is pouring in from pan lovers around the globe for the plight of New
York steelband Utopia Pan Soul: The Next Generation, whose instruments
were last week savagely attacked, leaving the band unable to
participate in the imminent Labour Day Panorama competition.
The attacker took an axe to several of the instruments rendering
them unusable in what pan veterans in New York described as a return to
"rope", a description that surfaced in the bad old days when panyard or
inter-band disputes were settled by destroying the band's instruments.
The globally popular When Steel Talks website yesterday added its
voice "in solidarity with those of the world steelband community in
condemning the actions of the individuals or individual who would dare
to destroy any musicians instruments. In addition," the release said,
"we salute the pan organisations and individuals who have come together
to publicise the unfortunate situation, and offer to assistance to
Utopia Pan Soul."
What started as a minor altercation at the Brooklyn panyard of
Utopia Pan Soul: The Next Generation, turned ugly sometime between last
week Thursday night and Friday morning, resulting in the destruction of
the majority of the band's instruments. The incident has been reported
to the police who, sources said, could do little in such circumstances
without corroboration from an eyewitness.
Utopia, a 15-member youth steelband, whose panyard is situated on
Nostrand Avenue (between Beverley Road and Tilden Avenue) has been
providing a social service in addition to pan music, by corralling
young persons into productive pursuit but now it has to start all over
again, raising funds to replace instruments. The band has since
announced its inability to take part in the Panorama competition.
Bandleader Sheldon Elcock was
not available but his fiancée, Nessa, yesterday spoke with the Express
about the incident: "It was literally hours before we were supposed to
perform at a major function in Rhode Island that Sheldon discovered the
pans had been vandalised to the point of uselessness," she said.
"Because of the resolve of the players, particularly those in the
frontline who own their instruments, we were able to fulfill that
When Steel Talks reported that "a greatly-reduced but still
spectacular-sounding Utopia Pan Soul met its obligation and thrilled
patrons at 'Sound Session '04', an international music festival
sponsored by the Providence Black Repertory Company and the City of
Providence Department of Art, Culture & Tourism. The band played on
Saturday, July 24, in Providence, Rhode Island."
Nessa said: "During practice Thursday night some of the guys had a
minor altercation with the Guyanese-born caretaker and left him at the
panyard to look after the instruments but when Sheldon passed there on
Friday afternoon, he was gone and most of the pans were destroyed,
apparently chopped with an axe.
"There were gaping holes in the notes in most of the pans," she
said. "For example, we had five sets of basses and only one was spared.
The perpetrator certainly did quite a number on the instruments,
hitting us where it hurt most. We now have to go out and start over the
fund-raising that put the band together and look for pans to meet
Utopia is already engaged to perform for a band at Jouvert which, in
New York, is a time set aside exclusively for steelband music. "The
other bands are all engaged, so it is not like the mas band leader can
now go and get another group and DJ music is not allowed on the streets
at that time," Nessa said.
Utopia is normally supplied by Trini tuner Ronald Matthews but will
have to take some of its instruments from New York based counterparts
because of the time constraint- Labour Day Jouvert being a mere 37 days
hence. "We could get the basses here and because a lot of the frontline
players own their instruments, it is the other pans that are presenting
the largest problem," Nessa said.
The band suffered total destruction of three bass clusters, two four
pans, a tenor bass set and its only double-second pans. "No one
expected this kind of thing," she said. "Our pans weren't even insured
because this is what they used to call 'rope', a situation we thought
no longer exists, since it was a kind of response that disappeared
decades ago, so no one could have thought we'd find ourselves in this
"Happily, our guys did not stoop to the level of the saboteur. We
have taken pictures of the damaged instruments and made a police report
and will put this behind us and take the lessons it has taught us, and
move on. Utopia is for the youth and we cannot let them go down the
wrong road so, while it is a lot to swallow, we do not plan to
retaliate," said Nessa, whose bass set was among those vandalised.
To replace the instruments would cost at least US$50,000, a sum well
outside the band's financial reach at this time. Utopia does not depend
solely on the imminent Panorama competition but works year-round
providing entertainment and a socially acceptable alternative for youth
in the troubled area.