Steelband Panorama 2011

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The Beauty of Trinidad and Tobago

Eric Mannweiler reports on his 2011 steelband panorama experiences

Posted by Eric Mannweiler on March 14, 2011 at 4:00 a.m.


Eric My last day in Trinidad, I met up with Salah Wilson in the afternoon and we decided to check out Fort George, which neither of us had visited yet. The fort, for those who don't know, was an old defense outpost built high on a hill above St. James. People told me that you can see everything from up there, but yet again I was not prepared for just what that meant...

The hill was so high and steep, the vegetation hid any signs its slopes below - as far as I could tell it was a straight drop. But that seemed to work like a picture frame for the gorgeous panoramic masterpiece in front of me... The golden afternoon sun poured down sweeping green slopes of the surrounding hills and spread over the roof tops of the metropolis nestled below. Beyond that was the full shoreline of the Gulf of Paria, the Bocas to the right, the ships disappearing into the horizon in front, and to the left it seemed like you could see almost the whole rest of the country... This view was a visual summary of my two months in Trinidad. There was the Northern Range, whose Santa Cruz valley was my home for the majority of my stay, and whose peaks seemed to constantly watch over me. I found Starlift's yard in Murcurapo, Playboyz yard off Tragarete Road (ok it was an approximation...), the Savannah, NAPA, Park Street (which was my route between Woodbrook and downtown), Frederick Street, Independence Square, City Gate, the boat I took to San Fernando, the boat I took to Tobago, Laventille (Express 21's yard is in there somewhere), San Juan, the Caroni Swamp, the Caroni Plains, St. Joseph and Curepe.

On the Road

Up on top of that hill, the only sounds we heard were the parrots flying below and the families sharing the view with us. This unbelievably refreshing wind swept in from the sea, and with the quiet, created a really peaceful atmosphere. As I ran through the memories of each place in front of me, I eventually began to piece it all together and appreciate everything as a whole... Trinidad- what a beautiful country! What beautiful people!! What a beautiful culture, with the most beautiful instrument, the steel pan!!! Though of course you have to be careful and know who to trust, the hospitality and kindness of most Trinis is something that is not talked about enough! So many people have been unbelievably nice to me, despite me being a total stranger! I've met people at maxi stands that not only had great conversations with me, but paid my fare and, in one case, set up a meeting with a early steelband leader and tuner! My friend's mother, whom I stayed with in Santa Cruz, not only didn't charge me rent, but refused to let me do any serious work around the house, AND cooked me meals almost every day! Carnival Tuesday night, I was talking with my friend's sister (whose Belmont house we stayed in during Carnival) about how I had wanted to get the ingredients and instructions to make Trini food for my family back home. That night she gave me two bags of curry, a bag of geera, a bag of cloves, a bag of sorrel, and a container of pepper sauce. She also told me her husband would carry me to get a cookbook in the morning, which was already waiting for me when I woke up... That family only knew me through my friend in Starlift, but they gave me a place to stay, food, and then all of that! I could go on and on about how kind Trini people have been to me...

My thoughts then turned to pan, and the view turned to a historical road map... Seeing the areas where the innovations and inventions took place, where the historic panyards were/are, where the historic bands used to parade, where the big riots happened... The roads and avenues became like historical trails, cleared and set down by pan's pioneers and left to us to maintain and extend... Then I thought about Carnival and the energy that I felt through it all: the buzz of building anticipation leading up to Carnival week, the spring-board of adrenaline and excitement of Panorama finals, and then the energy and positive vibes that pulsed through the streets from J'Ouvert to Carnival Tuesday. I remembered all the love and respect people showed for pan in the streets, I remembered all of the passion that I saw during Panorama, and suddenly I came to realize some of the significance and meaning of the term "Mecca of Pan". In my eyes, it was PAN, the national instrument of this country, that was the heartbeat pumping Carnival's energy through the streets. It was the flow of blood, sweat and tears flowing from generation to generation of pan players that fired the flames of passion during Panorama.

Pan has been taken all over the world, and is flourishing everywhere it has been planted. But only in Trinidad is pan alive like I saw it during Carnival! People of all ages, classes, skin colors, nationalities, people that don't even speak the same languages, all of them play side by side in Trinidad's steelbands. The exchange of skills, ideas, perspectives and stories that occurs in the panyards of Trinidad is incredible. Also, nowhere else is pan as big a part of the culture than in Trinidad (think of the Spree Simon billboard on the East Side, the Woodbrook graffiti sign, the use of pan in advertising, etc...)

Panorama 2011While we took in the view, Salah and I talked about the various things we've been trying to do in our respective pan communities, we talked pan history, pan future, and some of the issues facing the steelband movement in Trinidad and elsewhere. Although pan in Trinidad is on a whole different level than it is back home, the movement should always be about progress. I hope that this year's theme of "Do Something For Pan" will result in some serious and realistic goals being set, a clear direction established and actions taken to create progress. Because Trinidad is the Mecca, pan should never be taken for granted there (though pan should never be taken for granted anywhere!) Who knows, with enough work and support, we might be able to have a second "Golden Era of Pan" during my lifetime! (A guy can dream...)

Later that night, the members of Starlift threw the foreigners a going-away party in the yard. We all took pictures, reminisced about our time together, talked about our hopes for the future, ate, drank and had a wonderful time. They told us the night was to show us appreciation for coming down and working hard for the group, but it really was about solidifying our bonds and making it official that we were part of the Starlift family. The feeling of being adopted into that kind of community, THAT is the greatest experience I've had in Trinidad! Before we left, my friend Marshal gave each of us a necklace which on one side had a pan, and on the other were the words "The beauty of Trinidad and Tobago" written above an outline of the country. Though Trinidad is full of beauty, the most beautiful thing is pan and the people involved in it...

I have had a truly life-changing experience on this trip to Trinidad. I had studied the history and culture of this place for years before making this pilgrimage, but just like people's descriptions didn't prepare me for Fort George, I was not at all prepared for the sights, the sounds, the food, the vibes, and the people of Trinidad and Tobago. With everything that I got to see and experience in this first trip, I still left with such a hunger to experience more! The longer I stayed in Trinidad, the more I loved it and appreciated it, and it was extremely difficult to leave such an awesome place. I hope this discussion has proved helpful for those planning to come for the first time. I am THRILLED, humbled and completely blown away, however, to know that these posts have appealed to people emotionally and sentimentally. I was afraid people would think these posts were a waste of time, but I can't tell you how rewarding it has been to hear that people were actually touched and entertained by them! For all of you who have been reading my updates, THANK YOU SO MUCH!

I really have appreciated the comments and feedback many of you have left, and I will be responding to many of them soon! I have to thank When Steel Talks for giving me this opportunity to share with everyone, and especially for the incredible service they do for the steelband movement and pan across the globe! I am going to attempt to pass on the things I have learned in pan's homeland, and hopefully the educational and musical tools I brought home with me will help me take the Indiana Steel Pan Association to the next level! I wrote earlier that I've never missed a place so much before I even left it, now imagine what it's like being back home! Thanks for reading, thank you to those who have helped me out on this trip, and I hope to see you all in Trinidad next year!

Until then,

 

Life for Pan


Eric Mannweiler

click to view entries - preface - 1 - 2- 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 -19 - 20- 21 - 22 - 23

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