The steelpan and its culture belongs to Trinidadians, all Trinidadians, and of course Tobagonians.
We cannot on one hand refer to the instrument as our national instrument , and yet have it claimed by or even identified with one ethnic group that makes up less than forty percent of the nation’s population.
It is therefore extremely disturbing to me to see arguments made to support or sometimes even disparage the art-form purely based on racial identity.
This is extremely unproductive, and the worse sort of identity politics.
The major problems affecting the steelbands of Trinidad today are not problems of ethnicity or skin color, though historically class and race have been impediments to progress.
They are the struggles of an art-form that emerged from the poorest, least educated segments of our society, that is still trying to find itself, and it’s not easy.
And a large part of the blame lies in the fact that we’ve not yet fully learnt how to adequately and efficiently manage our affairs.
But in spite of all this, we have managed to make our mark, where the artform is recognized, studied and appreciated, and the instruments played all over this planet.
As Trinidadians, we can be extremely proud of our creation, the steelpan.
But as Trinis, we all share in responsibility for its growth and survival, and therefore in the blame for its current stagnation , and all the blame (or credit) cannot go to one ethnic group.
True, it came out of the urban areas of T&T, at a time when the majority of the Indian population were rural.
And , one cannot deny its African roots ( like most modern music- rock and roll , jazz , r&b, etc.)
Also , we know that Indian leaders have disparaged steelbands, and discouraged their youths from participation ( like middle class parents, back in the day).
I remember, though that the few non-Africans that lived in the neighborhoods were just as involved in the local steelband and its culture as anyone else, resulting in a number of significant contributors to the art-form.
And in my experience the panyards of T&T have always welcomed anyone who wanted to join, and learn to play, even in the badjohn days.
The steelband is the most significant part of Trinidad’s culture, with the most potential for contribution to the nation’s tourist economy.
But it will take the involvement of all aspects of society, including the business sector.
Because the steelband is not an “Afro” thing.
It’s a “Trini” thing.