Meet Aquil Arrindell Musician, Educator & Pan Activist - UpClose!

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

On separating himself  from the former executive board of Pan Trinbago  “..if there was a fight between the players and the executive then as an executive member I would be standing on the wrong side. I am a player before anything else. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life”...  - Aquil Arrindell says

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Aquil Arrindell is confident that his relentless fight and  actions as they relate to bringing fairness and fair play to the steelband community in Trinidad and Tobago will land him on the right side of history.  Buoyed by his own sense of right and wrong and with his principles as his guide, Aquil says he is committed to making that positive difference in the lives of the panists in Trinidad and Tobago.

He was one of the central figures in the recent upheaval and re-make of the Trinidad and Tobago embattled steelband governing organization Pan Trinbago. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - panist, administrator, educator and steelpan advocate - Aquil Arrindell tells it as he sees it and lets the chips fall where ever they may.

WST - “Who is Aquil Arrindell aka Aquil de Caires?”

Aquil Arrindell De Caires
Aquil Arrindell De Caires

Aquil A. - Aquil Arrindell De Caires is the pure form of a well-made steelpan being played and being broken into perfection by the hands of a passionate player. (The national and international Steelpan community).

“Aquil Arrindell De Caires is an insignificant speck of dust in the universe. However, he is adamant that his existence must not remain only to be a mass with no direction.   

“Aquil Arrindell De Caires is an optimist in regard to the behaviour of human beings.  

“Aquil Arrindell De Caires is someone who just wants to create in an environment that allows one’s maximum potential to be realised, to give the best of himself and to leave behind something for the world to gain from.  

“Aquil Arrindell De Caires’ worldly positions: steel pan player, captain and arranger for San City Steel Symphony, manager and owner of a music school, former public school music teacher, presently the district music coordinator for the south eastern district, music producer/engineer, entrepreneur, performer, author, playwright and producer, mentor, activist, etc.”

WST - “How and when did you first become acquainted with pan?”

Aquil A. - “At the age of 7, my father, Mr. Anthony De Caires, had a music tutor come to our home to teach his children and others in the community. I will be 40 on the 8th of February. That should give you an idea of the timeline.  The teacher’s name was Lennox Fortune aka Sam. He was also the music director for San City for many years. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us and he is missed dearly.”

Aquil Arrindell De Caires
Aquil Arrindell De Caires

WST - “Your journey within the pan advocacy arena has taken different turns along the path of what is still an interesting journey.  You were once part of the former Pan Trinbago executive as Education Officer, eventually becoming one of the most vocal and visible opponents of that administration.  Talk about that specific transition at the time?”

Aquil A. - “Prior to the time I served in the executive, Mr. [Keith] Diaz and I spoke on the phone from time to time during his first three years in office. If I heard something I did not like, I would usually call him for an explanation. As the president, he was always accessible and always took the time to explain his position on a matter. After a while, without warning, he called me and told me to send in my résumé. He said he wanted me to serve as education officer. In my mind I said ok, anything to help the organization. Before this, I was so ignorant of the organization’s structure that I did not even know the central executive had an Education Officer. Because of my lack of knowledge, that year’s experience was a learning curve for me. I had developed some initiatives but mostly I was there observing, taking instruction and learning. I had a lot of faith in all the members as they all treated me like a son, especially Mr. Diaz.

“In that year, the organization was over 3 million dollars in debt because of the festival ‘Pan Is Beautiful 12,’ but besides that, the other members of the organisation and I were given the impression that the organization was financially solid. We put on the International Panorama and after that we were hailed as the best executive in the history of the organization.

“From that lush rich green first-year experience, we then experienced a totally opposite dry-sand, brown-desert experience for the next year. The vice-president and the president were at loggerheads. According to the vice-president, he and the president had agreed that after two terms, which is six years, Mr. Diaz would not contest the elections. However, the president claimed that he served for six years due to the court matter with the New Visionaries but it was not two terms.

