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Starlift did us proud

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Starlift Steel Orchestra has proudly flown the flag of St Vincent and the Grenadines on the international stage of the steelband movement. (Before I go further, let me appeal to those in the media and even in official positions, to cease from using the belittling term of “pan side” to denote a steelband. It is a musical ORCHESTRA, just as is a symphony orchestra, and must be given similar respect).{{more}}

Starlift, last weekend, participated in the first-ever International Conference and Panorama, held in Trinidad and Tobago, which attracted participation from pannists and pan-lovers from over 30 countries globally. Up against the “big guns” in the field of pan, the leading steel orchestras in T&T, as well as orchestras established by Caribbean migrants in the UK and USA, Starlift placed 15th in the Panorama competition, the top position among non-Trinidadian bands from the Caribbean.

The competition was won by 2015 steelband champion band in T&T, Massy All Stars, ahead of Supernovas, Renegades and Phase 2, all of Trinidad, the latter tying for fourth with the Brooklyn Steel Orchestra. Steelbands from England and Japan, (yes, Japan!), tied for ninth place, testifying to the global reach of the pan.

The steelpan, the only musical instrument invented in the 20th century, though a creation of the Caribbean, originating in Trinidad, today is played by orchestras in North and South America, Asia, Europe and Africa. The Conference and Panorama represented the first effort to bring these various strands together to celebrate the growth of pan, which incidentally was marking its 75th anniversary, in the case of the Invaders Steel Orchestra. When Europe was busy inventing weapons of war and waging the Second World War, Caribbean people were inventing the pan!

Whatever the outcome of the Panorama competition, the exposure alone afforded the Vincentian contingent is a big boost for pan in SVG. Words can’t begin to explain how important that is. While participation was under the banner of our 2015 Panorama champions, Starlift, it was much wider in scope, with leading pannists from other bands being included in what was a national presentation.

This inclusive approach is a most commendable one, which ought to be encouraged and replicated in other fields. When opportunities like these present themselves to small countries like ours, we must put our best feet, (in this case our best hands), forward.

That boost for the steelband movement is sorely needed. It has been, and continues to be, a long hard struggle to keep pan alive in an environment like ours. Even in oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago, with many more possibilities of sponsorship, in spite of all the boast about T&T being the “birthplace of pan”, the steelband must struggle to maintain its place.

Except for Panorama, the steelband, once one of the three pillars of our Carnival festival, has been sidelined. It is like, “who needs Pan when we have Miss Carival and Soca Monarch?” Establishing and maintaining a steel orchestra is an expensive venture, financially, and in terms of human resources. It says much for the sacrifice of the pioneers of the movement, (how the late ‘Tanny’ Peters must have been beaming in his grave!), and today’s crop of committed leaders, that pan is still alive in SVG.

While we are neglecting our own invention, our Caribbean contribution to the world of music, musical enthusiasts and aficionados in Japan, Sweden, Germany and other countries are establishing pan factories, developing the scope of the pan. We wouldn’t even go to a steelband fete!

Last weekend’s experience, therefore, should set us thinking again, at all levels. How can our business community work with the Youlou Pan Movement to develop this field, for cultural, educational, musical, entertainment, but also economic purposes as well? Those in the tourism, entertainment and hospitality industries, is there a place for pan in promotion and development?

When the laudable “Pan Against Crime” was launched, there were some who could not see beyond the narrow confines of party politics and scoffed at the idea. The fruits of that are appearing today at the school level, but must become more mainstreamed, by placing pan on the musical and school curricula. Don’t allow the moment to go to waste.

Thank you, Starlift. Thank you, Youlou Pan Movement. Let’s embrace and promote what we have contributed to the world of music.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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