Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - It is not surprising, and is nothing new, but very unfortunate when the Steelpan, the Panist, and the administrators of the National Instruments of this independent Republican Nation could be taken for granted, misused and abused by our own politicians, for political mileage, only when convenient to them, and at other times, taking the role of our colonial masters with such ease.
But, before I get into my main points of contention and concern, let me take the time on behalf of my colleagues in the Steelpan fraternity, the executives and administrators, to extend heartfelt commendation and congratulations to all the patriotic, dedicated and committed Panists across the nation for pulling together and making the national Panorama competition and the Carnival festival still the greatest show on earth. True patriots, that’s what we all are.
To the 2018 Steel band Winners: NEWTOWN PLAYBOYS STEEL SYMPHONY in National Single Pan, St. MARGARET'S BOYS ANGLICAN in Primary, St. FRANCOIS GIRLS COLLAGE in Secondary, RENEGADES YOUTHS in Elite. Coming out of the Sister Isles are the THA sponsored segment with PRIDE of D’ NORTH in Primary, METRO STARS in Single pan, OUR BOYS in Small bands, PETROTRIN KATZENJAMMERS in Large. And on the national front again is GOLDEN HANDS in Small, PAN ELDERS in Medium, and BPTT RENEGADES taking the large band category after twenty one years. For this, we salute your brilliance.
Getting back to reality, we would realize that Carnival is our National Festival, and people travel from across the globe to participate, celebrate and enjoy our cultural heritage with us, bringing with them much needed forex. But we are not properly organized and fully mobilized to benefit from this great opportunity, created not by politicians, but by the resilience and true grit of a marginalized and oppressed people? Most of these neo-colonialists seem to lack an understanding of the depth, intensity, and passion that dwell in the hearts of our cultural practitioners, so they take it for granted and continue to make decisions on things they don't quite understand. The thing is less about money and more about freedom of expression.
The Carnival that we celebrate today does not belong to the government or the NCC, it belongs to the Canboulay people who cultivated and develop this art form of self expression from their own experiences, which, today, the Mardi Gras is trying to stifle and kill with their vulgar bikini beads and Big Truck mentality. They will never understand how over six thousand panists could overlook the fact that in their own land, their contributions to national development could be so devalued to the point where the mega incentive that is given to them for their nightly sacrifice could be drastically reduced by 50% and yet they still represent themselves with such passion.
And what about those Steel bands that did not make it past the preliminary rounds of the national competitions, but continue preparing to participate on the roads for the national festival? Where are the incentives for their contribution to the only thing that makes our Carnival unique? The Steelbands are the only attraction to the stands at the Queen's Park Savannah, yet the North Stand is a contractor's dream. Did the Carnival Destruction Company (CDC), now called the National Control Commission (NCC), cater for Steel bands on the roads? NO! All they talk about is protecting taxpayers’ dollars from the Special Interest Groups, while their service providers continue to suck de well. After Carnival, they alone go to the bank laughing and the Panists continue to wait on a ‘Pay d Devil’ handout, until the next year. And the agents of Mardi Gras boast about the success of the Socadrome, while Carnival is dying in the inner city. This thing is about power and taking control of our Carnival product. The only thing relevant and authentic in our Carnival today is the Steel band.
The limited opportunities that are made available to Steelbands in some areas are hindered and frustrated by the big trucks and the police. No respect is shown for our national instrument in our national festival. That incident that developed between the Mayor of the City of San Fernando, and the police on Coffee Street on Carnival Tuesday night is a clear case in point. But that is nothing new. It has been going on since the 1800s, where the then colonials masters were setting their police to have more control on the ex slaves’ celebrations of their freedom of cultural expression, under the guise of alleged threats to public safety. These false notions were always resisted with a passion through the years.
The mayor is first a Pan Man and it was only natural for his Pan Man instincts to kick in given the agitation by the police. Respect must be reciprocal. We are no longer subjects of a Colony. We are Citizens of the State and should be treated as such. The Carnival Special Interest Groups have resisted, struggled, fought vigorously against this form of discrimination over the years. Yet it continues in this enlightened times unabated. The Police still behave as if they are under the command of Captain Baker, and colonialism. There are quite a number of them who express openly their dislike for our Carnival celebrations and go out of their way to show it.
The president of the Republic signs a proclamation which states that Carnival starts at 4:00 am on Monday morning, and ends at midnight on Tuesday. Yet, for the pass fifteen years (15), the police in the city of San Fernando find justification in locking down the celebrations at 11:00 pm on Monday nights and totally lock off the celebrations by 9:30 to 10:00pm on Tuesday night. Not 12:00 midnight as proclaimed. Steelbands doh have no fight and they know that. The people in Pan are Pan Lovers. According to the law, people are free to play mas whole night Monday if they so choose.
There is no consideration for the time and cost incurred in preparation for Steel bands to be on the roads for Carnival. There is total disregard for the investments of the small vendors who would suffer tremendous losses under the guise of security threats or police being exhausted from working long hours. This is no way to manage our Carnival. We are seeing where vulgarity is being promoted over creativity. Hold on to the Big Truck seems to be the order of the day, but no cool chip for Steelpan lovers in the coolness of the night as was the norm.
If the police feel over extended during the Carnival season, the Commissioner of police should check with the Mardi Gras bands down at Socadrome, who paying bigger money for security. I would also recommend that we promote Caribbean unity by engaging Caricom officers to supplement our security forces for the Carnival season, so that Canboulay could continue to enjoy the time allotted to them for their celebration. I do hope that now that the Mayor of San Fernando has had firsthand experience with the Carnival Tuesday night fiasco, the Carnival proclamation issue would reach its logical conclusion, where the police would stop this infringement under the guise of threat to safety and national security. We all know it is a matter of power and control.
There is a train of thought amongst some influential people in this country who believe, that the Carnival is non-productive and should be systematically phased out or drastically regulated and relocated to selected areas, so that these ex slaves can cut out all this revelry and get back out on the plantations to be more productive.
That is a recipe for disaster. Please, let us have our forty four (44) hours of celebration without the unnecessary interruption, for peace sake. To us, it is a celebration of freedom from physical, mental, emotional and spiritual slavery. From 4:00 am Monday to 12:00 midnight Tuesday, please give us our space to exhale. If there is a genuine threat or national emergency, we would relent. We are not stupid and lawless as some may want to believe.
Michael L Joseph
Public Relations Officer
Pan Trinbago Inc. T.C.
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