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
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
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
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
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."
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
"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.