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The birdsong eviction: Ignoring the performing arts leaves room for dark arts

Makandal Daaga’s funeral took place yesterday. The 1970 Black Power movement may have frightened many but it was a necessary part of our evolution and a shake up of those values that still make us think less of ourselves and keep us indifferent to our indigenous movements, like the pan movement and its new flowerings in music academies resident in panyards.

Photo: Late former NJAC leader Makandal Daaga.
Photo: Late former NJAC leader Makandal Daaga.

Sadly, even as some blindly refused at the moment of his passing to acknowledge Daaga as a game changer and to see that his work is unfinished, an indigenous enterprise is under pressure.

As indicated in its press release last week: “Currently in its 12th year, under the auspices of birdsong, a registered non-profit organization with charitable status, birdsong Academy is a free music education programme targeting teenaged youth, many of whom may be described as at risk.

“It is a year-round programme, including a 5-week July/August Vacation Camp, accommodating 110 children in the East-West Corridor.”

I described the birdsong model in a column in July 2012 as follows in the next three paragraphs:

“Charlie and Mandy stress the importance of running a programme rather than an event or accelerated or crash course through which youths just pass through. An ongoing programme permits the youth to put down roots in the birdsong family, which provides extra support such as transitioning youth at risk from an abusive home to a calmer one.

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)

“The programme begins with a musical camp during the August holidays.  Seventy-five of the youths who attend the camp are invited to join the music school on the basis of potential, competence and enthusiasm. The music school is held every Saturday, commencing September, and a school year runs from September to July.  Every Saturday, the pan, woodwind instruments, brass, guitar, drums and voice are taught, the classrooms being the shed in the panyard and four 40-foot containers.

“It is obvious that the musical and sport empowerment exercise is a soul-saving mission which requires all hands on a coordinated deck.  It ought not to be contaminated by tuneless political gallery.”

I more recently described the blindness of the politicians, the self-proclaimed elites and their respective satellites to the value of models like that of birdsong.

“The St Margaret’s panyard teaching model, just as the birdsong model does year round, was proving for all to see its massive social engineering potential, a potential that cannot be discerned through the blackened windows of the ubiquitous Prados and similar VVIP environments, to the seduction of which persons in public life readily surrender.

“If the occupants of these environments would step outside and look at the real Trinidad and Tobago they might discern that when our youth take up music instead of guns we all win.”

Photo: Exodus steelband at Panorama. (Copyright Discovertnt)
Photo: Exodus steelband at Panorama.
(Copyright Discovertnt)

This is the background against which birdsong is scheduled to be evicted from its yard tomorrow pursuant to a Court order.

The landlord has observed due process and has no doubt been somewhat patient but probably has commercial reasons for wanting back his land.  There are however other issues surrounding birdsong’s predicament that must be taken very seriously.

The organisation has been making a solid contribution to education, culture and social development, but doing so on a budget partially drawn from the constant wearying rounds of ad hoc solicitation of funds and sponsorship.

Is this to be the permanent condition of birdsong and many other groups who run academies as well as become surrogate parents in many cases?  Will track record ever become an established basis for a subvention policy for these priceless institutions?

The issue of subvention policy arises again at a time when GATE (Government Assisted Tertiary Education) is now being reviewed and all of its lack of checks and balances is being revealed.

Photo: The birdsong headquarters. (Copyright birdsongtt)
Photo: The birdsong headquarters.
(Copyright birdsongtt)

All the money put into the hands of unaccredited institutions, institutions abroad and into fields of study that are saturated could take care of organisations on the ground such as birdsong and many others like them who are doing the important work of social and cultural development allied with music education.

It is also particularly troubling that birdsong has been attempting to make alternative arrangements for a location nearby but cannot progress the transaction because of the reported absence of the appointment of a Registrar of Friendly Societies, a situation described as “a bureaucratic black hole”.

Endless GATE to turn out graduates in saturated fields not only reflects a lack of appreciation of what the country needs—like forensic scientists, as bodies yet again pile up at the dysfunctional Forensic Centre and crimes cannot be solved by forensic methods.

It also reflects the lack of proper investment in the performing arts, which are not adequately appreciated, in part because of the lingering values of the bluest eye, which I described last week.

Birdsong has put this question: “Even as we tout the income earning potential of the creative sector, does the existing policy framework establish an appropriate platform to fully explore native talent?”

Photo: Birdsong performs at the 2015 Panorama semifinal. (Copyright birdsongtt)
Photo: Birdsong performs at the 2015 Panorama semifinal.
(Copyright birdsongtt)

About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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31 comments

  1. Maybe, if the PNM had put all the Millions in an account for the performing arts instead of giving it to Pan Trinbago who have an incomplete concrete structure on the Highway built on Free Caroni Lands given to them ….People who pretend to be interested in the arts, should come up with innovative ideas to keep the arts alive!! No where in the world the arts are supported with taxpayers money or government assistance! SMH.

  2. We must also consider that in some areas where people have seen sport as a saviour, they are afraid to come outside because of the violence. The perps do not care what they are doing to their communities.

