Highlanders Steel Orchestra during their Panorama semifinal performance in this 2018 file photo.
The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts distributed $5.7 million to 147 unsponsored steel bands during a ceremony at the National Academy of Performing Arts on January 25.
The funds, aimed at alleviating financial burdens and supporting the steelpan players, were met with appreciation from band representatives and Pan Trinbago President Beverly Ramsey.
Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell spoke about challenges faced during what he called a demanding time, especially with the upcoming carnival season and Sunday Panorama semifinals.
He said the steel pan plays an integral role in Trinidad and Tobago’s culture and stressed the need to support and preserve its art form. Mitchell praised the steel bands for their community development efforts and instilling discipline among their members.
“You are the ones who go out into the communities and get young people and others involved, continuously developing the instrument and the movement. Instilling discipline, organisation, and community development in your communities We see it every time there is a competition.”
He spoke about the global recognition of steel pan, citing the proposal to declare August 11 as World Steelpan Day by the United Nations.
“We have to pack in Woodford Square. A lot more than we did this year. Because when you compare the (Woodford) square to Times Square in New York, Times Square had more people in it than we had in Woodford Square. But that is how much people love this thing called steelpan.”
President of Pan Trinbago, Beverly Ramsey-Moore, echoed Mitchell’s sentiments on the continuous partnership between the organisation and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts. She commended the Ministry’s understanding of the invaluable contributions made by steel bands to society, recognising the challenges faced by band leaders.
Ramsey-Moore stressed the importance of financial support from the government, corporate entities and the community to sustain the steel pan movement.
In an interview with Newsday, Kareem Brown, arranger for Highlander Steel Orchestra and manager for Unistars Steel Orchestra, said he received $15,000 for Highlander and $7,500 for Unistars. Brown stressed the necessity of government support for bands to participate in the season, citing expenses related to tuning, instruments, member uniforms and other essentials.
Brown applauded the government’s efforts to create activities outside of the carnival season but advocated for more initiatives, such as creating markets and festivals for steel pan. He suggested encouraging the private sector to hire steel bands for performances beyond the carnival period, providing ongoing opportunities for pan players.
Camille Ramkaran, Secretary of Option 1 Musical Ensemble, a medium band from Sangre Grande, expressed gratitude for the $15,000 grant, acknowledging its significance during the carnival season. She described the band’s diverse performances at weddings, birthdays, graduations and church functions, explaining how the funds would be used to buy new instruments, tune existing ones and cover additional repairs.
President of Arima All Stars, Michael Thorne, also spoke about the importance of government funding, saying he collected a $7,500 grant. Thorne called for more government-organised events throughout the year to keep the steel pan active, citing the increasing costs of arranging, tuning, and overall band management.