Daly Bread: Dots 10 to 12—Gov’t only scratching surface with home for Despers

The speakers at the handover ceremony of the new Despers pan theatre on Monday last, failed to connect the dots between the new theatre and the revitalisation and rebranding of downtown East Port of Spain.

The Prime Minister expressed an expectation that the theatre would be a public asset available to the steelband community and foresaw that when persons came to the theatre: “they can taste the different flavours at times of a little bit of All Stars, a little bit of Phase 11, a little bit of Invaders and a whole lot of Desperadoes.”

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaks at the opening of the Desperadoes Pan Theatre on Sunday 16 April 2023.
(via Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts)

With respect, much more is to be required of this new public asset pan theatre. The bands mentioned by the Prime Minister and many others already host each other at ongoing events in their respective yards. For example, I have been informed of a typical host event at Phase 11’s yard this coming Saturday.

This new pan theatre is located on Nelson Street. It is near the foot of the ascent to the famous hill that Despers occupied before community neglect and consequent decay and violent crime made it impossible for Despers to operate there.

There was a lovely (if a bit small) pan theatre there with a scenic view looking west toward Port-of-Spain. Nearly a decade ago I wrote about my last visit there under the patronage of the late Pat Bishop.

The Nelson Street location is adjacent to the All Stars panyard on Duke Street. Both these yards are within walking distance of Renegades yard on Charlotte Street.

Despers pannists perform at the opening of the Desperadoes Pan Theatre on Sunday 16 April 2023.
(via Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts)

Most citizens know that these three bands respectively have won a preponderance of Panorama Championships: All Stars have 10 titles and Despers and Renegades 12 each. It is those dots between 10 to 12 that I seek to connect in this column.

The broader vision I would have expected would be plans to launch an East Port-of-Spain champion band circuit rebranded as the “Steelband Capital of the World”—well-lit and safe and into which commercial activity linked to our phenomenal steelband product would be encouraged.

Such a circuit would include a display space telling the story of the birth of pan, the life and work of the pioneers, an explanation of the science of the work that went into the invention and the making and evolution of the pan as a unique musical instrument.

Regular readers of my column, particularly of the many pieces on pan and culture, will recall my assertion that the pioneers were scientists—expert in branches of physics, such as metallurgy and acoustics, by dint of inborn ability.

Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell poses next to an image of several steelpan legends.
(via Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts)

The next natural step in the development of these pan circuits is one in west Port-of-Spain linking the champions there. A centre in south Trinidad established in recognition of the pioneers there is also required.

The steelband movement can be a jealous world. An appropriate investment must also be devised for the east-west corridor, Tobago and central.

Those locations would play equally important roles in the teaching of music, providing homework centers, and the development of technical-vocational educational programmes—to which I recently referred as a means of dilution of the destructive obsession with a selection process for a grammar school type education and getting “passes”.

In my vision, as expressed then: “there may be a potential, transparently assessed and funded, for expansion of panyard activity into routes for youth to acquire competencies specific to particular types of occupations and trades.”

The BP Renegades Steel Orchestra performs at the 2023 Panorama competition.
(Copyright Pan Trinbago)

I repeat that it has taken a regrettably long time for high officials to recognise the huge underlying worth of a unique movement developed on the ground by natural gifts and extremely hard work.

The Prime Minister expressed lofty visions that “persons could come to a world renowned location, the same way Carnegie Hall is known in New York and to a unique place in the world. Because nowhere in the world can you have that talent presented by just walking down the street and entering a compound like this with so much talent.”

However, we have much work to do beyond a building handover in order to regain ground lost to the many countries who have followed us into all aspects of pan—many of them stimulated by the work of our diaspora.

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