan?

Terry Joseph: Let me put it this way: Pan was declared the "national musical instrument" some 14 years ago and that has yielded nothing tangible. In the interim, there have been myriad "pan in schools" projects and that too has come up barren. The only identifiable difference with Vision 20/20 is that it cannot yet be reviewed.


WST: What is on the horizon for Terry Joseph?

Terry Joseph: I knew this interview would have a trick question! Since my separation from mainstream media, I have worked on a number of successful entertainment-oriented projects and have been charmed by those pursuits, perhaps to a degree that may yet alter my dream details of which will remain under wraps at this time.

click for complete bio About Terry Joseph

Contact Terry Joseph:   Terry Joseph passed on January 2, 2008 in Atlanta Georgia USA.  He was 60 years old...


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