“For the next year, there was a lot of disharmony and discomfort. After the election, we ended up with two new ambitious executive members, who in my opinion, had their eyes on the presidential seat. Which was no problem to me, mainly because I was never and am still not interested in the position. But, there was this one time that one of those newly-elected members said to me that Mr. Diaz was so popular that whosoever he supported would be the next president. He also said that, according to his information, Mr. Diaz was looking at me. I expressed my surprise and disinterest in being president. That same individual said enough to me to show that he despised the president. However, that did not stop him from continuously doing things to sever the relationship between the then-president and myself, by sabotaging all my initiatives and putting himself in the position to be the president’s go-to man. He suddenly assumed most of the vice-president’s duties as the relations between the vice-president and the president grew increasingly disharmonious. I stayed neutral which was also a sore point for the president and other executive members.

“When the VP resigned, that was when information started coming out. I confronted Mr. Diaz personally with a few of the initial issues but as the days in that month passed, more information kept coming out. Cindy Rosemin and I decided to confront the executive directly with some of those issues. At that meeting, because the two new executive members and some of the old members were involved with some of the discrepancies, one of the executive members and I almost got physical. It would have been the second time that month.

“As I reflected, I realized that was not the adult me. Boyhood, yes, teenager, all the time. Manhood, almost never. I then had it in the back of my mind that when I got the opportunity, I would leave.

Dane Gulston called the first players meeting against Pan Trinbago regarding the non-payment of players. It was on New Years day. On the executive’s WhatsApp group, I messaged all the then-executive members to say that I was going and that I thought that other members should go as well. Mr. Diaz called me to ask me if I was going. I said yes. To this he said, “You go nah, papa.” And he put the phone down. I went to the meeting and I spoke at the meeting. At that meeting, the members organised a protest outside the headquarters. When I arrived, the protest was in session. I stood up and listened for a bit. Someone sent a message that said that there was a meeting going on upstairs. I went and I was locked out of the meeting.

“The next day I sent in my resignation. The president’s advisor tried to convince me to withdraw it and I told him that if there was a fight between the players and the executive then as an executive member I would be standing on the wrong side. I am a player before anything else. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. Not too long after, Mark Bassant’s report was aired on television and the type of information that came out of that, I told myself I would have died defending the executive against accusations of corruption and I would have been dead and wrong.

“After that Panorama, Ash Wednesday I called a meeting with all the stakeholders. CIP [Concerned Individuals For Pan] was born and the rest was history.”

WST - “You are an excellent musician, panist and dedicated educator - but increasingly your time has been spent as an advocate for the rights of the pan players. Are pan players being abused through the current band/player relationship? What role, if any, should Pan Trinbago play in negotiating such relationships?”

Aquil A. - “I have dreamed of being a musician who could pay all my bills comfortably. I have realized that dream. I am trying to give others that opportunity. I often tell parents ‘yes’ to the academics, but give me this child and I will make him a musician. I will make him a panist like me. However, the people you are selling a dream to, have to see the dream living out in front of them. Therefore, the pan man has to be a symbol of something respectable. We can’t have an organization that continuously disrespects pan people. We can’t have our leaders referring to pan people as ‘hustlers’ in public because it will be that I am asking a parent to give me their child to make them - a hustler, and for what, TT$500.00?

“There was this one time the representative from Siparia Deltones stated at a general meeting, “The fish does rotten from the head” and he was spot on. The biggest hustlers in Pan Trinbago usually come from the executive, who are predominantly bandleaders chosen by bandleaders. I am saying none of them have the moral authority to call the players ‘hustlers’ because they all contact players to come play for them. Then after acquiring the players’ services, talk ill of the said players because bandleaders are of the view that players should not charge, they should ‘play for the love.’ I know other instrumentalists play for as many bands that they can handle and we refer to them as professionals. Why is it different for the panist? We have a new executive and I am glad they are trying to change that hustling culture but they need to start with the big fish, and show the players of the national instrument some respect.”

WST - “Isn’t there an inherent conflict of interest, having an organization like Pan Trinbago representing both players, and the steel orchestras?”

Aquil on the picket line
Aquil (left) on the picket line with fellow protesters

Aquil A. - “It can be. But what constitutes a steel band? Is it two band leaders and some pans? Or is it pans? Probably just two band leaders? No, a band must consist of players. According to Pan Trinbago’s constitution, the players must be registered with a band and the players must pay dues every year. Most of the time bands pay the dues for players because if the band doesn’t have a minimum number of players names to pay for, they would not be considered to be a band. Therefore, if Pan Trinbago is collecting dues every year from players, then what level of representation should the players get for the dues that they are paying annually? So technically, Pan Trinbago’s membership is not the two [band] delegates that come to their meetings. They are all the players and the two delegates are sent to represent their views on their behalf. Pan Trinbago’s membership is the pans and the persons who play those instruments so then they must represent players.”

