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Panorama needs More Love
It might not have been the most fiery of National Panorama semifinals but it certainly was historic. Most significantly, it was the first time on planet Earth that 5,000 percussion musicians performed at a venue on two consecutive days.
Held last weekend at the Queen’s Park Savannah, I wondered why Pan Trinbago apparently didn’t see the significance of this achievement, particularly on the 50th anniversary of the competition. Someone did though and he was Ray Funk, actually a retired US Supreme Courts judge from Alaska. Armed with an exhaustive archive of T&T steelband, calypso and mas, Funk is visiting our shores for yet another Carnival and is actually presenting material at this year’s Carnival film festival.
Speaking of archives, I was also saddened last weekend when I realised the proceedings were not being filmed by any of our television stations. Allyson Hennessy must be turning in her grave, seeing that the tradition she helped establish many years ago, carrying live telecast of Panorama to the nation’s most remote locations, has been simply done away with. I saw veteran Panorama television presenter Alvin Daniell on stage pushing pan for a steelband.
Why is it so easy for Trinis to discard the relics which define who we are as a people and a nation?
So, with no television coverage on the weekend, this entire 2013 National Panorama semifinal exercise will be non existent for future reference as an archival epoch and source in pan’s development.
One rather dejected, veteran TV director told me that today’s generation of producers are not keen to do local productions and it’s like pulling teeth to get them to work at any local cultural event. Wishing to remain anonymous, he said: “They are not interested in this kind of cultural development. Nobody is interested to sit down and do a story about any pan, calypso or mas icon, and produce video to accompany it.
“It’s either they are extremely lazy, or are just not creative. We have young producers with roots in culture but who just prefer to do nice, cushy jobs, doing no local production, beside news. Nobody is willing to sit down to plan programmes of local content where culture is concerned. Alvin Daniell is actually the last of a dying bred. TTT and local cultural television programming are really dead. Stations are looking at losses on local content productions, and the advertisers are also guilty of preventing more local content television. The refuse to invest in local production, unless is some small change they giving at Carnival time, expecting a whole lot in return on their investment.”
Having vented on these two points of concern, I turned my attention to the actual competition. I thought there was a lack of verve and originality in the music served on the weekend. Too many of the arrangers seem to be relying on the old, tried and cliched gimmicks, shrills, runs, crescendoes, easily anticipated transitions and dramatic climaxes.
There were a few attempts at bringing newness and innovation to the competition and coming easily to mind are Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Ray Holman, Andy Narell and Michael Cupidore, the latter two being the bravest of the lot. Narell and Cupidore really tested the waters of a competition which has been, for 50 years, one of jam and fast paced performances. They also tested the latitude of the judges, by offering pieces which were laidback and outside the envelope of what is considered Panorama music. Though pleasing to the ear, and very well executed by the musicians, especially in birdsong’s case, the judges, by their low scoring, seemed unimpressed.
The treatment of birdsong and Humming Birds opens a can of worms as far as Panorama judging and the adjudication criteria are concerned. The rules of the competition specify that participants are judged in four areas, Arrangement, General Performance, Tone, Rhythm. They however do not state specifics of these criteria, like ‘type of Rhythm’ or what nuances General Performance relates to, whether it’s relevance of performance to title of composition, or the mood of the piece. Unless supplementary criteria exist, those stated in the rules are quite vague and are subject to any interpretation by the arranger.
Holman’s Supana (The Dream), performed by Junior Sammy Skiffle, bore a strong East Indian flavour, unlike Trinidad All Stars’ Curry Tabanca of 1987, and it would be interesting to hear how this veteran arranger embellishes the piece to thrust his charge higher than the seventh position it currently sits in.
Renowned for innovation and trying new things musically in Panorama, Sharpe was at his best on Sunday with his arrangement of More Love, a composition with a most appropriate title. The music was indeed the food of love with some creatively engineered call and answer phrases. Having played with Sharpe back in the ‘70s, I can attest that his intent continues to create avant garde pan music, determined to give young pan musicians a new direction.
