What can the future hold for the steelbands of Trinidad and Tobago?
Where do we go from here?
Where we go from here depends on what options we think are available for the Steelband, and most of us are inside a”pan bubble”, so we see “through a glass darkly ” as the Bible says.
For instance, the reality is that because of modern technology, piracy, file sharing etc. traditional record sales are not as rewarding as in past years, which is why many established artists still tour.
The established music genres mastered by the steelband i.e. jazz and classical music have limited appeal today, and the novelty of demonstrating the ability of steel bands to play complex classical pieces can take us only so far.
As a matter of fact, that has long been established and recognized.
And the modern preferred genre, the panorama tune, has yet to establish a foothold in the world of music, even after a half century.
Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra won their first T&T National Steelband Panorama in 1973 with this Rudy Wells arrangement of Lord Kitchener’s hit “Rain-o-rama”
The steelband is losing its image associated with a partying, carnival type scenario, and has tried to establish itself as more of a European style classical orchestra.
I do not think that image has much appeal to the youth locally and internationally, and without youth interest and support, the future for the Steelband seems to me to be rather limited.
The idea of steel bands touring internationally, wowing audiences (as was done in the past) and thereby making decent profits seems to me to be a bit far fetched.
( Remember I’m not talking about individuals or even small groups; I am referring to steel bands as we know them, from the stage side to the full panorama band).
It has long been recognized that the “Steelband carnival ” image was a viable tourist attraction, but somehow we’ve taken that off the table, instead of developing it as an important cultural asset.
Here is a taste of steelbands on the road on Carnival day, 1960. The steelband parade features North Stars Steel Orchestra playing Sparrow’s “May May”, Savoys Steel Orchestra with Tito Puente’s “Cute Chick”, and Ebonites Steel Orchestra with an arrangement of Friedrich “Fritz” Kreisler’s “Liebesfreud”.
IMHO, the future of the steel-band in Trinidad is tied to the nation’s culture, primarily the carnival, and if and when, because of economic realities, the nation decides to use the culture as a source of generating revenue to the nation’s treasury, the steel bands should play a major role, and have a substantial share in that revenue.
Therefore where we go from here would depend on the government and people Of Trinidad and Tobago recognizing the social, cultural and economic value of the Steelband, and developing and promoting it accordingly.
Steel bands cannot do it by themselves.
Without a national commitment to the pan and especially the Steelband, we’ll be asking the same questions, ten years from now.