WST - “It is no secret that you and others like Gregory Lindsay and Dane Gulston were instrumental with your “taking it to the streets and internet” movement - on behalf of a better pan environment - in ushering in a new climate of hope and high expectations for the future. Therefore - are you concerned about the way things have begun for the new administration?”

Aquil A. - “Well of course I am.

“We have fought for players for over 2 years and it is heartbreaking that my fellow CIP members are now sitting in executive positions and singing a different tune. I am still hoping that I am not hearing right, and I can wake up any morning and hear that the executive has re-thought their decision and would show Trinidad and Tobago that the value they put on players is way more than TT$500.00, or the now proposed $0. It is sad to see that every debt owed by Pan Trinbago, the new executive intends to pay in time - but pan players’ debt, they say that it’s dead and they are not paying it. But CIP members have learnt to disagree with each other without being disagreeable. So, although we are on different sides of the debate, we will still knock a glass from time to time without any malice.”

WST - “Your most recent document “Cut the prize money and pay the players,” takes on the whole Trinidad and Tobago pan movement in a call for fairness to Pan players, by spreading the pain around equally. In this regard, although you have remained publicly supportive of the new administration - are you prepared to return to the battlefield on behalf of the players? Even if it may mean holding to account your current colleagues?”

Aquil A. - “One of the hardest things I had to do, was to publicly criticize Mr. Diaz and Mr. [Richard] Forteau mainly because, as I said before, they treated me as a son. But I still did what I had to do because it was not ever about me, it was way bigger than that, it was about pan progress. So to answer your question, yes, I will. However, I need to see more involvement from players in seeking their best interest. I keep reminding players that I have no TT$500.00 cheque to collect after Panorama. I am an arranger.”

WST - “In a recent article it was rumored that President Beverley Ramsey-Moore was seeking a meeting with the former president of Pan Trinbago Keith Diaz, to essentially figure out where monies controlled by his administration have disappeared to. Should those monies be chalked up as a loss? Do you believe there may be grounds for criminal charges, and if so, should they be pursued?”

Aquil A. - “That statement is just a political statement from a good politician. Nobody in this country makes it to jail for stealing money through fraudulent activity in government-funded organizations. A little pressure was directed to the president and she decided to deflect it on to the former president. That’s all.”

WST - “As a player, band manager and pan advocate/activist who has seen it all from both the inside and outside - what is the biggest challenge facing Pan in Trinidad and Tobago?”

Aquil A. - “Division among steel band leaders.”

WST - “Can Pan Trinbago be more than a one-trick pony named “Panorama?” If so, how?”

Aquil A. - “Yes. I have outlined quite a few things, during my campaign, which can generate funds yearly. I think pan would be one of the biggest revenue earners and that it would be in the field of music education, using the Steelpan as the primary instrument. Market that concept and the money will come. We also need to move away from event-based earning, and towards being product-based, selling things pan-related that are preferable but not necessarily exclusive.”

WST - “From a global perspective: does the government of Trinidad and Tobago, through its current ministries (cultural, educational, travel, etc.), the NCC (National Carnival Commission) and Office of the Prime Minister - have the expertise, know-how and willpower to maximize the genius and advantage afforded the people of Trinidad and Tobago (through steelband) via a concrete plan of action to do just that?”

Aquil A. - “I know that the government knows they have a product but they need to get the mechanisms in place. I know they corralled some thinkers to get that happening but as per usual, [it] did not get off the ground because, in my opinion, they are asking the wrong questions to the wrong people.”

WST - “Do you have any additional thoughts, concerns you would like to share?”

Aquil A. - “I would just like to thank you for the opportunity to share not only through the interview, but also your website and in particular the forum. Your dedication and genuine love for the instrument allowed me the opportunity to express myself to a national and international audience.  I am eternally grateful for that. Thank you and happy Carnival to all.”

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