Last Monday marked one year since Pan Trinbago Inc staged the historic, inaugural International Panorama competition at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain.
The competition was won by Massy Trinidad All Stars, playing Leon "Smooth" Edwards' arrangement of De Mighty Trini's Curry Tabanca, two points ahead of second-placed FCB Supernovas, performing Dr Samaroo, arranged by Amrit Samaroo.
With the national steelband movement and its member bands being very active this past year staging events every month, new international ties are being made between local pan musicians and their global counterparts in places like Africa, France, Finland, Argentina and China.
Locally, the momentum of steelband activity will increase this month, August being designated Steelband Month.
The month's programme actually began with events last Friday at the panyards of MHTL Starlift and CAL Invaders, but it exploded on Saturday with the staging of the 18th annual Emancipation Steelband Festival & Steelband Parade by the Laventille Steelband Festival Foundation, headed by Michael Cooper, along the Eastern Main Road.
A special space was reserved in the VIP section for the members of Beijing's Ritan High School, hosted in Trinidad by Panland T&T Ltd.Ritan is one of the very few schools in China with a steel orchestra and Panland invited the school to witness the Laventille Steelband Festival & Street Parade to forge a strong relationship with a complementary school programme in T&T.
The entourage of 23 visitors, including 16 high school students, parents and teachers, returned to China on Monday.This connection between T&T and China came out of new links that have been established for the supply of steelpan instruments in the Chinese market after years of work and was facilitated through the Embassy of T&T in Beijing.
Panland began supplying pans to China in June this year.Ritan High School is interested in developing its pan programme and this trip will broaden their understanding of the steelpan and the land of its birth.
Success Laventille Secondary School had been selected to host an exchange with the students and teachers of the Ritan High School, based on the successes of its championship steel orchestra, Success Stars Pan Sounds, its experience as cultural ambassadors, and its well established music programme.
This will initiate a relationship between both schools but more so between T&T and the People's Republic of China on many levels.Despite heavy rain and a prolonged power outage in the area on Saturday, proceedings began a couple hours after the programme's advertised 5 pm opening.
An interfaith libation preceded greetings, a road show by dancers of Wasafoli and North West Laventille, and tamboo bamboo performance by the Claxton Bay contingent.
Most of the 30 invited steelbands made appearances, including Pan Elders, Starlift, Republic Bank Exodus, Hadco Phase II Pan Groove, Supernovas, bpTT Renegades, Courts Sound Specialists of Laventille, CAL Invaders, Melodians, Brimblers and Desperadoes.
Also bringing warmth on what was a wet and sodden evening to the smaller than usual crowd on the main road, was Laventille Rhythm Section. Supernovas continued to display its bona fides as a genuine large steel orchestra with its infectious medley of Kitchener classics, including Jericho, as did Renegades.
Also generating excitement were Invaders with the late Joey Lewis' Bound to Dance; Phase II playing Kitchener's Flag Woman; Starlift with Mr Bojangles; Trinidad All Stars playing its standard Curry Tabanca and Woman on the Bass; and the selections by the youth arm of Desperadoes.
Making Laventille proud was Sound Specialists, its members costumed in traditional African wear, consistant with the festival's theme, and the band being fully amplified, giving a full-bodied sound to its repertoire.
The sweet sound of steel continues this evening when Desperadoes plays host to five of the top-placed bands in this year's National Panorama competition, including Trinidad All Stars, Supernovas, Invaders, Renegades and Phase II Pan Groove.
This is the third instalment of Desperadoes' Nine Fridays Tribute to Patrick Augustus Manning being held at the band's Frederick Street temporary location.
Steelband Month activities head south on Sunday at 4 pm when the South/Central Region of Pan Trinbago Inc stages Tribute to Milton "Wire" Austin, chief cook and bottle-washer of NLCB Fonclaire, at Skinner Park, San Fernando.
An hour later, on Nelson Street (between Duke and Prince Streets), Port-of-Spain, City Sun Valley Steel Orch hosts Icons of Nelson Street II. Billed to perform are Desperadoes, Massy Trinidad All Stars, CAL Invaders, Brimblers, Newtown Playboyz, La Familia United and host band City Sun Valley.
Next weekend is filled with Steelband Month events at various panyards, inclusive of Renegades on Charlotte Street and Desperadoes.The management of Invaders is also already planning to repeat its successful Republic Day J'Ouvert in Woodbrook on Saturday, September 24, from 4 am.
It is hoped that this unique event will get the blessings of Mayor Kerron Valentine, himself a pan musician, and the Port-of-Spain Corporation.?Steel orchestras, many which have legendary status, continue to be in peril as security of tenure threaten their "homes."
Bands like CAL Invaders, which is still attempting to have its Tragarete Road premises established as a historic site, Hadco Phase II Pan Groove and MHTL Starlift continue to exist under clouds of uncertainty with birdsong Steel Orchestra being the latest of our steelbands now being threatened with eviction.
Dennis Phillips, birdsong director, stated in a release: "Around 11 am on the Emancipation Day holiday (Monday, August 1), as the fourth week of this year's birdsong July/August Vacation Camp was proceeding apace and its 100 campers were intensifying their preparations for their closing concert at Queen's Hall on Saturday, August 13, a marshall of the High Court shattered this idyll.
"Protected by armed police officers, her most unwelcome visit was to serve notice that the landlord was advising of the scheduled demolition of birdsong's premises of 28 years on Monday, August 15."
Currently in its 12th year, under the auspices of birdsong, a registered non-profit organisation with charitable status, birdsong Academy is a free music education programme targeting teenaged youth. It is a year-round programme, including a five-week July/August Vacation Camp, accommodating 110 children in the East-West corridor.
The programme is already bearing tangible fruit to its most important constituents–at risk youth.
Supported by birdsong's Scholarship Fund, one alumnus will this year complete undergraduate music study whilst another is engaged in postgraduate study at universities in the US and Holland, respectively.
Yet another is pursuing medicine in the Republic of Georgia. Several alumni are enrolled locally in tertiary level music programmes.Yet others have established careers in local service bands.
Phillips said: "Having 'observed due process' and with the full backing of law as it currently exists, the landlord 'politely' serves notice of intent to mash up an institution that has been serving the community for the past 43 years.
"The issue brings into sharp relief several questions that have perhaps remained on the national back-burner for far too long.
"What does the designation of pan as the national instrument really mean? Does this country deserve pan? Does pan have exactly what it deserves by having this country?
"Is the law out of step with putative social reality by valuing the rights of the individual as superior to those of genuine community institutions?
"Even as they tout the income-earning potential of the creative sector, does the existing policy framework establish an appropriate platform to fully explore native talent?
"Or is apparent ambivalence a disincentive to genuine talent? Notwithstanding deficiencies in the policy framework, is the current impasse entirely due to a feckless birdsong?"
Birdsong held a media conference last Monday, attended by former Tunapuna MP Eddie Hart, founding PRO/MSJ leader David Abdullah, foundation member Bro Resistance and Pan Trinbago Inc vice president Byron Serrette.