The power of steelband

The massive turnout of Tobagonians and visitors to last week Saturday night's Panorama panyard judging was a demonstration of a people's love for their culture.

From Bon Accord in the west, through Carnbee/Mt Pleasant, Mt Gomery, Buccoo, Black Rock, Patience Hill and Golden Lane, Scarborough to Belle Garden in east Tobago, hundreds of steelband lovers followed the action into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

This mass movement of people to get a taste of an instrument which this country gave to the world must not be frivolously dismissed. There were people of all ages who were part of last Saturday's steel band exercise. Let us not forget the history of the steelband which was very turbulent. There are those on this island who are intent on holding on to a false view that Tobagonians do not appreciate the carnival art-forms. Anyone who had witnessed last Saturday night's pan action would have to dismiss the anti-carnival sentiments out of hand.

At every panyard, the people waited patiently for the pan judges and when they arrived at a particular panyard, they were followed by large crowds. Therefore, what we have seen is a people's love for an art-form. Let us not forget that the steelband emerged out of the banning of the African drum by the colonial authorities. This action of the colonial masters led to a search for other forms of rhythm. The tambo bamboo filled the breach for a while, but the discovery of oil in Trinidad made the oil ideal material to replace the dustbins as the rhythm instruments of the Trinidad Africans.

However, the early steelpan pioneers had to face the repressive force of the colonial bosses who used the law of the land to classify steel pan as a noisy instrument. Many were jailed for their effort and the steelpan players remained as 'outcasts' in the society. They persisted and it took decades for the steel pan instrument to be accepted within the mainstream of the society. A variety of reasons caused the early steel bands to turn their frustrations on themselves. Many years of violent steel band clashes scarred the history of the steel band evolution.

The truth is that the steelband came out of the soul of the people of this land and so deep are its roots that today we can boast that we gave the world this instrument in the 20th century.

Our failure as a nation is that we have still not fully recognized our achievement and the fear is that as the Black Stalin once sang, "The steelband gone but the panman stay."

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