Space prevents me from critiquing the performance of all of the 17 bands in the large band competition, but there were some well rehearsed and executed performances from the likes of Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars, Republic Bank Exodus, Witco Desperadoes and CAL Invaders.
Now, for a bit about the medium bands; like the results of the just-held THA elections, all four semi-finalists from Tobago swept themselves into the final with some beautiful performances.
NLCB Buccooneers, playing the late Maestro’s Gold, is sitting pretty, ahead of the medium band field by three points, and ought to give some comsolation to arranger Seion Gomez as his Solo Harmonites failed to make the cut for the large band final. This Tobago band’s closest challenger is Courts Sound Specialists of Laventille, playing the late Arrow’s Long Time, arranged by Ken “Professor” Philmore, and NGC Couva Joylanders, a medium band with a big band sound, doing Crazy’s Band From Space, arranged by former Pan Am North Stars child prodigy Kenneth “Panam” Clarke.
The finalists have one week to properly prepare themselves for the acid test of the finals and the countless permutations make this one of the most eagerly anticipated National Panorama finals for many a year.
Fete for a cause
It is one thing to simply try and attend every all-inclusive parties during Carnival but so much more fulfilling when you attend those with bona fide charity or philanthropic causes. One major such event is the February 3 Hearts on Fire, billed for Under the Trees, at The Normadie in St Ann’s. Now in its seventh year, this party began as a collaboration between the Rotary Club of Maraval and hotelier Fred Chin Lee, and has grown by leaps and bounds.
Proceeds from this year’s Hearts on Fire will assist the Medianet Haiti Relief Fund, a philanthropic venture spearheaded by Reginald Dumas. Also benefittting from the effort will be the Rotary Club of Maraval.
One of the major attractions at this event has always been its dizzying variety of cuisine. This year, Normandie chef Wilmer Mago is doing something special, in the form of a tapas booth. Originating in Spain as simply a slice of bread used to cover drinks, tapas is now a culinary craze globally, with growing popularity locally. Added to this Spanish finger food will be Indian, Syrian, Chinese and Creole delicacies.
Music is another big draw and this time around patrons will be treated to a generation meltdown of styles featuring the husband and wife team of Bunji Garlin and Fay Ann Lyons, and their band – The Asylum Band, with David Rudder and his handpicked musicians. To ensure that guests get a well rounded feel of Carnival, National Panorama finalist CAL Invaders is also in the line-up. Completing the playbill are past national calypso monarchs Black Stalin and Denyse Plummer, chutney soca artiste Hunter, and DJ Remix. No other all-inclusive fete this year boasts of a unique combination of artistes like this.
Another benevolent cause for which funds are being raised through a fete is Sunday’s TTT Stewardship Foundation’s party at Carmichael’s Place, 48 Tragarete Road (next to Boss Ah Soup), Newtown. The party begins at 4 pm and for $350 patrons can enjoy entertainment, food and snacks.
Foundation director Hugo MacFarlane said that patrons can support the foundation's work in one of two ways; buy tickets and attend the fete. Each ticket comes with a souvenir Carnival tee-shirt; or, by purchasing a tee-shirt for $100. A third alternative is to do both and purchase tee-shirts for friends who may not be able to attend the fete...as a gift.
Mac Farlane said: “The Foundation’s work has advanced substantially in the past two months. We have three young men on three-year scholarships. They come from schools such as South East POS and Success Laventille. One of these is a UWI student having just graduated from SEPOS.
“Another two young men are recently enrolled at MIC with our assistance and another UWI music student was sponsored to a summer music camp in St Lucia. He is an aspiring pan impresario.
“The most recent project is helping a young man from Manzanilla to attend President Barack Obama's inauguration last month.
“Our objective is to give at least three, three-year scholarships to needy young men of promise whose circumstances are challenging.”
So, this is one fete well worth attending.