The eviction of the Birdsong Steel Orchestra from its home of 28 years in Tunapuna should never have been. The issue is why did those responsible for the organisation and leadership of the steelband–which is more than just a steelband, but in fact a music academy and an institution of socialisation for young people–allow it to happen.
The contention over the occupation of the land goes back to 1997. As reported, the landlord indicated his intention to regain possession of his property and that was made known to the leaders of the band.
In the face of ultimately being displaced or possibly having to purchase the existing panyard or some other property, the leadership of the band is said to have raised $120,000.
It must be said that given the reported 20-year notice of the landowner wanting his property, the sum raised was quite insignificant in terms of what was required and the potential capacity of a band doing such work with young people.
Surely the young persons who have been part of the band over the period have enterprising minds. Coupled with the experience of the present leadership and the graduates of the band and the academy much more could have and should have been raised.
Large numbers of the Birdsong alumni have and continue to hold positions in the society and economy of importance and influence.
Incorporation of these significant ones in a fund-raising activity could have resulted in a far better job than was achieved.
The assumption here is that those efforts should have started 20 years ago when it became known that the owner wanted his/her property.
Like in so many varied instances, it seems as if the leadership and others were intent on waiting for some fairy godfather to come along to wave a wand and presto all problems would have been solved.
And what of Pan Trinbago, the umbrella organisation for steelbands? The association should outline what it did to assist–that is, beyond asking for handouts.
The University of the West Indies, whose students were amongst the original founders of Birdsong, is not without a responsibility in all of this.
As an institution of research and a place where young minds are supposed to be groomed, surely UWI has benefitted and can benefit further from the Birdsong Steelband and Academy being an official element of its teaching and research function.
It has been reported that the present leadership of the St Augustine campus is seeking to find a place on the fairly expansive grounds of the university for a home for Birdsong.
If that were to happen, the next step would be for the Birdsong Steelband and Academy to become a teaching, research and performance faculty of UWI.
Big news: universities in the United States and parts of Europe already have steelpan knitted into their campuses.
Indeed, the recently appointed principal of the St Augustine Campus, Professor Brian Copeland, is a distinguished steelpan researcher. Nothing else needs to be said on this point.
But the Government does not remain unscathed. A minister of culture, past or present, must have been aware of the predicament of Birdsong. What did he/she do?
Incidentally, as the subject of panyards is in the news, what of the planned construction of a headquarters for Pan Trinbago?
Land and funds, reportedly $7 million were allocated more than a couple decades ago to construct such a headquarters, yet up to today a rotting part of a structure can be seen off the highway?
Meantime, Japan, Sweden and others are fabricating the steelpan and selling it to the world.