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Dear Editor: Subero must come into 21st Century and change his attitude to panmen and pan

“Bro Keith, the Rastaman have ah saying, ‘Idetate to utter.’ Know it? It means ‘Think before you speak.’ Are you trying to take us back 60 years? Your position is the same as in the colonial days when pan was seen as a noisy instrument produced by rogues and vagabonds with no ambition and had to be eradicated by all means.”

The following Letter to the Editor, a response to a comment by Express columnist Keith Subero, was submitted to Wired868 by Pan Trinbago’s Public Relations Officer, Michael L Joseph:

Photo: Exodus Steelband, joint fourth place finishers with Invaders in the 2017 Panorama.,
(Copyright TDC via Discovertnt.com)

I wish to reply to an article written in the Daily Express by veteran journalist Keith Subero on Monday 7 May, 2018, headlined “Take pan away from players.”

Two calypsoes keep bouncing around in my head as I try to come to terms with Subero’s comments. The first is David Rudder’s “Madman’s Rant” and the second Bro Valentino’s “Barking Dogs.” The reason is that Subero’s words sound to me like they are coming from madmen in rags, madmen in tags and some madmen in their velvet gowns. And their suits\

Bro. Keith, the Rastaman have ah saying, “Idetate to utter.” Know it? It means “Think before you speak.” Are you trying to take us back 60 years? Your position is the same as in the colonial days when pan was seen as a noisy instrument produced by rogues and vagabonds with no ambition and had to be eradicated by all means. The pan players stood their ground then, emerging strong enough to make steelpan into the industry that it is today with all the potential that pan lovers like you are seeing and believing that we are not trying to exploit or not capable of exploiting.

Rome, as the saying goes, was not built in a day and, like every other institution in this country, the steelpan organization has its challenges, some of them precisely because of people who share your sentiments.

You have me wondering if it is that, in your desire to stay relevant as a journalist, you are looking for soft targets or low-hanging fruit. The veteran in you should see that this country is ripe and bursting at the seams with issues affecting the lives of every citizen. None of our institutions are working to our benefit, yet, because of your set agenda, you find time to attack the steelpan institution, spouting allegations of every kind, for none of which you have evidence you can present to support you in a court of law. You are trying, for reasons best known to you, to paint Pan Trinbago as the worst managed institution in Trinidad and Tobago.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (centre) speaks in Parliament flanked by acting Prime Minister Colm Imbert (right) and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi. Are the political managers doing a better job with the country than Pan Trinbago with pan? (Copyright Parliament.Org)

Taking her cue from you, the Queen of England should nullify our republican status, take away Independence and re-establish the colonial secretariat to administer our national affairs so that we, the citizens, can once again see the light; after all, haven’t the local politicians corruptly mismanaged the country and made a total mess of the present system? But it is much easier to be happy, I guess, by blaming Pan Trinbago. Why don’t you recommend that we put professional administrators and big business in place of the political managers?

Bro Keith, the Nestor Sullivan presentation is nothing new. He was a member of the administration of Pan Trinbago for many years and is quite aware of the volume of plans and papers produced on possible ways forward and presented to various regimes only to realise that a number of influential people in this country believe that pan players should not be controlling the commanding heights of a potential billion-dollar industry that they have developed from discarded oil drums.

So, the plan to this day is to frustrate the process of development and continue to vilify them in order to achieve the desired results of taking control away from them.

Disrespectful as you are by describing pan players as “a blood-sucking specie, preying on the Government’s annual subvention,” year after year without fail, I still see you and the likes of you making a beeline for the Pan Trinbago offices or keeping our phones busy in your quest to secure complimentary tickets for Panorama. Yet you keep making adverse comments about the organization’s low profit margin coming out of the same show.

Photo: Late Japanese pannist Asami Nagakiya, who came visiting from halfway across the world and never left.
(Courtesy i95.5FM)

And may I remind you that the annual subvention is a but a token contribution towards the steelbands’ participation in our National Festival, which attracts visitors from across the globe to our shores.

