This past week has been one of the most eerie of my entire life. I am still having an experience not unlike an out-of-body one—as if I had died and was witnessing my funeral with eulogies being read. Upon announcing the attainment of retirement age, I have been deluged in a torrent of congratulations and best wishes, some really touching plaudits and comments; some from the most unlikely of folk. It is almost as though some of you are happy to see the back of me. (That’s supposed to be an “lol” quip) The week has been a kind of roller-coaster ride for me as I have been very fortunate, unlike most people, to hear and receive all the wonderful things people think of me, as well as accolades of the 32-year stewardship in media. This kind of stuff is usually reserved for one’s funeral; most times we eulogise and reward the good deeds of a man after he is dead.
So, today I am using this space to say a genuine thank you to all of you who called or conveyed your opinion of me via the social network. You have reinforced my commitment to sustain Pulse faithfully every Friday until I am unable to write, or until the newspaper decides to put it to bed. Let me also take this opportunity to disclose that I shall be back at T&T Guardian in a new capacity, as of June 18, as arts & entertainment editor. According to my superiors, the position is all-encompassing as their vision is to marry all aspects of A&E coverage under one umbrella for the Guardian Media Group, embracing press, radio and TV. So, here goes my first episode of Pulse as a senior citizen. I consider it obscene that almost one million dollars can be spent for one citizen to go globe-trotting while the first prize for the 2012 Steelband Bomb Competition is $11,000, and steelband’s umbrella body has had to beg for funding annually since 1963.
One, just one, corporate citizen (NLCB, which by the way is a state entity) has supported the all-important event in Carnival through the years. But, to get to the heart of this week’s bee in my bonnet, it is my information that the Pan-in-the-Classroom Unit is to be disbanded and replaced by some airy-fairy Multicultural Music Programme Unit. Apparently someone in authority has opined that the steelpan should not have a privileged musical status in the nation’s schools, and is an instrument on par with with the dholak and harmonium, and other international ethnic and national instruments. Let’s cut to the chase and call Jack a Jack. The steelpan is the only instrument ever invented in Trinidad and Tobago. The steelpan wasn’t invented in Africa, like the djembe; in China, like the chaozhou dagu; in Syria, like the darbuka; in Europe, like the violin or harp; and, definitely, it was not invented in India, like the dholak. The steelpan was invented right here, by sons of our soil, many of whom literally paid a price with their blood and doing jail time while propagating this most unique instrument. In short, the steelpan is our only indigenous instrument, well deserving of its prestigious title of national instrument, as designated by the NAR government. To paraphrase an article by my former colleague Sunity Maharaj: “The steelpan stands as testimony to our capacity to innovate, to think critically and to solve one problem after another; and to do so with nothing but the power of our minds and the commitment of our passion.”
It is a fact that our home-bred national instrument is perhaps the best disciplinarian there is, supported by several success stories through the years. I remember, way back as a child, when my late uncle headed NATTS (National Association of T&T Steelbandsmen), Andy Narell’s father using pan as a remedy to curb truancy, crime and violence in Harlem, USA. In fact, it was this revolutionary programme which spawned Narell to become one of the world’s foremost pannists today, not to mention the crime rate in Harlem dropped significantly when the programme took root. It is a well-kept secret that in T&T today many tutors, overwhelmed by violent, indisciplined students, have been using pan as a balm to curb and soothe the truancy of their charges. One such music tutor told me just last week that the best disciplined children in his charge are those who play pan. Trust me, this isn’t propaganda as there are records and results to support this hypothesis. Another tutor in a Laventille school told me as well: “I took the dunciest kids to learn pan and by the time they graduated they were amongst the school’s brightest and best disciplined students.”
At present, there is no equity in the disbursement of financial assistance by both the Government and corporate T&T. According to Pan Trinbago president Keith Diaz, “The national instrument is potentially more lucrative than natural gas,” yet still those who can help develop and turn pan into a gold mine continue to be reticent in offering tangible help. It continues to be all piecemeal and mamaguy tokenism, when given is taken back by the benefactor by way of either blocks of complimentary seating or unreasonable advertising branding and contra demands. Having established just a few salient facts about our national instrument that may have escaped those who seem hellbent on implementing their Multicultural Music Programme Unit, all I can say is leave well enough alone, do what is right and righteous, and leave the Pan-in-the-Classroom Unit alone. Let us cultivate a brighter future for our young people through the vehicle of the steelpan.