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Mischief afoot with police visit to panyard
In Trinidad and Tobago, the home of the steel pan, there is mischief afoot. On the night of February 9, just around 10.45, members of the Southern Marines Steel Orchestra were outside their pan theatre rehearsing for Panorama 2011 (preliminaries were just three days away), as has been the custom and practice for near 60 years, when two police officers came and informed a member of the leadership that the steelband does not have permission to practise outside the yard, and they should stop playing immediately. The members thought this had to be an early All Fools’ Day trick, so they kept on playing. I came in time to see the driver re-entering the police vehicle. I indicated to him and the WPC at his side that maybe we should talk. He made a sign indicating he was not hearing and drove off. Within half an hour they had returned with an additional officer. They were trying to explain something to a member of our executive and I intervened, asking who was charge. The newcomer identified himself as the one. I invited him to walk into the Pan Palais where it was more appropriate to converse, seeing that the band was rehearsing outside.
Inside, the officer said we were breaking the law by playing outside of the panyard, and that we should stop. I gave him a brief history of the steelband in the community of Marabella, telling him that in my 60 odd years in this community where I was born, this is the first time the police had made such a demand. His reply was that we have been breaking the law all those years and somebody was afraid to tell us. (I must say at this point that there was no hostility displayed at any time of our conversation.) He went on to state that any time we want to rehearse outside of the panyard, we must go to the station and make a request. (Southern Marines Steel Orchestra played at the opening ceremony of the said station.) I, still taken aback, said this was the strangest thing outside of the shooting of pannists in the panyard.
Southern Marines always rehearses outside the yard the week leading up to Panorama/Carnival. The officer went on to talk about the EMA and noise levels, and how somebody had made a complaint, and that he is from Point Fortin and it was nothing personal. There and then I started to wonder if something was amiss. I recalled the many sleepless nights full of fear and unease over the years that the people of Marabella have had to endure because of noise and chemicals in the atmosphere coming out of the Pointe-a-Pierre oil refinery. Only a few weeks ago, the whole community was startled out of their slumber by a loud noise coming from the refinery, starting around 11.30 pm and lasting to around 3.30 am. The whole of Marabella was affected. Where was the EMA?
But some young people, in a crime-riddled community, coming together to play the national instrument, in preparation for a national competition within the national festival, suddenly become the target of the law enforcers. Somebody please tell us what is really going down? Are we going back to the good ole bad ole days? There seems to be mischief afoot. Why after all these years of conflict and pain, blood, sweat and tears we still have to be defending our right to enjoy the beat of the drum, be it skin or steel? Why today, when the steel pan is now established all over the world, and those involved could make a career of it, someone is working overtime to frustrate and turn the minds of those involved away from it? What is this mind game all about? If the early pioneers did not give up so that today we can enjoy the fruits of their struggles to preserve this god-given instrument, who says that we in this generation are prepared to give up now. Pannists awake, somebody is stealing the soul of the nation before our very eyes.
Michael L Joseph
President, Southern Marines Steel Orchestra
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