10.06.02

STEELBANDS SAY
  "PAN IS IN DANGER!"

By ADIKA BUTLER

 

Steelband members from the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA), the United States Steelband Association (USSA), and Pan Trinbago North America, convened at a Brooklyn panyard to discuss the future of pan music in New York, on the evening of Thursday 3 October.  The meeting organized by City Council Member, Kendall Stewart, set a precedent as the rival pan organizations formally discussed their differences for the first time ever in New York.

 

Black unity was the theme of the night, a message echoed by all on hand.  "The two Pan-O-Ramas cannot continue," said Dwight Dasilva, of 103.1 FM's Bashment Radio in New York, who called for a centralized governing body for all steelbands.

 

When, or if that occurs, panists have said that one of the most pressing issues to be addressed for their community is economic empowerment.  Although the Labor Day carnival ––which includes the Pan-O-Rama steelband competition ––generates $3-400 million for New York City, the pan people who help make it possible said they have little to show for their cultural contributions.

 

"Everybody's making money but we're treated like second class citizens," said All Caribbean Steelband Association President, Anthony Joseph, who is also manager of the Metro Steel Orchestra.  "When the end of the summer is over I can't even get [my children] a pair of sneakers."

  

All who voiced their opinions seemed to agree that WIADCA and the USSA must unite under one banner.  However, the question of exactly who will assume the role of leadership within the New York City pan scene remains unanswered.  Tasso Steel Orchestra's Ian Graves, thinks he knows why.

 

"We need somebody we can trust," said Graves.  "This whole thing is about trusting one another.  In life you have to trust somebody.  You could have the biggest business… but you must be able to leave your co-pilot to run that ship if need be".

 

The meeting, held at the Metro Steel Orchestra practice site was attended by representatives from several New York City steelbands, including: C.A.S.Y.M,; Despers USA; D'Radoes; Sonatas; Dem Stars; Crossfire; Moods; Women in Steel; Marsicans; Utopia Pan Soul and Pan Ambassadors. USSA President, Horace Morancie and J'Ouvert City representatives Yvette E. Rennie and Earl King were also on hand along with many others.

 

Council Member Kendall  Stewart was not on hand.

 

STATUS OF PAN IN TRINIDAD

 

Basement Recordings–– the Brooklyn-based studio that runs a website offering news and information on steelbands from New York and Trinidad––had an exclusive interview with International Steelpan and Calypso Society founder and President, Khalick J. Hewitt, two weeks ago.  For over 30 years the Trinidadian native and self proclaimed "panologist" has immersed himself in what he calls "a labor of love," diligently chronicling the history of steel pan music.

 

He said that even on the island, the art form once referred to by the Church as "the devil's music," is in danger of going down under.

 

"Its serious, because the organization that is responsible for the promotion of steelbands, that calls itself the custodian of the steelband movement ––which is Pan Trinbago–– does not have a clue, it does not have a clue where to take the steelband," said Hewitt.

 

During his criticism of Trinidad's pan organization, Hewitt said that too many panists have failed to properly pass the culture on to the younger generation.

 

"Young Trinidadians may have developed a pattern, a design" for the music "but what they lack to date is the ability to tune the instruments," said Hewitt.  "So you have a source of employment for the tuners in Trinidad and Tobago, that they can go all over the world, and tune these instruments that the Europeans, Canadians, and Americans are so interested in.  You don't have that… as far as my knowledge, there is no plan or vision by the government of Trinidad and Tobago to use the steel pan as a form of employment for so many panists who are unemployed."

 

Hewitt said that Cary Cordrington, of the Pan Family Steel Pan Association in Trinidad is struggling to make a living from his talent on the island, yet there is a groundswell of interest overseas.  "If he leaves Trinidad and Tobago tomorrow he will be gainfully employed," said Hewitt, who explained that Cordrington has not taken that step, out of a sense of allegiance to his homeland.

 

Hewitt said that if Trinidadian pan music is to thrive, New York City panists must be in the driver's seat to direct the art form into the next century and beyond.

 

"[New York] can take the technology that is so available… plus you have a mayor that is not as confrontational as before," said Hewitt.  "You have programs in the city schools that are asking for the cultural aspect [of pan] to be implemented…  There should be a steelband in every school in New York City that has a Caribbean population.  There should be a steelband attached to every church [in New York] that has a Caribbean population."

 

Basement Recordings engineer and former Despers USA band member, Trevor John, says that interest in pan overseas is increasing, at such a rapid pace that if Trinidadians are not careful their art form will be ripped from their grasps.

 

"If all you knew about pan was through the internet you would think that Black people have absolutely nothing to do with it," said John referring to the growth of European and Japanese steelbands over the last few years. 

 

MORE STORIES FROM PAN TIMES

 

 You can E-mail the writer at  AdikaButler@yahoo.com

 

 

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©2002 Basement Recordings, Inc. All rights reserved.

Last modified: October 22, 2002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basement's Adika Butler interviews panologist
Khalick J. Hewitt

 
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