A large crowd, of which I was a part, attended the celebration of the United Nations’ declaration of 11 August as World Steelband Day, at an event in Times Square, New York last Friday.
Under the auspices of the Consulate General of Trinidad and Tobago, New York, the event was the New York chapter of the first ever global celebration of World Steelband Day.
To obtain the use of Times Square was an amazing feat as, from all that I have heard, the space is not readily made available. The pan music was scintillating and matched the occasion.
Abundant congratulations are appropriate for the Consul General, Mr Andre Laveau, and his team.
Last year at the pre-Labour Day pan event, which was substituted for Brooklyn Panorama in the aftermath of the Covid shutdown, I had the pleasure of meeting our consul-general. Two Saturdays ago, he began the build-up to the Times Square event in the course of a pan jazz concert at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.
I attended Brooklyn Panorama on two occasions in the past and made a rounds of some of the New York pan yards courtesy of two close friends. As I wrote at that time, while I was happy to learn of the expansion programmes in New York City that take pan activities into the wider community, I was grieved that we did not, for example, have a programme whereby school credits could be earned for pan yard activities.
The media has reported the praise heaped upon the steelband movement in the course of the World Steelpan Day celebrations in our country, the birthplace of pan. However, our governance establishment badly lags behind in putting substance and support consistent with its lavish praise.
Our governments have not taken sufficient action to support our steelbands as sustainable community institutions that provide development opportunities for youth beyond playing pan music.
The Minister of Culture has announced a convention to be held in 2024, reportedly to discuss the future and further elevation of pan. Properly structured government support of the pan yards with a track record in or capacity for social development work must be the number one item on the agenda.
The pan jazz event at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum was put on by Brooklyn-based Sesame Flyers, a steel orchestra which competes annually in the Brooklyn Panorama. But their organisation is so much more than that.
Their programmes reportedly provide a range of youth development, cultural, social welfare and supportive services to individuals and families residing in Brooklyn. Their work has the support of the governance establishment of the city of New York.
I was reminded how deficient our politicians are in recognition of the full social development potential of the steelband movement as I listened to New York State Senator Kevin S Parker, who also spoke at the pan jazz event.
Senator Parker represents an electoral district in the heart of Brooklyn. He spoke of the work done in the community by the event’s hosts Sesame Flyers. Most importantly, there is project funding available subject to a timely and satisfactory degree of accountability for the expenditure of those grant funds.
In a seminal presentation the late great Nestor Sullivan, visionary steelband leader, researcher and ambassador, described “the role of Trinidad and Tobago nationals steelband in the development of steelbands globally” and “the specific roles they have played in starting, developing and sustaining steelbands in the countries under review”.
Nestor stated in his conclusion that “today Carnival Arts are part of the curriculum of schools and institutions of ‘first world societies’ of UK, USA and Canada. This is due to the initial inputs of T&T and Caribbean nationals”.
Nestor Sullivan’s eulogist, Andre Moses, referred to Nestor’s analysis of “the evolution of the steelband’s global footprint, not merely from a historical perspective but as a roadmap for its continued global penetration”.
In the aftermath of the celebrations of the first official World Steelpan Day questions remain. Do we ourselves measure up to what has been developed abroad by grant funded partnerships between governance authorities and pan organisations?
Have we left ourselves behind in the evolution of steelband’s global footprint?
Other parts of the world get it. Do we?