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OWNING THE PAN SPACE by Michael “Brother Scobie” Joseph

posted 9 Jul 2013, 11:56 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 9 Jul 2013, 12:03 ]
This is an edited version of a paper presented at a symposium organised by the University of Trinidad and
Brother Scobie is the President of the Southern Marines Steelband Foundation and the Chairman of the South/Central Region of Pan Trinbago.
He was detained by the PNM government during the 1971-72 State of Emergency and is a former General Council member of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union.
Tobago on June 29th at the South campus of the National Academy of the Performing Arts (NAPA).

We, amongst the human family of the world, have been most fortunate to inherit a piece of earth that is blessed with natural resources in all spheres, spiritually, physically, geographically, financially, socially and culturally. Maybe, it is because we take this blessing for granted, that we have developed unaware, what is referred to as the happy bird syndrome. 

Aside from all these natural resources, let us look seriously at our Steelpan as an instrument, and as an industry for sustainable growth and development, as an income earner for the stake holders and the country as a whole.

After over seventy years of evolution, after all the sacrifice of blood sweat and tears, we in Trinbago, this small twin Island nation, gave to the world, an Instrument that has stood up amongst the world’s family of instruments for posterity. It is amazing to see how the world has embraced it.

Yet, here in the land of its birth the powers that be seem unable to grasp and understand the lethal power of this Steel Pan Instrument, because, if we did, we would not be here today to discuss the topics chosen for this symposium. These topics have been exhausted over the years with no follow up or implementations of suggestions and recommendations.

However, I must say a special thanks on behalf of the executive and members of the South/Central Region of Pan Trinbago, to all the new visionaries at the University of Trinidad and Tobago who have heard the clarion call of the Steelpan fraternity over the years, and have made the much needed positive intervention in the area of recognition and accreditations for the practitioners of the Steel pan art form.

I must also compliment the UTT on its method used to market these accreditation programs to the practitioners and also for holding this symposium in the South/Central region. We look forward for more programs of enlightenment as we take the art form to the next level.

Owning this Space is a process, it would entail employing numerous strategies of specialist marketers to create and position the brand in the minds of consumers. We can only say the space is owned when, without thinking, the product is defended. Example, selling Gucci for $5.00!

Who defends the Steelpan? Globally, or looking at the domestic market, who? Is the Steelpan and its movement truly defended?

This space that was created by our pioneers, must be branded and positioned in such a way that there must be no doubt in the minds of people across the world, that Steelpan is Trinbago. After the first phase of the evolution of the Steel Pan Instruments, most of the practitioners of the day, influenced by a few well to do patrons of the upper class, came together to organize Steel bands under one umbrella body to the benefit of all. Hence, the reason we have Pan Trinbago today, which is incorporated by an act of the parliament of Trinidad and Tobago. (Act 5 of 1986).

This was not a gift bestowed by some politicians, who had a great time at Panorama ‘85 and decided to do the organization a favor. This was status earned through hard work and sacrifice, and was justly deserved. Steel Bands and Panists together with the Calypsonians were the first ambassadors to represent this country acros
s the globe, and they did it with distinction.

Today, what little benefits the panist enjoys, came because of the articulations and hard negotiations of the Steelband organization. They kept the art form alive by creating opportunities for the builders and tuners, for the panist and arrangers and all the other spinoff industries that have been created through Panorama, Festival and all the other Steel band programs organized over the years.

We have carved out our own space. This country owes a debt of gratitude to the many Pan Pioneers who have died without benefiting from their hard work and sacrifices, and the many who are still around with no recognition or source of income, and whose family turns to Pan Trinbago to foot the bills for funeral expenses when they die. It is because of them we are here today.

They have given to the world a tool and an Instrument that is being used in many countries around the world to curb crime and delinquency amongst the youths, raising them from illiteracy to advancement musically and technologically, even to fight Alzheimer’s amongst the ageing. But sadly, here in the land of its creation, the place that is blessed with this eighth wonder of the world, the Steel pan is a destitute, a vagrant without a home.

The skeletal remains of a building off the highway in Trincity which is earmarked to house the World Governing Body for Steel Pan should be an embarrassment to all of us as citizens, and an affront to the powers that be. Where is the pride for our national Instrument? How can the Steelpan industry, which consists of both the entertainment and manufacturing segment, be expected to develop to its full potential if it has no proper home? It does not own its space. As my dearly departed grandmother used to say, it has no fixed place of abode.

We have developed, from scratch, a potentially billion dollar industry that is only now beginning to germinate. And for it to flourish and bring prosperity to all, we must create the right conditions. This industry has the potential to make a positive impact on unemployment and curb criminal tendencies amongst the youth in this country. But, the powers that be must become proactive and partner with the Steelpan fraternity in order to properly house the organization and its units, so that we can go about the business of developing all the artisan crafts related to this enormous and lucrative Industry.

Steelbands would be better able to specialize in particular areas and become self-sufficient if given the right environment. Every Steelband is a potential cottage industry. Yet, most of the pan yards’ facilities lay idle for almost nine (9) months of the year. As the late Lloyd Best had said some years ago, is not Pan in School, is School in Pan. The Pan yards must become year round institutes of learning for the youths in the communities if we must rise.

Governments after governments have been disappointing the Steelband fraternity over the years by their lack of vision for the Steel pan industry, hence the refusal to assist in any meaningful way so that our prosperity can rebound to the benefit of this nation,

Our young people could be off the blocks and in the Pan Yard learning Welding and Fabricating, Sewing and Designs, Screen Printing, Music literacy, Steel Pan Construction, and the list could go on. As a matter of fact, these community institutes could become an affiliate of the UTT.

But, we will continue to stand firm and defend and protect the integrity of our institution from the abuse and disrespect that seems to be the norm in this society today. I will continue to advocate as a major strategy of owning the Pan Space for the removal of the three ships from our Coat of Arms, to be replaced with the Tenor Pan. These ships represent a constant reminder of our pain and suffering across the middle passage, while the Tenor Pan represents our creative and inventive spirit, our gains. This must be done to show us and the upcoming generations and leave no doubt in the minds and hearts of people of the world that the Steel Pan is truly the national Instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.

Again, I say thanks to the people at UTT for creating a light at the end of the tunnel and appeal to them for their continued support of the steel pan fraternity, in order for us to be better equipped to control the commanding heights of our Industry.

May the spirit of the ancestors continue to guide us on the road to prosperity!