Culture Minister: Pan Bill will bring real benefits

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell – Photo by Jeff K Meyers

RANDALL MITCHELL, Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, said Trinidad and Tobago may derive real benefits from a bill to recognise the steelpan as Trinidad and Tobago’s national musical instrument.

He was speaking on July 5 in the Senate, where he piloted the National Musical Instrument Bill 2024, which was passed on July 3 in the House of Representatives.

Mitchell urged Trinidad and Tobago to “unapologetically exploit the power, allure and mystique” of the steelpan, so as to promote the instrument, the local culture and the country.

This was critical given pan’s versatility, global recognition and huge commercial potential as a desired instrument for musical performances and education, he said.

“Endorsing the steelpan as the national instrument of TT through legislation will also serve to market the steelpan fraternity, Carnival, and by extension TT’s culture.”

The designation could attract strategic investments and help penetrate the highly-competitive global cultural and creative market.

“In addition, this designation has the potential to act as a catalyst for the increased production, promotion, distribution and commercialisation of our national instrument, which will redound to the benefit of our citizens.” The bill will remove any doubt that TT is indeed the home of the steelpan and raise the country’s profile, he said.

“Studies have shown that the possession of indigenous instruments promotes tourism development, economic growth and the distinctive global recognisability of nations.”

Mitchell cited a 2020 study, The Role of Traditional Music in Tourist Destination Development.

He opined, “Traditional music is an endless source that can be tapped to develop event and experience tourism and, in particular, heritage tourism.”

The minister named countries where tourism was derived from the traditional music, namely Ireland (Irish music), Austria (Alpine music) and Canada’s Cape Breton Island (Celtic music).

“While traditional music forms an integral part of the local residents’ identity, it offers tourists novel experiences and opportunities to immerse themselves in the traditional values of the destination they are exploring.”

National instruments support a country’s unique selling proposition of possessing “a unique, distinctive and authentic culture,” he said.

The minister welcomed the bill’s mandate to update Parliament with biennial reports on key strides in steelpan development such as its recognition, status, promotion, developments, and impact at national, regional and international levels.

“This statutory reporting mechanism will provide accountability, transparency and enable parliamentary scrutiny in all steelpan-related affairs on a worldwide scale to our citizenry while enabling legislative oversight on the progress and developments secured for our national instrument.”

He said the bill will preserve the socio-cultural and historical development and significance of pan.

“We have listened and responded to the repeated entreaties of our steelpan producers and tuners, our jurists and legal luminaries, our historians, other stakeholders and most importantly, our citizens, in heeding the call toward the legislative declaration of the steelpan as the national instrument of our twin-island republic.

“This bill will statutorily codify the universally accepted fact that the steelpan is a product of our own people’s innovation and a significant element of cultural heritage. Mr President, I beg to move.”

Earlier, Mitchell said the steelpan was “an important thread in our cultural tapestry that weaves together our diverse identities and experiences,” reflecting tangible and intangible heritage.

“Culture is not merely a collection of artistic practices, but a system of shared values, imagination and ideologies derived from those artistic expressions. This system of shared values creates social cohesion and fosters a sense of community.”

He recalled attending the recent launch of a book on the history of the All Stars Steel Orchestra, titled Mettle and Metal, by Bukka Rennie, during which former Tunapuna MP Eddie Hart gave an inspiring story about his experience as a young man joining All Stars.

“His story was one of a young boy finding community and mentorship which helped him to transition into adulthood and himself becoming a leader and mentor in the band. This story is a common one that is replicated across many panyards across the country.

“Mr President, the preservation and promotion of a nation’s culture is the collective duty of all its citizens, led by the government, which creates an enabling environment for culture to flourish.”

While hailing pan’s global spread, Mitchell hailed its local pioneers, naming Winston “Spree” Simon, Ellie Mannette, Anthony Williams, Neville Jules and Bertie Marshall, and contemporary leaders like Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Duvone Stuart, Leon Smooth Edwards, Ainsworth Mohammed and Kersh Ramsey. He said the instrument had emerged from the working class whose members had toiled without financial reward or any guarantee of recognition.

He recalled President Christine Kangaloo calling for the steelpan to be recognised and Senator Sunity Maharaj filing a motion to this effect, both last year. He thanked Pan Trinbago head Beverley Ramsey-Moore, Henry Harper and Martin Daly, SC, for their advocacy for the recognition of steelpan.