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Up the Hill for Pan Relay
The question on everyone’s lips on Sunday was, “What is to be achieved?” The main players were all there—government ministers, members of the Opposition, dignitaries, clerics, musicians, sponsor reps, hundreds of cops and soldiers, emergency and telecommunications personnel, and thousands of spectators—all ingredients for the making of a very successful venture. Staged by the National Carnival Commission (NCC), in collaboration with the Ministry of National Security and Pan Trinbago, Pan Relay was organised, according to advisor to Minister of National Security Roy Augustus, “to give (Witco) Desperadoes the opportunity to stay on the (Laventille) hill to prepare for Panorama (2011), and to keep the place (Laventille) safe.” I agree with Augustus that the true test is still to come during the Carnival season.
As I made my way up Laventille Road in a maxi taxi shuttle, provided by organisers from On D Greens on Piccadilly Street, I mused while observing some unsavoury looking characters lining the winding roadway. Had I been a bona fide gangsta, I would not only be at my best behaviour that Sunday, but I would be out enjoying myself to the max, dressed to kill, blinging, with my girls in tow, at a well-stocked bar with my favourite beverages. As a gansta, this show of military force and sweet pan music was only for five hours and, as morning follows night, Monday morning was sure to follow when I could resume my work and nefarious and unlawful activities...unafraid of police, army and the law.
December 5 was like nirvana to any true-blood pan enthusiast and archiever of good pan music. Almost every “big gun” in the north-east pan world either performed along the roadway, at the top of the hill at the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, or in Desperadoes’ panyard. On D Greens, beginning promptly at the advertised 3 pm start, and putting to lie the notion that pannists “doh like to play pan in de day, and in hot sun,” was reigning National Panorama champion PCS Silver Stars. The Newtown band was followed by Blue Diamonds, Phase II Pan Groove and Gonzales Sheikers.
Stations of the pan
The first “station” featured Brimblers of Woodbrook and Uni Stars, with the second to fourth housing Arima Marsicans, Scrunters Pan Groove, Harlem Syncopators and Curepe Polyphonics. On location, outside Despers yard, were La Familia Pan Groove and Nostrand Symphony, while Laventille Serenaders, Belmont Fifth Dimension and Caribbean Airlines Invaders were based at the St Barb’s intersection. One had to bypass Despers’ panyard and journey further up the hill to the Shrine to get a taste of the sweet sounds of Sound Specialists of Laventille, Tokyo and Solo Harmonites. Some pannists at this station complained about the lack of electricity at this venue.
In the sepulchre
Once considered a sepulchre for pan music, before being negatively tarnished by the stain of crime, Desperadoes’ panyard was graced, in order of performing appearance, by Sagicor Exodus, bpTT Renegades, Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars and the host band. With hundreds of pan zealots filling every space of the yard, dignitaries, led by National Security Minister John Sandy, were hosted in the auditorium of the band’s well-appointed Pan Theatre. Seen among the specially-invited guests were Trade and Industry Minister Stephen Cadiz; Arts and Multiculturalism Minister Winston “Gypsy” Peters; Opposition Leader Keith Rowley; PNM parliamentarians Donna Cox, Ni Leung Hypolite, Marlene McDonald and Fitzgerald Hinds; Laventille East Councillor Isha Wells; and, NCC chairman Kenny de Silva.
Proceedings were hosted by popular television personality, and staunch Despers supporter, Allyson Hennessy, with blessings being delivered by RC priest Fr Clyde Harvey. On the evening, I was particularly impressed by the support shown by the young, female pannists of Simple Song. Though not on the playlist of 25 bands, they still came out, themselves a victim of crime years ago when one of their young female members was gunned down in their Pinto Road, Arima panyard. Also impressing me was Jesse Lessey and his band Jah Roots. Also not invited, they hired a maxi taxi and travelled from Point Fortin to show support for Desperadoes and the cause.
No doubt enthused by what he was witnessing, I overheard Lessey volunteering his band to perform on the evening, a request which was accepted, with the band providing music for people as they made their way back down Laventille Road just after 8 pm. In terms of music, one could not separate the performances of the “big guns” in the yard, but for some reason I am still humming the interpretation of Ella Andall’s Are You Ready? by Exodus’; Renegades’ infectious treatment to Kitchener’s Fever; All Stars’ Woman on the Bass; and, Despers’ “bound-to-please” playing of Rebecca.
The last leg of the relay
If anyone had told me it would be so demanding to chip down a hill, I would have doubted them. Following the T&T Defence Force steelband, led by retired Brig Carl Alfonso, by the time I got to Schuler Street corner, my slightly built calves were telling my brain, “tell Peter to board a maxi.” But, I persevered right back down to the Piccadilly Street, to the strains of not just the TTDF band, but also to Freelancers Pan Groove, Nu Pioneers, St James Tripolians and Carib Woodbrook Playboyz.
Apart from being in a historic and significant moment in pan lore, the Pan Relay of November 5 provided an adrenalin rush for all. It was also a project which cries out for being instituted as an annual event, not just in Laventille, but in all crime-ridden areas. One can only hope that the fruits of this very well intentioned gesture will blossom positively, if only to show the criminals of Laventille what a beautiful community, with beautiful people, they have; causing them to cease their illegal activities forthwith.
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