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Pan in danger: Why birdsong and steelpan deserve same protection as Chaguaramas water park

“The Chaguaramas development where the Five Islands Water and Fun Park and the Chaguaramas Safari Adventure were in the process of some infrastructural development in an area, where according to law, it should not be.

“But, based on the amount of money spent, there was no way, they claimed that they could tell the amusement park people to break down their structure. That, to them, made no sense.

“This says clearly, one law for the rich, and another for the broke.”

Photo: The birdsong headquarters. (Copyright birdsongtt)
Photo: The birdsong’s former Tunapuna headquarters.
(Copyright birdsongtt)

Pan Trinbago public relations officers, Michael L Joseph, argues that birdsong and steelpan, as Trinidad and Tobago’s national instrument, deserve national protection in his Letter to the Editor:

Birdsong Steelpan Academy, epitomises the phrase, ‘a king has no honour In his own land’.

Pantrinbago must take heed, because a blow to one is a blow to all.

I tried looking at the unpleasant predicament of Birdsong with unbiased eyes and an open mind knowing full well that this was a private arrangement between the band and an independent land owner. In spite of that situation, a number of relevant issues keep clouding my thoughts.

One is an article in the Guardian Newspapers 30/08/16, page A6. Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, the line Minister of the CDA, was making reference to the Chaguaramas development where the Five Islands Water and Fun Park and the Chaguaramas Safari Adventure were in the process of some infrastructural development in an area, where according to law, it should not be.

But, based on the amount of money spent, there was no way, they claimed that they could tell the amusement park people to break down their structure. That, to them, made no sense.

Photo: Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis. (Courtesy PNM)
Photo: Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis.
(Courtesy PNM)

This says clearly, one law for the rich, and another for the broke. When yuh big yuh bad!

Birdsong Steelpan Academy has been a beacon in their community for over twenty eight years and the result of their thrust into youth development is unparalleled. Their activities exemplify the statement of the late professor Lloyd Best, “School in Pan”.

Notwithstanding the fact that most steelbands across Trinidad and Tobago are involved in like projects, birdsong Steelpan Academy took it to a supreme level; I guess given its UWI origins. They have been producing highly qualified students in music literacy and academics that this Twin Island nation can be proud of.

We are truly blessed as a nation to have so much talent and even be the producers of the only musical instrument invented in the twentieth century, which we proclaimed to be our National Instrument, and which the world is embracing.

Today, the steelpan flies our national colours high all over the world. For this, we should be very proud.

We as a people should see it as a national disgrace, when days before we celebrated our 54th year of Independence from colonialism, an iconic steelband like birdsong could be literally kicked out onto the streets.

Photo: The birdsong academy gets going during the 2015 Junior Panorama competition. (Copyright birdsongtt)
Photo: The birdsong academy gets going during the 2015 Junior Panorama competition.
(Copyright birdsongtt)

What message are we sending to these foreign landlords who have no care, knowledge or understanding of our alien culture?

While I write I am in Brooklyn, New York, where most steelbands are nomadic, moving from place to place, suffering from lack of rehearsal space. Should the landlords now say to them, you are an outcast in your homeland, what the heck you want me to do for you out here?

Birdsong’s track record and the fact that steelpan is our national instrument should warrant government protection. Where is the love and appreciation for what is ours? As a matter of fact, what is the national policy on our national instrument?

I should not be asking that question, because the skeletal remains of what should be the headquarters of the steelpan fraternity in Trincity says volumes on policy.

Birdsong’s predicament at this time of national celebration is as good an occasion as any for the government to sit down with Pantrinbago and develop clear guidelines and policies to protect the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago—starting from pre–school—letting our youths grow up understanding and appreciating all our national symbols, emblems, birds, anthem and all other images of national importance.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago President Anthony Carmona (second from right) shows Pope Francis how to beat iron. (Courtesy whensteeltalks.com)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago President Anthony Carmona (second from right) shows Pope Francis how to beat iron.
(Courtesy whensteeltalks.com)

What has become of the steelpan land regularisation program and the steelbands infrastructure upgrade program initiated by the previous regime?

Are we to believe that once there is a change of regime, all programs started by the previous administration automatically ceases? Where is the developmental continuity?

This type of political gerrymandering must be abolished if we are to move forward as one nation. Politicians must not be allowed to squander taxpayers’ dollars in such a scandalous manner. Laws must be passed to protect us from this type of abuse.

To the membership of birdsong Steelpan Academy and its community, I do hope that this unpleasant impasse is resolved swiftly and favourably, so you can continue your great work. And, may this be the very last time the Steelpan fraternity is faced with such a dilemma in this our native land.

I take this opportunity to wish the people of our Twin Island nation, a bright and prosperous fifty fourth birthday, as we strive to develop national pride on the road to securing Nationhood.

May God bless our nation!

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24 comments

  1. Birdsong was occupying land and the owner went thru the legal route to reclaim their land…that doesnt put pan in danger.

    • Mr. Edwards, the facts in a few words. Respect–this Guardian Editorial attached should help. I made a few personal notes below the Editorial link. I hope you enjoy, I believe the Article should remove some of the emotional thinking most of the reactions were based.http://www.guardian.co.tt/editorial/2016-09-03/predicament-facing-national-instrument
      Finally some light on the Bird Song issue, I always said there is a Bigger Picture than the eviction of Bird Song.
      I am only hoping that the level Journalism improves with honesty regarding the state of Steel Pan and Calypso.
      Time to start asking the hard questions, backed up with research on Government Funding over the last 10-years to the Governing Bodies.
      Will the returns to the General Development of Steel Pan and Calypso industries come anyway close to the value of funding?
      Time to be called to account.
      #bigpredicament #7millionnottobuild

    • Earl Best

      Context is everything so you have to look at the whole picture before you arrive at hard conclusions.

  2. I ain’t even read the article yet and I agree..Birdsong is a classic example that illustrates our institutional lack of regard and respect for our ‘national’ things..

  3. Where are the pan lovers and Pan Trinbago?
    If people truly love a thing they will support it. Yes?

  4. Please, where is Pan Trinbago in all this mess?

  5. As far as I am aware we do have policies for most things. However money talks and BS walks. Even Grand Bazaar was not supposed to be built but former minister Brian Q.Tung (can’t remember how to spell his last name) and company got their way. We don’t enforce many housing development are built on agri land and highly prone to flooding. But we don’t enforce. I think we have an instant cash policy and don’t want to work hard and I mean we as in the policy makers and implementers. I mean it is easier to wait for oil and gas to bounce back than actually invest in other areas.

  6. We certainly do need something in place for pan. And I would love to see what is in place for monuments, green space and stuff like that.
    We might need a revisit…

  7. They deserve better protection