Steelbands : From the Streets to the Concert Hall

OK folks.
There have been a lot of discussion about returning the steelband to the more active role in the carnival parade , and this discussion has usually degenerated into a argument over the difficulty of achieving mobility for the Steelband , “pushing pan”, and a belief expressed by some that trying to replicate Steelband successes of the past, was somehow a negative thing , “nostalgia “, and not worthy of our considerations.

My thoughts go a lot deeper than that.

We all know how and why the Steelband was conceived , i.e. to provide music for the masses at carnival.
It was in this role , aided by early Steelband tours, that gained early international recognition for the Steelband.
The Steelband’s role in the carnival, along with the calypso art-form, gave the Steelband an identity closely associated with the Trinidad Carnival , a role that was celebrated in word and song by our best artists.
That identity is the one still closest to the minds of many worldwide , who may have a vague understanding of the modern steelband , and the art-form.
Other than that, the Steelband doesn’t have much of an identity , once we get away from the Caribbean diaspora.

In our desire to ‘modernize” the Steelband , we have in effect removed the emphasis from the streets and party image, to that of the stage and concert hall.
And therefore the focus of the Steelband’s appeal was changed from the streets and the party loving crowds to the sophisticated music lover ,the jazz or classical music fan.

This performance is from “Pan Rising – Pan is Beautiful IV”. The conductor is Trinidad’s famed musicologist, Dr. Pat Bishop. Dr Pat Bishop passed away suddenly on August 20th, 2011. May she Rest in Peace.

Panorama music , for instance , is not really for the casual listener or party person , but for the true fan of the genre.

This is not of itself a bad thing , but I think that this approach will have limited appeal in exposing pan music to the masses.
On the other hand ,I think that more of an involvement in the carnival, a time when we could conceivably have the widest exposure, would force steelbands to focus more on contemporary party music , and hopefully widen the fan base , locally , and internationally.

And could even lead to more interest in the panorama competition.

We should not forget that Steelband music was always different in pace and tempo from big band music , in the streets and in the halls.
This was especially the case when dance bands played on the streets for what we called “historical” bands.
Remember those days ?

We could never replace the big bands back in the day , or the DJs today.
But we should be able to co-exist , if we give the effort , do the work , and the planning.

And btw , though my thoughts are mainly in reference to the steelbands of T&T , wider visibility , and awareness of the steelband and steelband culture should also be a boon to individual panists ,and small groups , everywhere.


Steel band Carnival Parade on Frederick Street , Port of Spain , Trinidad in 1956

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s