Steelpan in schools, abroad: stakeholders vow to support national instrument

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

World Wide Steel Orchestra pannists perform Olatunji Yearwood’s Engine Room during the World Steelpan Day celebrations along Piccadilly Street, Port of Spain on Friday. – Ayanna Kinsale

The atmosphere was electric at Woodford Square on Friday as hundreds gathered for the celebration of the first occasion of World Steelpan Day. Several organisations, including the Digicel Foundation, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, and the East Port of Spain Development Company made commitments to further promoting the development of the steelpan in TT and abroad.

Digicel Foundation CEO Penny Gomez said the organisation has partnered with Pan Trinbago to open technology centres at four panyards across both islands.

“Together we are commemorating this first World Steelpan Day by rolling out the Digicel Foundation’s Technology in Education programme with an investment to the tune of just over TT$500,000. The four new technology centres selected by the Pan Trinbago executive are Katzenjammers Steel Orchestra, Tobago; Curepe Scherzando Steel Orchestra; NGC Couva Joylanders; and Harlem Syncopators Steel Orchestra from the North.

“We invite all registered steelbands operating to TT to apply to us for the further funding of four more technology in education centres. We’ll make sure you have your computers, printers, furniture, and we will do upgrades to the infrastructure.”

East Port of Spain (EPOS) Development Company chairman Chinua Alleyne said the company would be partnering with Pan Trinbago and the Education Ministry’s Laventille-Morvant School Improvement Programme to carry out several initiatives.

“We’re going to ensure that every single school in EPOS continues the tradition of the steelpan, that we see a steelband throughout every school in EPOS. We will see to the redevelopment of every single steelband space throughout EPOS.”

Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Randall Mitchell outlined the ministry’s plans in place for next year’s celebrations.

Ace pan arranger Len “Boogsie” Sharpe performs at World Steelpan Day, Woodford Square, Port of Spain on Friday. – Angelo Marcelle

“In 2024, the ministry, in collaboration with Pan Trinbago and its other stakeholders, will prepare early for a Festival of Steel to be celebrated around Steelpan Day, which will incorporate a convention of steelpan where we bring people from all over the world who are interested in steelpan to discuss the future of steelpan – the tuning, the education, the trade in steelpan. And, of course, we will celebrate in all our panyards and in all our performing spaces.”

Mitchell said young people would be encouraged to become more involved in steelpan. He encouraged citizens and those in the diaspora to push steelpan globally. He said the steelpan promotes inter-cultural understanding and is emblematic of community empowerment, self-determination, heritage, identity, and national pride.

National Carnival Commission chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters exhorted the crowd to continue to support steelpan development.

“This is a special day for the people from whom steelpan was birthed, who are responsible for its development, growth, survival and indeed its future. If steelpan is our child, then we are the village that must continue to raise it and raise it well, we must bring it fierce, strong, and capable of thriving in this big and competitive musical world, because steelpan is our special gift to share and to receive, it is our past, our present and indeed our future.”

Port of Spain South MP said it was essential that people remember what pan-men and women endured when pan was not seen as socially acceptable.

“There was a time where if you were a panman, you couldn’t go to any home and say you were courting a young lady, because you would be shunned. There was a time when you were a young lady who aspired to traditional decency, you couldn’t tell your parents you were going to practice pan in a panyard, they would forbid you.

“Now look where pan reach, it reached the UN, that they were forced to declare a Pan Day, where every year the world would recognise that TT has produced an instrument that is internationally renowned. The world would recognise that nothing comes easy, but we in TT fought for pan, and now look at where we have reached.”

Pan Trinbago president Beverley Ramsey-Moore thanked all those who had been involved in the struggle for the steelpan to be recognised.

Members of Heritage Petroleum Skiffle Bunch Steel Orchestra play at Woodford Square, Port of Spain for World Steelpan Day on Friday. – Angelo Marcelle

“We pay libation and thank all those who came from behind the bridge, those of you who were called the outcasts of society, because the bridge was the demarcation point between the rich and the poor. We want to say thanks to people like Winston “Spree” Eli Mannette, Anthony Williams, Bertie Marshall, Neville Jules, and all those who went before us, who have taken pan from that old rusty drum to the beautiful chrome it is today and that we can say that is TT’s gift to the world.”

She thanked pan man Justin J Thomas for expressing the symbolism of the date, August 11.

“He said the 11 represents two pan sticks and eight is the circle of pan, and in Pan Trinbago we said 11 were two pan sticks, the sticks of peace and prosperity, and the two circles that form the eight are the circles of love.”

Ramsey-Moore said the recognition by the UN meant increased opportunities for TT and its people, including manufacturers, arrangers, and musicians.

“We will export our talent and we will ensure that foreign exchange flows into this country through festival tourism. We will work together with Visit Trinidad to ensure that TT benefits.”

There were performances by Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, the North West Laventille Dancers, and Sheldon Nugget. Towards the end of the speeches, the crowd was visibly upset and called for people to stop talking and start the music.