  3. Enjoy your steel Pan Music use to be nice chipping down the road behind the mass band for Carnival I use to enjoy that bring it back,bring it back

  4. this is so sad. where is Pan Trinbago in all of this.

  5. So as a lawyer why not help them

  6. Sadly coach it seems more prisons after 54 years we ain’t learning and people complaining why we U 15 girls get rough up so or we athletes struggling do we really invest in sport and culture for long term growth and development as a society and as a progressive nation no if we point one finger at the system 4 are pointing back at us, because we consume ourselves with the bachannal and bs that politicians and by extension the media feeds us. We don’t ask the hard questions and seek the answers to really move us forward

  7. Should have joined Petrotrins health plan

    • you think?, the man threatening to sue Camini Maraj for tarnishing his name. these people need to sit in jail and think about the errors of their ways. anyway with the help of their lawyer thy all believe the did nothing wrong

  8. this is aperennial problems for so many pan sides in this country. because of crime Despers had to move in town. How many time have Phase II had to fin a home. As Mr Daly mentioned it is the right of Landlords to order eviction notices to any one , its their property .however for me the bigfer picture is we in T&T talk culture, which in many instances governments think is Carnival only. Conversely. Trinidadians say they like Carnival ,but treat pan in disdain, they say its the national instrument (that’s a big joke) but people still begging to have it on the street on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

  9. Is there a report, or a list, or data of any kind showing how much profit companies in this country make annually and what percentage of said profit goes back to communities one way or another?

    • Not to mention that virtually anyone can register a non-profit, and solicit donations. Are companies interested in the actual social impact of the charities they sponsor, or are they more interested in funding the pet projects of friends…?

    • Doubt so. But that sounds gettable for a motivated business reporter.
      End of year financial reports would be one thing. Problem is you would then have to double check all listed charities to ensure that they actually got that money.
      And then you would have to double check the charities to ensure that the money went into the listed programmes.

    • I’m sure the government can find a way to have it included in financial documents that have to be filed annually, if it isn’t already.
      Just a sheet for companies to say we gave so and so to so and so.
      Then ask so and so for a copy of the cheque.
      Even if it’s not accurate down to the cent, it’ll at least provide an idea of what percentage of revenues are being reinvested.
      I really sense that the corporate sector can do more.
      Not to mention it’ll give consumers a reason to choose one brand over the other if they’re so inclined.

    • True. I would love to have such info.

  10. I attended their academy’s performance last night.
    Martin nails it again.

  11. ..Birdsong failed by Society yet again. Evicted by UWI in the 1990s. Now facing eviction again. The choice facing us is clear. More Sport. More Arts. More Education. Or more prisons..

    • Earl Best

      I thought that choice had already been made for us. Are we being allowed to revisit the issue, Keith?

      BTW, birdsong founder Teddy B. must be making many revolutions in his grave.

  12. Meanwhile, as one astute reader pointed out, Al Rawi’s family gets millions for renting an unoccupied property to the government…

  13. Earl Best

    “It is also particularly troubling that birdsong has been attempting to make alternative arrangements for a location nearby but cannot progress the transaction because of the reported absence of the appointment of a Registrar of Friendly Societies, a situation described as “a bureaucratic black hole”.

    Not a lawyer myself, I have no idea why the absence of a Registrar of Friendly Societies should hold up the completion of the transaction which would allow the band to acquire – not sure whether we’re talking purchase, rent of lease – the piece of land that is owned by some friendly society in Tunapuna. But surely given the circumstances, some arrangement can be made whereby the band, having made public its intention to acquire the property, can be permitted to take occupation until such time as we are able to do something about the “bureaucratic black hole.”

    Doesn’t the law allow Govt to pay Al-Rawi’s family millions of dollars per year for an unoccupied property?

    What a country, boy, what a *%*$*^$^*^$^* country!

  14. Earl Best

    “All the money put into the hands of unaccredited institutions, institutions abroad and into fields of study that are saturated could take care of organisations on the ground such as birdsong and many others like them who are doing the important work of social and cultural development allied with music education.”

    Martin, here’s the rub: For whom is social and cultural development allied with music education important? Do you think there are any steelbandsmen in Mr Garcia’s social circle? In Mr Imbert’s? In Mrs Gadsby’s? Do you think the politicians think they have more to gain by supporting birdsong and other similar community-type organisations than by pumping millions into Panorama, Soca Monarch, Chutney Soca and Dimanche Gras?

    Before you answer, ask yourself why the diversification we have been talking about as a country for more than a quarter of a century is still no more of a reality than the bridge to Tobago.

    And then perhaps you’ll see why, because this is a real concern of yours, you’ll have enough material to fill columns for the next half-century.

  15. Earl Best

    Anyone sees the irony in the near concurrence of Granger’s death and birdsong’s eviction, a kind of death? The record will show, I think, that birdsong was born at UWI in the ferment that followed the February Revolution.

    Maybe if we ask nicely, Colm and company – is Keith, the UWI graduate and former NJAC member, still in charge? – will donate $100,000 to NOT bury birdsong.

    A man can hope, can’t he?