The Steel Pan Instrument is celebrating over seventy five years of evolution in Trinidad and Tobago; yet it still faces an uphill battle for survival even though dubbed the National Instrument.
The steel pan has made such a valuable contribution to the social fabric of our pre and post Independent society, by supporting and sustaining so many communities and individuals, representing this country across the globe with distinction, as the only musical Instrument to be invented in the 20st century. It has been adopted far and wide as an educational and rehabilitative tool.
Despite all this what we are experiencing today from the powers that be is nothing short of disrespect and contempt for a people’s sacrifices and struggles. Over seventy five years of it.
Sidney, Oscar, Lennox, George, even Rudolph, to name just a few, must be turning in their graves, unable to rest in peace, with what is taking place with the Steel Pan In Trinidad and Tobago today. But, let me make mention to those who may be ignorant of the facts. The Steel Pan is a Spiritual Instrument, Steel tempered with Fire, and those who play with fire without understanding, would normally get burn.
The history of this unique instrument shows where men have sacrificed limb, life and family for its preservation. During the early stages of its evolution, society despised and labeled them outcasts. The Police used to take pleasure in running them down and mashing up their instruments before taking them to court.
The Magistrate branded them rouges and vagabonds and showed no sympathy, sending them off to Jail for disturbing the peace with their noisy Instruments (I believe that law is still on the statutes of T&T). But, in their destitution they found a sense of spiritual fulfilment that kept them to the task, so that this generation inherited something to make the world respect us as inventors.
But many of them were forced to migrate, and because of the Steel Pan Instrument they found appreciation, acceptance and a better life across Europe and the Americas. Some, without any form of academic accreditation, were accepted in foreign Universities to teach and preach the gospel of the Steel Pan Instrument to a whole new world.
The Steel Pan has served as a worthy ambassador to these twin Islands long before we attained nationhood, and has created more sensation and sustainable employment for many, than any other single entity one can think about coming out of this blessed land.
It has brought more unity in communities than any politician ever could. It serves as an anesthetic, to this day, against poverty and hunger to many in the disadvantaged communities. In spite of the pretended acceptance by the “society” today, Steel Pan artisans struggled long and hard to attain their present status in the society, and to find a place in our schools. And, every true Trinbagonian should be proud to say we gave the world the Steel Pan Instrument. Could we identify any other greater contribution?
When I heard the Minister of Education, Dr. Tim Gopeesingh speaking on Thursday 5th April 2012, at the post Cabinet news conference, about transforming his Ministry’s Pan in the Classroom Unit to a new unit which he calls” Multicultural Music Programme Unit” and “Visual and Performing Arts Unit”, immediately, it raised a red flag in me.
He went on to say that Cabinet has agreed to the introduction of a multicultural form of music in the primary school curriculum, representative of the country’s diverse culture, and schools will be given a choice of musical instruments such as what exist now – the Pan Ensemble, guitar, cuatro, African drum set, dholak, harmonium, tabla, tassa drum, xylophone, etc.
After thinking it over, I came to the conclusion that it is a very good idea to make the youths of this nation versatile and knowledgeable with all the musical instruments of the world, and musically literate too. But, this must not be done at the expense of the Steel Pan Instrument. It is common knowledge that the Steel band incorporates all the other instruments in its orchestra when necessary, according to the statement it is making in a piece of music.
So, the National Instrument status must remain pure and not be diluted in any way, especially by politics. We, in the Steel band movement, have struggled too long and hard to come now and give other conventional and non–conventional instruments a piggy back, jockey ride, cokioco into our future. Plus we pride ourselves on being the only nation that plays its National Anthem on its National Instrument.
I would like to advise that the goodly minister, sit and consult with the World Governing Body for the Steel Pan, before taking decisions that can affect the whole fraternity. This is the only way that things will work to the benefit of the stake holders.
I further recommend to the Government that they should make a bold move, and do us an honour in this our fiftieth year of our Independence, by removing the three ships on our Coat of Arms and replace them with the Tenor Pan. The three ships remind us of slavery and Indentureship, which represent our Pains. The Tenor Pan represents our inventive spirits, which will remind us of our Gains, our achievements.