Trinidad’s Carnival culture and the role of the Steelband.

Whenever we discuss the future of the steelband, we keep hearing these tired old  arguments about “changing times” and “old school”, and “pushing pans” which have nothing to do with my ideas when I speak of modern steelbands participation in carnival beyond panorama

My entire argument is simple.

The steelband , even after all these years , and “changes “, remains our most unique, and valuable cultural asset, and I am convinced that the carnival period is still the best time of year to package and sell that asset to international audiences and visitors as a boost to tourism and a way of generating income in which the steelbands can share.

We’ve tried the panorama model for half a century and it obviously hasn’t gotten us very far, as a marketing tool.

We have severely underestimated the importance of the carnival street parade to the development and exposure of the steelband.

Even Kim Johnson’s otherwise fine movie “PAN! Our Music Odyssey” made little if any mention of the role the steelband played in the growth of the carnival parade in the post-war years (WWII) and vice versa, and the importance of street competition in the creativity, and innovations made in the sixties as bands sought musical dominance of the streets.

The modern steelband as we know it was created then, the most innovative era in the history of the pan.

It is no accident that the limited role of the steelbands in the carnival today has resulted in a staleness to the carnival, a deterioration in part due to the loss of the creativity of pan people that added a special flair to the carnival in days gone by.

guiness in sando (2014_12_08 05_25_25 UTC)
Guinness Cavaliers in the Streets of San Fernando, circa the late sixties

For the sake of Trinidad’s culture, in general, I think that the steelband must have a prominent role in the carnival street parade , and I do resent the fact that whenever I raise that issue , the discussion gets bogged down in an argument over 60s style “pushing pan on the road” ( though I have no problem with that aspect of carnival) , instead of modern ideas and suggestions as to how best to integrate the steelbands back into the carnival parade , since I happen to think that the mobile steelband is the best way to promote and to display the power and beauty of pan.

The thing is, many of us have not noticed certain trends in modern music over the recent past, so I would like to point them out.

Two of the most successful musical genres of the last few decades have been hip-hop and reggae.

Apart from the music, both genres have a certain culture attached to them; a style of dress and a language that appeal to the youth, so that these cultures are impactful and copied by youths around the world.

As a matter of fact, reggae and to a lesser extent hip-hop culture are influential even in T&T.

The steelband for generations have been associated with the carnival parade and carnival culture, and that is how it gained worldwide acclaim in past eras.

We, however, were only too eager to shed that carnival image, hoping instead to gain fame and fortune on the world’s stages and concert halls.

Steelbands, its culture, and music have always been associated with the Trinidad style, carnival culture.

We, therefore, must return the steelband to its roots – its carnival culture, and target the youths, locally and internationally.

This year (2019) I watched the entire carnival street parade as streamed by TTT ONLINE , and it was obvious, at least to me that there is a vacuum in the carnival parade, particularly on carnival Monday caused by the absence of the steelbands.

There’s no reason why Carnival Monday cannot be dedicated to the steelbands , and feature a well organized, costumed carnival steelband parade.

This parade, in my opinion could be a means of promoting  the steelband and it’s culture, the  instrument, and the carnival itself.

If not carnival culture, what other appeals could the steelband and its music have on modern youth?

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