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.
I’ve been attracted to the steelband since I was a child in the fifties and, at least in south there have always been Indians involved, so it was more about neighborhood than ethnicity, and if there was a steelband in the area, neighborhood youths were involved regardless.
For example, Broadway Hatters had the Beharrys in the fifties and later the Achaibas; Seabees of the fifties and later Trinidad Maestros had the Lalsingh’s.
Gondoliers steelband was a struggling group of Market Boys that became successful when they got leadership and a place to practice courtesy the Mohammed’s , and that ended when they were evicted because of their badjohn tendencies and Cavaliers were formed, led by Bobby Mohammed.
And I would be remiss if I failed to mention the impressive artistic contributions of legendary arranger Jit Samaroo and his family, and the impact they have had on the style and sound of steelband music as an instrumental music genre.
There are many examples of Indian contributions to the art form, financially and otherwise but unfortunately this has been downplayed because of racism, especially that of some Indian cultural, social and political leaders and because of an Afrocentric ideology of some.
Indians, mixed race Trinidadians and others have been involved in the art form from the beginning and to deny that is to deny our history.
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.
5 thoughts on “It’s not an “Afro” thing , it’s a “Trini” thing !”
Why when the word ‘Culture’ is bandied around so freely it only refers to millions of dollars to be spent on buildings or dance. It’s as if somewhere some one left out the sentence referring to the Steel Pan, a HUGE chunk of TRINBAGO’s CULTURAL MAKEUP. Just asking????
The participation of the East Indians in steelband movements has been in diminished quantities to say the least..In early days steelbands could have fielded a mere handful of East Indians players. This artform has always been.dominated by Afro Trinis, then why is there a attempt to marginalize a claim when it is made the Afro trinis.
While I do appreciate your point, I believe that for the art form to reach its full potential in Trinidad it must be embraced by, and identified with all Trinidadians regardless of class or ethnicity, and crediting it only to one group does nothing to promote its growth or development since other groups though
Its origins and African roots are undeniable and are historical facts, but such emphasis can exclude many, and limit the necessary financial and political support from other groups.
The facts are because of Slavery and how Afrikan people are treated denial of any and everything Afrikan especially denying playing there instruments of the Drums, because Afrikan people had no other course but to re-invent them-self for there own cultural practices, the Drums was taken away, they found another way to practice there culture of musical instrument, that is why the Steelband was born, let’s NEVER forget why it never got the respect it deserved because from who and where it came from the Afrikan Barracks Yards……..(.I am just asking stop rewriting history and Afrikan contributions, the Ancestors must be given gratitude)…….yes at this time and century the instrument is played all over the world no one denied any ethnic group to play the instruments as a matter of facts everyone was given the opportunity to learn to play the instrument….however we must NOT rewrite history of the Afrikan people who fought the Colonial Master,they were jailed got there instruments destroy they fought back….don’t try to wipe that out or refereed to it as not important. It is not respect up to Now because of where it came from and the people (Afrikans) who was very much the inventors………… first and foremost give respect to Afrikan people and stop being and Uncle Tom……..the instruments is for everyone to play…….if it was any other ethnic group it would of been on the National Flag…..prove me wrong………I agree yes it is a Trini thing…..so why it is being used conveniently not even the National Anthem is play international on the National Instrument….you need to ask Why???…….. if it is a Trini ting!!!!!!….this is not time to bury your head in the Sand….give respect where it is due………only then it would move forward….give the people who went to Jail and draw blood to keep it to be a National/International Instrument.I pay respect to our Ancestors who stood up for the Steelpan.
I don’t need to be lectured about the history of the instrument, African slavery, colonialism and the roots of the instrument.
I am well aware of all that.
I speak on things I’ve known, people and incidents I’m familiar with, things l’ve seen, and personal experiences.
The reality is we know blues, r&b , and jazz have African roots but we don’t see them as African, but American.
I see the steelpan the same way, as culturally Trinidadian( or I should say, Trinbagonian) and should be by all as their own.
Last time I checked Trinidad and Tobago was an independent Caribbean nation, not an African one.!