Let me remind you too, above all, that pan players’ contributions deserve compensation.

I don’t know the difference between a veteran journalist and an investigative journalist but common sense demands that both varieties check their facts before making pronouncements. The “fact” that the steelbands outside of this country have gone so far ahead of us that we now have to act like tomatoes and play ketchup is a completely false notion which has no basis in fact; it is nothing but plain old propaganda.

I say this knowing full well that the steelbands in America, England, Canada and all those major countries where the grassroots bands exist are going through a struggle for survival. The only place where the steelpan is making strides is in the universities that have invested in research and development.  There, funding is provided by the State because those countries have a different approach and appreciation for all things cultural. But that is a different matter altogether.

Trying to take pan away from pan players is not the way to go, my friend; the best available option, let me assure you, is sitting down and engaging in meaningful dialogue.

Photo: Current Express columnist Keith Subero (left) and Crime Stoppers T&T director Darrin Carmichael.

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  1. Subero is dead right about one very important thing about steelpan, which is that as an economic venture it is a dead loss, a complete bankrupt, was never feasible in the past or present. If steelpan was a business the receiver would have put it out of its misery a long time ago.

    To put is as bluntly as Subero, the steelband movement has never made money consistently for its members, and like a schoolboy in short pants, relies on allowances from big daddy government and sponsors. Its records and DVDs have never sold well, the steelbands seldom get paying gigs like parties and shows, its players cannot be considered as professional musicians and its balance sheet has always been in the red.

    Steelbands do not compare well with tassa or chutney which are both cultural performing arts just like steelband. Tassa bands make money, bhaiyo. You pay them and they come and perform. Where does steelband make money like tassa?

    Chutney makes money for the performers too. Chutney shows take place all the time to packed audiences who pay good money to get in. They don’t look to chutney competitions to make their roti and butter, and don’t take about freeness to any reputable singer or the musicians they use.

    The interesting thing is that both chutney and tassa have never got the kind of government handouts in the millions like steelband. Private sponsorship is limited.

    Check out the reggae movement and tell me they are not making good money and selling records worldwide, and throwing up reggae MILLIONAIRES. Show me a panbeater millionaire or a million dollar steelband if you please.

    A few decades ago, a certain businessman named Amral Khan was organizing steelband tours all over the world, and from all accounts bringing in serious dinero for himself and the panbeaters. Apparently some people didn’t like him making money for himself, as if they wanted him to organize the tours for free! They hounded him out of the steelband business when it was a business for the first time. The steelband tours ended and have never resumed on Amral’s scale. The pannists. whom some were complaining were getting underpaid by Amral, now got no pay at all! Getting rid of Amral Khan was considered to be a great victory by the steelband movement, I hear. Whoopee.

    Cynics says black people can’t run business, they can’t even organize a decent parlour selling hops bread and toolum. Well, in the case of steelband they are certainly right that the people in charge of steelband wouldn’t recognize a business even if it bite them in the base drum!

    So much time has passed, so much subsidy and sponsorship money wasted, so many bad decisions made that you have to shake your head when you see pay jump up and play for Carnival and from Ash Wednesday the pans rusting neglected in the panyard. In its current form, the steelband movement is beyond

    What do do? I say look back to the time when steelband was vibrant as an amateur musical form WITHOUT ANY SUBSIDY OR SPONSORSHIP. Cut the government sponsorship totally and throw them in the deep water to sink or swim. Let them take any private sponsorship they can get. Make sure each steelband has an ANNUAL BUDGET with income and expenditure columns and make sure the balance is not in red ink. Let them find ways to get income by paying fetes, private parties, sales of records, foreign tours, merchandising, teaching and anything else that will work. Throw Panorama in the Gulf of Paria, it’s useless for the steelband BUSINESS. Get some people who know about promotion and let them loose.

    Now do I think anybody in the steelband movement or the government will listen to me? No way, they done turn off their hearing aids a long time ago. Like my old partner from the Express of the seventies Keith Subero, I am throwing chicken feed for chickens who think they are cattle, knowing they won’t eat it because they know better than me!